Soave and Valpolicella: Venetian treasures

Mark DeWolf | Wine Discovery

Venice has long been considered one of Italy’s wealthiest cities. Its initial wealth can be attributed to its strategic position at the head of the Adriatic Sea, making it both a naval power and the most important center of trade connecting Europe with Asia and the Byzantine Empire. The city’s riches are now garnered through its thriving tourism industry and glass production (Murano).

Yet it’s nearby Verona, not Venice, that’s home to Veneto’s most luxurious wines. The inland city, that sits on the banks of the Adige River, is awash with a rich history — some of its own and others recounted in the tales of others, such as Shakespeare, that long romanced about ‘fair Verona.’

The city itself is home to spectacular architecture, including one of Europe’s best preserved coliseums but some of its finest treasures lie outside the city. Verona is rich in wines made from the vines that surround its outer walls.

Valpolicella

Valpolicella has long been a volume driver for Veneto. The red wines from this area, near Verona, close to the shores of Lake Garda, rose to fame in North America, in the post-World War II era, when Italian trattorias became popular. The easy to drink nature of Valpolicella, typically a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara (small amounts of other grapes are permitted) has made it the perfect foil for simple pasta dishes drenched in tomato sauce.

At their most basic form, when labelled as Valpolicella, the wines are often best described as Light & Fruity. Some from the top vineyards, adorned with the word ‘Classico,’ in reference to the traditional sites where the best grapes come from, can be richer but rarely lose their cherry-like fruity persona.

Valpolicella is more than simply a place. It’s a style. Within the geographic boundaries of the region, other styles have emerged. Historically, a sweet wine was crafted from grapes left to dry over the winter on straw mats in open air barns.

The style, known as Recioto, is still revered but it is the later invention, a dry wine made with the same grapes that grabs the attention of the wine drinking populous. Amarone is a Bold & Full wine rich in aromas and flavours reminiscent of dried fruit, spice, Kirsch and sometimes chocolate. In between Amarone and Valpolicella is Ripasso, a wine made from repassing Valpolicella over the skins of the just fermented Amarone. The result is a Smooth & Medium wine containing the freshness of Valpolicella and the complexity of Amarone.

It all means you can have a wine from Valpolicella with just about any meal. Try a basic Valpolicella served with cured meats and light pasta dishes, a Ripasso with pasta with richer meat sauces, mushroom based dishes and mild meats such as pork or poultry. Amarone loves to be paired with substantial fare. Try with grilled beef, game, braised lamb or even blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola.

Soave

Soave (pronounced ‘Swah-veh’) is smaller by comparison to Valpolicella, but it is by no means a light-weight when it comes to volume of wine production. Soave, like Valpolicella, has long been a favourite in export markets, such as Canada. These white wines, made in vineyards surrounding the town of Soave, to the east of Verona, are made from a blend of varying amounts of Garganega, Trebbiano di Soave (known as Verdicchio in other regions of Italy) and dashes of Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay.

The best are from the ‘Classico’ zone, where the vineyards benefit from higher elevations and more slopes. The best usually have a high percentage of the characterful Garganega grape and deliver orchard fruit, citrus and sometimes almond-like flavours. Try lighter styles with steamed shellfish and appetizers, while those carrying the ‘Classico’ tag can often handle slightly more substantial fare such as risotto or seafood pasta.

Occasions recommends: 

  • Sartori Arco Valpolicella, Italy, $14.99
  • Folonari Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Italy, $19.99
  • Masi Costasera Amarone Classico, Italy, $43.99

Next week: We venture south toward Le Marches and into the heart of Italy’s food and drink culture.

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