Valpolicella Wine Explained: An In-Depth Guide
I’ve explored numerous wine regions and it’s always a thrill when discovering the unique qualities that set each one apart.
Today, I'm thrilled to share my insights on Valpolicella, a lesser-known yet enchanting Italian wine region that's deserving of your attention.
In this comprehensive guide, I'll cover the region’s fascinating history, the range of wines it offers, and even some personal recommendations to kickstart your Valpolicella journey.
Where is Valpolicella?
Nestled in the picturesque foothills of the Alps in northern Italy, Valpolicella lies within the Veneto region.
The area covers approximately 240 square kilometers and is bordered by the Lessini Mountains to the north and the Adige River to the south.
With its idyllic landscape and mineral-rich soils, Valpolicella provides an excellent terroir for producing some of Italy's most intriguing wines.
A Brief History of the Valpolicella Wine Region
The Valpolicella wine region has a rich and storied history that dates back to ancient times.
The name "Valpolicella" itself is believed to be a combination of Latin and ancient Greek, translating to "valley of many cellars."
This moniker accurately reflects the area's longstanding wine production tradition, which is thought to have started with the ancient Greeks and continued through the Roman Empire.
During the Middle Ages, monasteries played a significant role in maintaining and refining viticultural techniques in Valpolicella.
The region's winemaking prominence continued to grow over the centuries, culminating in a golden age during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Today, Valpolicella remains an essential contributor to Italy's wine industry, producing a variety of remarkable red wines that are gaining increasing recognition on the international stage.
The Wines of Valpolicella
The beauty of Valpolicella lies in its diverse range of red wines, which all share a common thread of elegance and depth.
The four primary styles of Valpolicella wines are:
As the foundational wine of the region, Valpolicella Classico is a light, bright, and fruit-forward red wine with sour cherry flavors and herbal notes.
It's an excellent choice for those new to Valpolicella, as it offers a delightful introduction to the region's characteristic flavors.
Valpolicella Classico or Valpolicella Classico Superiore?
Valpolicella Classico and Valpolicella Classico Superiore are two designations within the Valpolicella wine region, indicating different levels of quality and aging requirements.
Valpolicella Ripasso is a fascinating wine that undergoes a unique double-fermentation process.
By fermenting Valpolicella wine with the leftover grape skins from Amarone and Recioto production, Ripasso gains additional richness, body, and complexity.
The resulting wine showcases a harmonious blend of fresh fruit flavors and the velvety, slightly raisinated notes found in its more robust counterparts.
Amarone della Valpolicella
Amarone is arguably Valpolicella's most famous and sought-after wine.
Made from grapes that have been dried for several months to concentrate their flavors, Amarone is a powerful, full-bodied wine with high alcohol content and a pleasantly bitter finish.
Expect a symphony of dark fruit, cocoa, and raisin notes, all beautifully balanced to create a truly unforgettable tasting experience.
Recioto della Valpolicella
Recioto is Valpolicella's sweet dessert wine, produced using a similar drying process as Amarone.
However, the fermentation is halted before all sugars are converted to alcohol, resulting in a luscious, sweet wine with a delectable balance of fruit and acidity.
The unique character of Valpolicella wines stems from the region's native grape varieties.
The main grapes used in Valpolicella wine production include:
Corvina is the star of the Valpolicella blend, comprising 45-95% of the mix. It imparts vibrant cherry flavors and contributes to the wine's structure and aging potential.
The Corvina grape is valued for its ability to impart elegance and a bright, fruity character to the wines it produces. It contributes flavors of red and black cherries, red currants, and sometimes even hints of spice, such as cinnamon and clove. The grape's acidity and tannin structure lend balance and complexity to the wine, allowing it to age gracefully.
In addition to being the backbone of Valpolicella wines, Corvina is also used in other Veneto blends such as Bardolino.
Amarone is made by drying Corvina grapes, along with other local varieties, to concentrate their flavors before fermentation.
This process results in a rich, full-bodied wine with a high alcohol content and a complex flavor profile that can evolve beautifully over time.
Rondinella typically makes up 5-30% of the blend and is valued for its lush floral notes and ability to enhance the wine's aroma.
The Rondinella grape is appreciated for its ability to bring a fruity and fresh character to the wines it is blended with. It imparts flavors of red berries, plum, and sometimes a hint of herbs or spices.
Due to its relatively low tannin content and moderate acidity, Rondinella grapes are generally used to soften the wine and enhance its overall drinkability.
Corvinone can replace up to 50% of Corvina in the blend, providing roundness and contributing to the wine's rich fruit flavors.
The Corvinone grape is appreciated for its ability to contribute rich fruit flavors, structure, and body to the wines it is blended with. It imparts flavors of dark berries, black cherry, and occasionally hints of chocolate and tobacco.
The grape is also known for its relatively high tannin content and good acidity, which provide balance and complexity to the wines it is used in.
Though used less frequently today, Molinara offers lean acidity and a touch of freshness to the blend.
The name Molinara is believed to be derived from the Italian word "mulino," meaning "mill," due to the grape's distinctively dusty, powdery appearance, reminiscent of flour-covered millstones.
Molinara is known for its high acidity and light body, which contribute to the overall balance and freshness of the wines it is used in.
However, the grape has fallen out of favor in recent years, as many producers have opted to reduce its presence in their Valpolicella blends or exclude it altogether.
This is mainly because Molinara has been considered less expressive in terms of flavors and aromas compared to its counterparts Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella.
When used in Valpolicella blends, Molinara imparts a pale ruby color, crisp acidity, and delicate floral and red fruit flavors, such as strawberry and red currant.
The grape's naturally high acidity makes it well-suited for producing refreshing, easy-drinking wines that pair well with a variety of dishes.
Where to Start with Valpolicella Wines?
Embarking on your Valpolicella wine journey can be as exciting as it is overwhelming, given the array of options available.
I recommend starting with a classic Valpolicella to acquaint yourself with the region's essential flavors.
From there, explore the more complex styles like Ripasso and Amarone to truly appreciate the depth and diversity Valpolicella has to offer.
To further guide your exploration, here are a few notable Valpolicella wineries worth seeking out:
3 Wonderful Valpolicella Wines to Try
It’s an impossible task to restrict the Valpollicella wine region to just three recommendations, but here’s a good variety to get started with.
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - Giuseppe Quintarelli, 2010
Producer: Giuseppe Quintarelli
Price: Approximately $350 per bottle
The Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is one of the most sought-after Amarone wines in the world.
Known for its complexity, depth, and elegance, this wine is produced using traditional methods, including the drying of grapes on straw mats.
It is aged for seven years in Slavonian oak barrels, resulting in a rich, full-bodied wine with flavors of dried fruit, spice, and cocoa.
Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore - Tommasi, 2018
Style: Valpolicella Ripasso
Price: Approximately $30 per bottle
Tommasi's Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore is a highly regarded example of the Ripasso style, known for its balance of freshness and complexity.
This wine is made by re-fermenting Valpolicella Classico on the pomace of Amarone grapes, resulting in a medium-bodied wine with flavors of cherry, plum, and spice, along with a hint of raisin character from the Amarone influence.
Valpolicella Classico - Allegrini, 2017
Style: Valpolicella Classico
Price: Approximately $20 per bottle
Made primarily from Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes, this wine is aged for about 12 months in oak barrels, followed by an additional period of bottle aging.
The result is a smooth, elegant wine with flavors of cherry, raspberry, and a touch of spice.
The Valpolicella wine region is a treasure trove of captivating red wines, each with its own distinct character and charm.
By understanding the region's history, grape varieties, and range of styles, you'll be well-equipped to embark on a rewarding journey of discovery through the world of Valpolicella wines.