AdVINEtures was fortunate enough to be invited by our friends at Town Hall Brands to a terrific Masterclass and tasting of the wines of Northern Italy’s Valpolicella Region. The event was produced by the Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella, the association that represents more than 80% of the producers in the appellation. The Masterclass was very capably led by local sommelier and wine educator, Daenna Van Mulligen.
The day was divided into 3 parts: first, the Masterclass to inform us about Valpolicella, then a tasting of 11 wines from the region, and finally a walk about session to meet and taste with some of the region’s producers. This was a great way to get some real context about the region and to taste some of their wines.
Valpolicella is an appellation within the larger Veneto Region of northeastern Italy, inland from the Friuli appellation that we recently visited. The appellation is divided into 3 macro zones: Valpolicella; Valpolicella Classico and Valpolicella Valpantena.
The nearby Lake Garda is very significant to the climate of Valpolicella as it provides moisture and a cooling influence that ultimately influences the style of the wines being made there. Valpolicella means “valley of the many cellars” which indicates the centuries that wine has been made in this region.
The other significant feature of the geography of the region is that it lies at the foothills of the Alps. This in fact creates a series of 11 valleys with significant changes in elevation: from 60 metres above sea level at the valley floor to 720 metres in the foothills.
Soils are a mix of calcareous, limestone and clay-rich soils. Warmer than neighbouring Friuli, which is 75% planted to white varieties, Valpolicella grows exclusively red grapes. The appellation covers 300 square kilometres with over 8,500 hectares planted.
97% of the grapes grow in this appellation are indigenous varieties. The principal grape varieties grown are Corvina, the primary grape giving structure and aroma to the wines; Corvinone, whose black cherry and spice components add complexity and structure; Rondinella, brings colour and savoury notes; and Molinara, a lighter skinned grape that adds lift and freshness to the blend.
Valpolicella vineyards will often appear quite different to other vineyards that you might be used to seeing. While 25% of vineyards use the traditional guyot vertical shoot positioning trellis system, 75% use a pergola system. A pergola is a tall trellis where vines are trained overhead. The system permits greater air flow and less disease pressure in damp climates.
There are four wine styles coming out of Valpolicella. There is Valpolicella DOC, a blend of the grapes previously mentioned that is light and fruity, showing cherry fruit with a touch of bitterness and focused on elegance as opposed to power.
Amarone is the top table wine of the appellation. It is made using the appasimento method. This method sees the grapes dried on mats or in crates for a period of 100 to 120 days. The process reduces the water content of the grapes by more than 30% while increasing the relative sugar content.
Fermented fully dry, or with a few grams of residual sugar, these are high alcohol wines (15% to 17% among the wines we tasted) that have full bodies, tannic structures, power, yet a soft, textured mouthfeel. Fermentations are done slowly, often lasting 35-40 days. Ripasso is made by producing basic Valpolicella DOC and then adding leftover skins used to make Amarone and refermenting them for 10 to 15 days. Finally, there is Recioto, made in the same way as Amarone using desiccated grapes, but here the fermentation is stopped leaving the desired amount of residual sugar to make a sweet wine.
The Masterclass was very informative. Daenna is a great educator, knows her subject very well, is easy to understand, and open to questions. The Consorzio provided printed materials including facts about and maps of the region, which were also very helpful.
Armed with this background regarding the wines of the region, Daenna took us through a tasting of 11 wines that had been poured for us. The experience was enhanced by Daenna’s comments as well as those comments from the many knowledgeable tasters who also attended with us.
2019 Corte Figaretto Valpolicella DOC Superiore “Alte Quare”
The only non-Amarone of the tasting this wine gave us some insight into the flavours of the Corvina based blends that did not go through appassimento. This is a juicy wine with medium body and high acidity. Flavours of cherry, cranberry and earth. 14 months in barrique, but certainly nothing “oaky” to complain about. Refreshing.
2019 Cantine Riondo Amarone
The step up into Amarone shows the great depth and complexity versus the Valpolicella Superiore. Dark cherry flavours with a strong herbal note running underneath. Both tannin and acidity are medium + and this combined with the herbal note lead to a slightly bitter taste and rustic mouthfeel. Time will likely round this out.
2018 Cantine di Verona Amarone “Torre del Falasco”
Dark cherry with bitter plum notes. This wine comes across as quite dry with reasonably high acidity. Herbal notes mix together with hints of dried fig. The finish is long and quite pleasing.
2018 Monte Zovo – Famiglia Cottini Amarone
Amarone frequently gets up into high levels of alcohol. This one hit 16%. But it also had 9.1 grams per litre of residual sugar. The result was a plushily textured mouthfeel that was very pleasing. This wine has terrific balance, such that neither the alcohol nor the residual sugar was really noticeable. Flavours of morello cherry, plum and hints of dates meld together and make for a complex drink.
2018 Ilatium Morini Amarone “Leon”
Herbal and bright, this wine had high acidity which gave it an almost medicinal undertone. The finish was long and showed notes of cracked pepper. Full body with medium tannin and 16.5% alcohol, this wine showed a bit of heft to it.
2017 Bolla Amarone Classico Reserva “Le Origini”
Bolla is a big house and well known for its Soave wines. It was also the first house to release a commercial Amarone, the 1950 vintage released in 1953. 30% whole clusters were used in this wine. Bitter herbs infuse the taste of this traditionally made Amarone and give it a tight feeling. Red cherry and dried fig flavours are delivered in a rustic style.
2017 Massimago Amarone
Now 6 years form the vintage, this wine comes across as very approachable. Flavours of plum are nicely mixed with notes of baking spices and a touch of dried herbs. Towards the finish there is a hint of brown sugar flavour which adds intrigue. Drinking well right now.
2015 Corteforte Amarone Classico “Vignetto di Osan”
Raised in steel tank for 2 years and then spends 30 months in French barriques. Very savoury. Dark cherry and plum mix with a hint of herbs and dried fig. This wine is very complex, with hints of balsamic coming across the long finish. The mouthfeel is warm and inviting today but surely this will develop further for another decade at least in a cool cellar.
2015 Sartori di Verona Amarone Riserva
From a 25-hectare vineyard all trellised using pergola, this delicious wine offers up black cherry, fresh balsamic, dried figs and hints of demerara sugar. Wonderfully balanced it focuses on elegance over power. Beautifully complex with a long finish. A seductive mouthfeel the shows slight tinges of herbal notes without any bitterness. Delicious!
2013 Valentina Cubi Amarone “Morar”
This wine finds the sweet spot that contains both power and finesse. Dark plum fruit mixes with notes of dates and brown sugar along dried herbs. At 8 years after the vintage, it has rounded off any harsh edges and has a seductive smooth texture and mouthfeel. Medium to full body with great balance and a long, earthy finish.
2012 Bertani Amarone Classico
This is a traditionally styled wine showing complex notes of black cherry, plum and fig with slight herbal notes. Medium body with gentle tannins and medium+ acidity, this is a very approachable wine giving lots of pleasure right now.