Valpolicella is a region of contrasts. It comprises flat plains and steep hills, ugly industry and farm beauty, cheap wines, and expensive ones.
Veneto is the largest wine-producing region of Italy and lies to the northeast. Its claim to fame is Valpolicella, a series of valleys and ridges shaped like a hand in the foothills of the Alps. The area has two subzones; the single-valley Valpantena, and the original area the Valpolicella Classica (“a” when we refer to the region” “o” when we use the name on a label). The Classica area comprises 3 valleys Fumane, Marano & Negrar.
Valpolicella extends further to the East and overlaps into Soave. This area is less prestigious for the Valpolicella wines than the other two where grapes are expected to ripen sooner, yet this is where you find the famous winery Dal Forno.
Valpolicella is one of those areas that allow for several styles of wines to be produced. In fact, you could drink Valpolicella with every course of a (long Italian) meal from start to finish, as long as you love red wines. From light to deep, to sweet.
The grape varieties you’ll find in the region are mainly Corvina, Corvinone & Rondinella.
The traditional growing method in the region is called Pergola and refers to the shape of the vines that grow up high and bend over the row with the grape clusters hanging from underneath. Quite a lot of large bunches in a good year, so it’s quite challenging to reach optimal ripening.
The grape bunches that get picked first need to be perfect because destined for drying inside large airy rooms for 3-6 months for the dry full-bodied Amarone wine, or the sweet dessert wine Recioto. This process concentrates the sugars and transforms the flavors resulting in warm and complex wines.
Then it’s the turn of harvesting for the Valpolicella and Ripasso wines where the rest of the grapes gets made into either a light easy-drinking red or the latter, where an ancient technique allows to enhance the profile of the younger wines by adding some of the “vinacce” (solids left after fermentation) from the Amarone. The extraction of said dried grapes gives more body and complexity, hence “ripasso” (to pass through again).
Visiting the region
Base yourself in wonderful Verona. Verona is a small city, totally walkable. It’s beautiful, historic & romantic with lots of options for your evenings whether you fancy a few drinks by the river or a great meal with local specialties.
If you’re driving, have a plan. Wineries prefer visits by appointment so make sure to look up your itinerary beforehand and make the necessary arrangements. Remember to plan for lunch as Italian wineries are most often closed for lunch hours. If you drive, the driver spits!
If you don't want to spit, take a tour. Davide is from the region and runs daily small group wine tours with his company Pagus Wine Tours. You’ll hit some great wineries and have a fantastic lunch (trust me, he goes to the good places!).
If you want to experience all of Veneto (or almost!) you can join our Grapetrotters Journey – our next one is in September 2021 and is reserved for a small group of travelers. See all the details here.
Until then, enjoy this video shot a few weeks ago in Valpolicella at the excellent Novaia winery:
Rice, polenta, cheese, meat & vegetables...did you notice this didn't start with pasta?! In fact, Veneto is one of the exceptions in Italy where you're given excellent local rice options. Eat your heart out - and remember to visit Verona and its wine regions next time you're in Italy!