Italian wine

A guide to Valpolicella wine Italy

 San Giorgio Di Valpolicella

San Giorgio Di Valpolicella

Valpolicella is a wine region the province of Verona, east of Lake Garda, in the north-east of Italy. The area is comprised of seven communes: Pescantina, San Pietro in Cariano, Negrar, Marano di Valpolicella, Fumane, Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo.

Valpolicella wine map

The centre of Valpolicella winemaking is in the Monti Lessini hills located northwest of the town of Verona. In 1968, the boundaries of the region were extended far eastward towards the DOC production zone of Soave and south to the plains of the northern bank of the Po river and its tributary the Adige.

Wine produced in Valpolicella can come in many forms: Classico, Superiore, Riserva, Ripasso, Amarone, and even Spumante (sparkling).

The original zone is known as Valpolicella Classico zone and over 40% of all wine production in Valpolicella takes place here.

Corvina Veronese and Rondinella grapes must be at least of 45% the blend and Rondinella must be present at a minimum of 5%. 25% of the blend may be made from many red grapes suitable for cultivation in Verona, but no single accessory variety may comprise more than 10% of the total blend e.g. Croatina, Corvinone and Molinara. Occasionally grapes like Oseleta are used, primarily around the small village of Fasola-Pigozzo. Other permitted varieties include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

Corvina is the most important grape variety of Valpolicella wine, thanks to its characteristics in the vinification phase and phenolic properties, thus giving structure and body to Valpolicella wine. The grapes at harvest have a medium sugar level and a variable acidity due to the climatic conditions of the harvest season. Corvina provides a light sour cherry flavour, fresh acidity, and a hint of bitter almond to the wines of Valpolicella (45-95% of the blend). 

Rondinella also gives fruity, cherry notes flavours (5-30% of blend). Corvinone is allowed to be substituted for up to 50% of the total amount of Corvina used in any given blend.

Molinara used to be a required part of the blend, but the rules have recently changed, and now Molinara is allowed but not required as Valpolicella has tried to tighten quality standards and the grape is quite pale, and prone to oxidation. 

Croatina is also known as Bonarda, but different to Argentina’s Bonarda (Douce Noire) and is often compared to Nebbiolo in terms of colour and character. T

The Valpolicella production zone was enlarged to include regions of the surrounding plains when Valpolicella achieved DOC status in 1968. In December 2009, the production of Amarone and recioto dessert wines within the Valpolicella DOC received their own separate Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status

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Types of wine Valpolicella wine:

Valpolicella Classico

Made from grapes grown in the original Valpolicella production zone.  Valpolicella DOC wines must be made using 45-95% Corvina. Corvinone can also substitute up to 50% of the quote for Corvina, which brings round, cherry flavours. Rondinella must comprise from 5% up to 30% of the blend adding floral notes. 

The best Valpolicella's have rich fruit aromas of black cherry and cranberry, soft tannins, and spicy, wild berry, bitter almond flavours.

Valpolicella Superiore

Aged at least one year and has an alcohol content of at least 12 percent.

Valpolicella Ripasso

Ripasso, which means "repassed" uses leftover grape skins and seeds from the fermentation of Recioto and Amarone which are added to the batch of Valpolicella or Valpolicella Superiore wines for a period of extended, light maceration and re-fermentation. This process usually happens in wineries around February. Corvina Veronese and, in lower proportion, Corvinone, Rondinella and Croatina grapes are used.

Most Amarone producers produce a Ripasso as a second wine and it is sometimes known as “baby Amarone” or “the poor man’s Amarone” as it is a great value alternative to the more expensive wine.  An alternative production method is to use partially dried grapes, instead of leftover pomace, which contain less bitter tannins and even more phenolic compounds.

The first Valpolicella producer to commercially market a ripasso wine was Masi in the early 1980s. When the style first became popular in the late 20th century, it was rarely noted on the wine label. In late 2009, Ripasso della Valpolicella received its own DOC designation.

Good Ripasso wines possess an intense ruby ed color, warm, soft and embracing on the palate, with elegant tannins. It has a higher alcohol level and body, but the best examples are balanced with alcohol not being dominant.

Amarone della Valpolicella "Amarone"

Amarone della Valpolicella is made from the partially dried grapes of the Corvina Veronese (45–95%, of which up to 50% could be substituted with Corvinone), Rondinella (5–30%) and other approved red grape varieties (up to 25%) e.g. Croatina.

In Italian, the name Amarone literally means "the Great Bitter"; originally, this was to distinguish it from the Recioto produced in the same region, which is sweeter in taste.

The wine was assigned Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in December 1990. On 4 December 2009, Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella were promoted to the status of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).  I

Grapes are harvested ripe in late September or early October and allowed to dry, . There is a careful selection of the best grapes and then they are placed in small wooden trays or traditionally on straw mats . This process is called appassimento or rasinate (to dry and shrivel) in Italian. This concentrates the remaining sugars and flavours.  The pomace left over from pressing off the Amarone is used in the production of Ripasso's. The process of desiccation not only concentrates the juices within the grape, but also increases the skin contact of the grapes and  further metabolizes the acids within the grape and creates a polymerization of the tannins in the skin that contributes to the overall balance of the finished wine.

Typically, the length of the drying process is 120 days, but varies according to producer and the quality of the harvest. Following the drying process that is completed during the end of January or beginning of February, the grapes are crushed and go through a dry, low temperature fermentation process that may last up to 30 or 50 days. The reduced water content can slow down the fermentation process, increasing the risk of spoilage and potential wine faults. After fermentation, the wine is aged in barriques made of either French, Slovenian, or Slovakia oak.

The final result is a very ripe, raisiny, full-bodied wine with very little acid. Alcohol content easily surpasses 15% (the legal minimum is 14%) and the resulting wine is rarely released until five years after the vintage, even though this is not a legal requirement.

Amarone from Classico tends to be the most elegant and aromatic, versions from the Valpantena are generally lighter and fruitier, while the so-called ‘extended’ zone (beyond Classico and Valpantena, bordering on the Soave) tends to produce richer, more muscular wines with a higher alcohol level.

Recioto della Valpolicella

If fermentation of Amarone is stopped early, the resulting wine will contain residual sugar (more than 4 grams of sugar per litre) and produce a sweeter wine known as Recioto della Valpolicella. Recioto was the traditional wine produced according to this method, and originally, Amarone was Recioto wines that had fermented for too long.

Visited and recommended wineries

Salgari Valpolicella

Salgari, Via Ca 'Salgari, 7, 37024 Negrar VR 

Family owned experience with cheese, salami and wine.

Ugolini winery Valpolicella

 Tenute Ugolini , Strada di Bonamico n°11 37029 San Pietro in Cariano - Verona

Beautiful villa adjacent to hilltop vineyards and great quality, balanced wines. Refined, elegant and fine tannins, easy to drink.

The El Pendola agrituristica is a great place to stay a few minutes from Ugolini. Nice restaurant, olive oil and wine produced on site and good accomodation.

EL PENDOLA, Azienda agrituristica, Via Volta 10 - 37022 Fumane (VR), Valpolicella 

Useful links

Valpolicellaweb.com - the official  portal of tourist promotion of Valpolicella