I just returned from Italy and the last stop on the itinerary was Venice. And while I didn’t have time to go wandering through the vineyards of the Veneto that didn’t stop me from enjoying some of the local wines! If you’re not familiar with the wines get ready for some really tasty every day reds, whites that are crispy and refreshingly perfect for summer, some bubbly to tickle your fancy and that big bomb of intense and chewy wine called Amarone. So let’s get started.
The Veneto is the major Italian wine region of the Northeast of Italy. The most significant areas within it cluster near Verona and are influenced by Lake Garda to the west with the sparkling wine, Prosecco, from the growing areas north of Venice. One of the unique things about the region is the ancient process called appassimento used to create the signature red wine of the Veneto – Amarone della Valpolicella. But more on that in a bit.
Prosecco is a delightful sparkling wine that is just plain fun to sip. Its lower alcohol makes it the perfect aperitif and many of the little restaurants you’ll encounter in Venice, Verona and throughout the region will greet you with a glass as you settle in. It’s made from a grape called Glera, but is also known as Prosecco. The light bubbles carry aromas of citrus and fresh flowers and the taste often reminds me of green apples. It’s a terrific sparkler to use for those mimosas at brunch, a refreshing Bellini in the afternoon or all by itself. And here’s the best part – you’ll find it for less that $15 a bottle so stock up.
Soave is the most well known white wine of the area and I think it is often overlooked, especially during the warmer months. Pear, citrus, stony mineralty with refreshingly crisp acidity – this is a wonderful salad wine and a nice match with fish dishes. The classic grilled Bronzino (sea bass) of Venice paired with soave will transport you to dining next to a canal with gondolas passing by if you close your eyes!
Let’s get to the reds.
Valpolicella and Bardolino are the everyday choices and they are blends primarily of Covina and Rondinella. These are really pretty simple wines – that’s not meant as criticism but just that they can fit a lot of sipping occasions, are ready to drink when you buy them and are every day priced. You’ll taste bright red fruit like cherry with soft tannins. These are pizza and lighter pasta dish wines. For a more layered and deeper flavor experience look for Valpolicella Ripasso. Ripasso literally means “repassed.” The winemaker takes the fermented Valpolicella then puts it with the skins and leftovers from the production of Amarone so the wine is re-passed and there is a second fermentation -which adds depth of flavor along with higher alcohol. Many folks call the Ripasso wines “baby Amarone.” But you wont’ pay an Amarone price!
What’s the big deal about Amarone? Amarone is one of the unique wines in the world. Same grape blend as Valpolicella but it’s made in a time-tested distinctive way. When the grapes are picked at harvest they aren’t pressed right away to make wine – they’re set aside to dry first. This drying is done in slotted boxes or straw mats, or the bunches are even hung from the ceiling. They’re dried that way for a few months. The drying evaporates the water in the grapes and concentrates the sugars. These partially raisined grapes are then pressed and the juice is fermented into a pretty high in alcohol, deeply flavored and intense red wine. This is the appassimento process. As you’d expect, the extra time and care that goes into to making these means it costs more – but I love Amarone!
Dark plum, black cherry, licorice, woody, brambly, coffee, sun dried tomato, and. of course raisiny – these are just some of the descriptors which try to capture the sip. The bottom line – this is a big wine. It’s also velvety smooth and terrific with hearty meat dishes. My favorite pairings are osso buco, grilled lamb chops or just about any braised beef dish like short ribs – yum!
Time to Sip the Veneto so here’s a sampler!
Every Day Sips
Zardetto Brut Prosecco $14. Crispy fresh pear.
2014 Gini Soave Classico $14. Lemony and zesty.
2014 Allegrini Valpolicella $15. Classic taste profile
2013 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore $14. Red berries.
2011 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre $18. This is a go-to wine for me – I love it and buy it frequently. Dried fruit flavor. Really drinkable and versatile .
2013 Bertani Valpolicella Ripasso Villa Novare $18. Had to include this – just had a bottle in Venice! Kind of tough to find at retail.
Zenato Ripassa Superiore 2012 $26. Rich coffee bean.
2010 Masi Brolo di Campofiorin $28. A lush and big ripassa
2011 Masi Amarone Costasera $50. Bold with dried fruit. Raisiny with coffee along with dark plum.
2010 Allegrini Amarone $70. Amarone elegance. Confession: I am partial to Allegrini wines and this wine always says “Amarone” to me.