Soft, smooth, supple, elegant and rich. We likely have your undivided attention at this point. These are classic descriptors for the premium wines from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. But first, let’s explore the affordable wines of the region.
Most are familiar with the affordable everyday wines from Valpolicella. As with most European wines, we refer to the wines by the region or village from which they come. Unique for Italy, the wines of Valpolicella are always blends of corvina, rondinella, molinara and occasionally a few more-obscure varietals.
The everyday affordable wine is labelled Valpolicella Classico and typically can be found in the price range of $10 to $15. These wines offer aromatics of cherries, tobacco and violets. Light- to medium-body, these wines make great cocktail wines due to their simplistic character and will also accommodate an array of foods ranging from pizza, lasagna or burgers. They’re unpretentious wines for simple meals and get-togethers.
The next tier up in quality is Valpolicella Superiore. This classification requires the wines to be barrel-aged for a minimum of one year. As a result, these medium- to full-body wines are darker, richer and more elegant. These fall into the $15 to $20 range and make excellent crowd-pleasers.
In order to understand the next level in quality, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, we will actually skip this explanation until we explore the pinnacle of red wines from Veneto.
Amarone della Valpolicella are the top dog of red wines from the region. The grapes for Amarone are predominantly sourced from hillside vineyards. As with most premium wine, hillside vineyards are paramount. Amarone is a fascinating process that requires the grapes to dry out and raisinate on straw mats for three to five months. This step concentrates the sugars, and when fermented, creates wines of unparalleled concentration, richness and intrigue. While this classification requires the wines to be a minimum of 14 percent alcohol, most Amarone ends up between 15 percent and 16 percent alcohol. Aromatics include notes of raisins, plums and baking spices. The full-body richness of Amarone requires rich stews and roasts for pairings. The process of making wine from raisins and their limited amount of juice equates to expensive wines that start at $50. Typically, Amarone are pleasurable upon release, and in extraordinary years, can age beyond 10 years.
Backing up, the classification just below Amarone is called Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso. This classification is commonly referred to as baby Amarone, as the wines are a combination of entry-level Valpolicella Classico and Amarone. The ordinary wine of Valpolicella is blended with the must (the skins) from the Amarone. This repassing of the must adds significant complexity and richness to the light Valpolicella Classico and mirrors the flavor profile of Amarone but at half the cost. The term “ripasso” comes from the concept of repassing the Amarone must. While these wines don’t have the body or concentration of true Amarone, these gems offer a great taste and value of the potential Amarone but at an appealing price range of $25 to $35.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.