Valpolicella Wine Guide
From bright and vibrant young table wines to structured and balanced Amarone, Valpolicella wines run the gamut of flavor profiles while remaining worthy of the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designations. What do you know about this fascinating and unique winemaking region?
Valpolicella at a glance
What is Valpolicella? Here are the region’s history and winemaking at a glance.
- Valpolicella is a wine region in Italy’s Verona province.
- It produces wines that receive the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status. (In fact, only Italy’s Chianti region produces more wines that are labeled DOC.)
- The oldest record of wine production in Valpolicella dates to the ancient Greeks, and the tradition of partially drying the grapes and then pressing them to make wine––which is how Amarone is made––was referred to as “Greco” style winemaking.
- Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968.
- In 2009, two wines made in Valpolicella (Amarone and recioto) were awarded the even more prestigious designation of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
- Valpolicella wines are primarily made from three grapes: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara.
- The region also produces Sangiovese, Barbera, Rossignola, and Bigolona.
- There is a variety of wine styles produced under the Valpolicella label, including the red table wines labelled Valpolicella Classico; Valpolicella Superiore; Valpolicella Ripasso; Amarone della Valpolicella; and the sweet, dessert-style Recioto della Valpolicella.
- Valpolicella is in a region with a cooler climate, so it is unique that it is known for producing concentrated wines with high levels of sugar. (This is typical of regions with hotter climates since grapes mature quickly and tend to have high levels of sugar.)
Valpolicella is typically made from a blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes. It is fermented and aged for a short period of time (and in stainless steel tanks, rather than oak barrels). It is released several months after the harvest and is similar to a French Beaujolais: light, fragrant, and fruity with moderate tannins and acidity.
Valpolicella Classico wine comes from grapes grown in specifically designated vineyards located in the historic center of the Valpolicella region. Wines tend to be more rich and concentrated than the typical Valpolicella table wine, and can therefore be enjoyed with antipasti, cured meats, light pastas, and pizza.
Valpolicella Superiore lives up to its name. To receive this label, wines must be aged in wood for a minimum of one year and have a minimum alcohol level of 12%. It is known for its darker hue, floral and berry notes, structure, and a beautiful texture and complexity.
Winemakers have options when it comes to the style of Valpolicella Superiore they elect to produce. Valpolicella Superiore can be a wine whose grapes have been harvested later and partially dried (this lends more roundness and velvet texture to the wine). Valpolicella Superiore can also be aged in small barrels, which enhances the tannins and structure of the wine.
Ripasso, which means “repassed” in Italian, refers to the process of adding leftover grape skins and seeds from the fermentation of another wine, Recioto della Valpolicella (see below), and macerating the wine with these leftover skins and seeds. (Macerating is the process of leaving the juice in contact with these skins and seeds; this process gives the wine its color and tannins.) Adding these skins and seeds from the Recioto provides the yeasts with more sugars to consume, which in turn increases the level of alcohol and the body of the wine.
Amarone della Valpolicella
Amarone is a well-known word in the Italian wine world but is an often misunderstood wine. Many assume it is a dessert wine; others often assume it is bold and earthy, like a Chianti Classico.
Although the style of wine has existed for centuries in this region, the techniques used to create this wine (and the desire for it) have dramatically changed in the past century. Amarone was initially a wine made from grapes that were meant to be made into ripasso wines, but then accidentally fermented until there were no residual sugars. In the 1950s, winemakers attempted to reproduce this now-desired style of wine by intentionally using yeasts that fared well with high levels of sugar (thus converting all of the wine’s excessive levels of sugar into alcohol). The grapes are the last to be picked in the region and are then dried for 3-4 months to allow the sugars to concentrate. (This is a process called passito.) During this process, the grapes lose their water content but maintain their acidity, which allows Amarone della Valpolicella to have a unique balance of sweetness and acidity.
Amarone is aged for several (often five) years before release. It is typically aged in older Slavonian or French oak barrels. The wine is rich and full-bodied with notes of dark chocolate, dried figs, raisins, and earth. It pairs well with walnuts, Parmesan cheese, and hearty stews.