The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Visiting the Veneto, from Amarone to Prosecco

Posted on | February 25, 2016 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Venice at night

Venice at night

The setting of several Shakespearian works, the Veneto also delivers great performances in its vineyards, offering a range of wines that star in both casual and refined settings. In each of the three principal wine categories, the Veneto provides a fairly famous offering that essentially defines its respective genre. The leading sparkler (Prosecco) and red (Amarone) of the Veneto region provide a consummate study in contrast, with the distance between the two placing them at opposite ends of a broad stylistic spectrum. The dominant presence in the sparkling category is Prosecco, a light and simple Charmat-method sparkler derived from the eponymous grape. While mass produced, the DOC status for the crafting of Prosecco, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, is well suited to the production of sparkling wine. Simplicity is, perhaps, its hallmark virtue, though more substantive versions are produced in the prime vineyard areas of Cartizze.

The Veneto’s most well-known still white wine is Soave, a designation that has been compromised through both viticultural and vinification methods and the enlargement of the zone. While Soave is not the only white DOC, the others, Lugana and Gambellara, primarily involve the same varietals. The former (which is shared with Lombardia), privileges Trebbiano di Soave, and some bottlings realize a substantive aromatic presence. With respect to the latter, Garganega exercises its dominance, as it represents a minimum of 80% of the blend. The category also includes several varietally labeled wines that are fairly simple in character.

Valpolicella is, in many respects, the red counterpart to Soave, as its image has suffered from mass production. However, unlike Soave, it operates a stylistic hierarchy: Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore and/or Ripasso, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Recioto della Valpolicella generally comprise the grape trio of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Valpolicella Classico (Classico denoting a wine made in the inner, superior Valpolicella zone) is the simplest expression of the Valpolicella quartet. At the Superiore level, Valpolicella must achieve higher alcohol content, receive longer aging, and display more body and structure than the simple Valpolicella. To realize these qualities, many Superiore are treated via one of two techniques: “governo alla Toscana” or ripasso. Under the “governo alla Toscana” method, producers blend the finished Valpolicella with a small percentage of Amarone remaining from a previous batch. Others employ the ripasso method, enriching the Valpolicella wine through direct contact with (or passing through) the Amarone’s lees.

Whatever the degree of extraction realized, however, a Valpolicella Superiore offers but a modest suggestion of Amarone, the intensity and depth of which is achieved through the appassimento process. During this regimen, during which winemakers spread out carefully selected grapes in single layers to dry on straw or plastic mats for 60 to 100 days. During this time, the grapes lose a substantive amount of water weight, dramatically concentrating their sugars. Thereafter, the raisined grapes are crushed and fully fermented into a dry, full-bodied wine marked by high alcohol. The Veneto’s drama is at its most intense in Recioto della Valpolicella, the sweet member of the Valpolicella quartet that dates back to the Romans, who are credited with having developed theappassimento process. The sweetness derives from an arrested fermentation, a procedure that stops the conversion of sugar into alcohol, thereby leaving residual sugar. It is in this mode that the unexceptional Soave finds an empathetic medium, achieving a substantive upgrade in a reserved sweetness.

While Valpolicella may seem to dominate the red wine landscape, winemakers outside Verona are achieving notable success without relying on Italy’s own, privileging Bordeaux’s famed triumvirate of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. In fact, it is believed that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot actually hold a fairly traditional place in zones such as the Colli Berici and Colli Euganei.

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