This past June 30th in New York City I was invited to be part of a panel at Le Cirque restaurant that presented the wines of the Veneto region to a large group of press and consumers. The presentation was led by Aurora Endrici, an Italian Sommelier from Italy, Anthony Dias Blue, a wine and food personality, and Paolo Secondo, the owner of a group of top Italian restaurants in New York City.
Among the wines that were tasted and reviewed by all were Glera, Corvina, Vespaiolo, Garganega, Moscato, Raboso, Amarone, Soave and Prosecco. As we tasted the wines one by one with the audience, we also answered questions from Aurora Endrici and the press about these familiar and new wine discoveries. The line up of wines was an eye opener for all in attendance: no one was left unimpressed with the high quality of wines produced in Veneto and the wines’ ability to pair so well with many different cuisines. After the tasting we joined everyone at an intimate luncheon where our conversations about the undoubtedly world class red and white wines being produced in the Veneto region continued. It goes without saying that, once again, the Italian Trade Commission of New York did an outstanding job hosting a significant and important event in the world of Italian wine with the Veneto Chambers of Commerce.
I was honored to be a part of that event since, for the past twenty-five years, I have been a big fan of the wines of the Veneto region. Just last year I traveled all over the USA introducing a Soave, Ripasso and Amarone to consumers by hosting in-store wine tastings, wine dinners and consumer events and by sitting with the press. Consumers, wine collectors and the press all fell in love (for the first time or all over again!) with Soave, the regions most famous white wine, commented on how intrigued they were by the winemaking process necessary for producing Vapolicella Ripasso wines and couldn’t help but be amazed by the inviting aromas, elegance, finesse and opulent structure of the Amarone wines.
Below is a Veneto 101 to help you on your journey of discovering this great region of Italy and it’s wines
Veneto—(VEHN-eh-toe): One of 20 wine-producing regions, located in the northeast, bordering Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and the Adriatic Sea. Veneto takes its name from its capital, Venice, once one of the most powerful sea nations in all history. There are three distinct wine zones, in Veneto: the Verona area, famous for Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Bardolino; the Euganean hills between Vicenza and Padua, where table wines are made; and the areas of Treviso and Conegliano, which lie about 40 miles due north of Venice. The latter are best known for excellent varietal wines, especially Tocai, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Verona—(vair-OH-nah): A picturesque wine-producing town located in the northeast region of Veneto; it rests on the river Adige near Lake Garda, just 50 miles west of the romantic and canal-latticed city of Venice. Verona is famous for the production of Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Bardolino.
Soave—(SWAH-veh): A famous dry (also sweet and sparkling) DOC (1968) white wine produced northeast of Verona in the territories of the communes of Soave, Monteforte d’Alpone, San Martino, and others in the province of Verona, in the region of Veneto. The first written citation of Soave as a beverage dates back to the year 568. It is made from Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave, with small additions of Trebbiano Toscano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Bianco grapes. Beginning with the 2002 vintage Soave Classico Superiore is a DOCG wine.
Valpolicella—(vahl-poh-lee-CHEL-lah): A DOC (1968) red wine produced in the territories of the communes of Marano, Negrar, and others in the Verona province in the Veneto region from Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and other grapes. Molinara is no longer a compulsory grape in the blend. The best wines are likely to come from the inner classico zone and are so labeled. The consorzio of Valpolicella features the Roman arena at Verona on its neck label.
Ripasso—(ree-PAH-soh): A process used in Verona for some Valpolicella wine that has some similarity to the Tuscan governo. Immediately after the Valpolicella wine ferments, the juice is poured into barrels containing the wine-soaked skins and seeds from Amarone or Recioto wines. These skins, which still contain some unfermented sugar, cause the wine to undergo a second alcoholic fermentation. This process increases the alcoholic content of the wine about 2 percent and gives the wine more structure, tannin, extract, glycerin, color, and bouquet.
Amarone della Valpolicella—(AH-mah-roe-neh DEL-lah vahl-poh-lee-CHEL-lah): A wine produced on hilly portions of the Valpolicella Classico Zone in the northeastern part of Veneto bordered on the west by the Adige River.
The word amarone comes from the Veronese dialect; it means bone-dry almost to the point of bitterness. The grapes used are the same as those in Valpolicella: Corvina Veronese, Corvinone, and Rondinella, with the possible addition of Molinara, Rossignola, Negrara, Sangiovese, and Barbera. Amarone, however, unlike Valpolicella, is made exclusively from the best grapes, which are located at the top and outside perimeter of the clusters. The grapes used for Amarone are grown on three-foot-high trellises in the hills of Valpolicella that rise one to two thousand feet above sea level. The best grapes, those that receive the most direct sunshine, are called recie or orecchie (ears), hence the formerly used name Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone (recioto is a word from the old Veronese dialect of the area).
In the picking process, more than 50 percent (officially up to a maximum of 70 percent) of the grapes are immediately rejected because they are not ripe enough. In addition, the selected bunches are those whose grapes are sufficiently spaced to allow air to circulate between them in the eventual drying process (this limits the formation of gray mold). These grapes, whose sugar levels are the highest because of the amount of sunlight they receive, are picked and then arranged on flat drawers, called tavoloni, which easily fit into racks (called arelle), which allow a good circulation of air. It is very important that they be kept in a dry, cool, well-ventilated room. Fans and dehumidifiers are often used to keep the air flowing and dry. In years past, bamboo, straw mats, or trellises were used to dry the grapes. Each mat is clearly marked with the day the grapes were picked and the part of the vineyard from which they originate. The grapes are cleaned and turned about every 20 days and are constantly inspected during the three- to four-month drying period. A few producers have created temperature and humidity-controlled “drying rooms” for dehydrating the grapes. This drying period (known as appassimento or resting period) causes a 30 percent loss of juice, resulting in grapes low in juice but extremely high in sugar and varietal character, without a corresponding increase in acidity. The concentrated fruit extract of the grapes is what some mistake for sweetness. Many of the Amarone wines produced depend on the formation of Botrytis cinerea on the Corvina grapes, which releases glucuronic acid during the drying process. However, some winemakers believe that botrytis is a drawback. Botrytis brings oxidation and sometimes off-flavors. Enzymatic action also changes the properties of the acids and sugar balance. The dried grapes, which resemble shriveled raisins, are pressed late February or early March and fermented slowly for approximately 45 days with the skins and stems intact. The wine is aged for a minimum of two years (DOCG regulations) in wood, but it is not uncommon for Amarone to be aged for five years or more in barrels prior to bottling and further bottle aging.
The resultant wine is, not surprisingly, highly alcoholic: a minimum of 14 percent under DOCG law. However, most Amarone wines are even higher in alcohol, sometimes as high as 17 percent. When produced in the heart of the DOCG production zone the wine may be labeled classico. Amarone received its DOC status on August 21, 1968 and was elevated to DOCG in 2009 (retroactive to the 2008 vintage). Formerly known as Recioto della Valpolicella “Amarone.”
Recommended Wine & Foods
- Description: Straw-yellow, tending at times to the greenish. A very fruity aroma and taste of apple, honeydew melon, and pear. It is dry, light-bodied, and balanced, with a slightly bitter-almond aftertaste.
- Food: Cold appetizers, salads—(chicken, rice, vegetables); shellfish and grilled shrimp, risotto, grilled “hot” sausage, linguine with white clam sauce.
- Description: Ruby-red in color, tending to garnet with aging, with an appealing bouquet and flavor of bitter almonds, plums, raisins, spicy black cherry, and tea. The taste is dry, velvety, medium-bodied, very fruity, and well-balanced.
- Food: Roast beef, beef stew, linguine with red clam sauce, pasta with pesto sauce, lemon chicken, steak fajitas, and veal.
- Description: Deep, bright cherry-colored with a unique bouquet and taste of almonds, black cherries, dried cherries, dried flowers, nuts, plums, raisins, spices, tarragon, tea, tobacco, violets, and wild mushrooms. The wine is dry, velvety, medium-bodied, bitterish, and balanced, with good acidity, tannin, and a warming, lingering aftertaste.
- Food: Game—pheasant, quail, or rabbit; roast beef, veal stew, spaghetti with meatballs, agnolotti, barbecued chicken, or sausages with lentils.
Amarone della Valpolicella—(AH-mah-roe-neh DEL-lah vahl-poh-lee-CHEL-lah)
- Description: Darkish ruby red color. Lush, persistent spicy bouquet of sweet cherry, roses, almost port-like. A moderately robust, strong, concentrated, complex flavor of dried fruit, reminiscent of bitter almonds, cherries, chestnuts, cinnamon, coffee, figs, hawthorn, licorice, peaches, plums, prunes, raisins, tobacco, vanilla, violets, and wild berries with considerable finesse; velvety rich, with a dry, warming spicy taste, and slightly bitter. The aftertaste is warming and quite dry, with sensations of rich spicy fruit.
- Food: Game (quail, rabbit, elk, venison), Cajun cuisine, Penne all’Arrabbiata, and grilled hot sausages; blackened “firm-fleshed” fish; grilled eggplant.
Recommended Wine & Cheeses
Appenzeller, Bel Paese, Burrata, Burrini, Caciotta, Caprini, Crescenza, Edam, Emmentaler, Fontina, Gouda, Gourmandise, Jarlsberg, Mozzarella, Muenster, Provolone, Ricotta, Robiola Piemonte, Scamorza, Taleggio, Tilsit
Asiago, Bagozzo, Bel Paese, Brînza, Burrata, Burrini, Butterkäse, Caciocavallo, Caerphilly, Cheshire, Damietta, Edam, Emmentaler, Esrom, Feta, Fiore Sardo, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Gouda, Grana, Gruyère, Handkäse, Jarlsberg, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Leyden, Liptói, Mozzarella, Muenster, Myzithra, Nøkkelost, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Provolone, Samsø, Sapsago, Sbrinz, Scamorza, Taleggio, Tilsit, Toma, Trappist
Amarone della Valpolicella—(AH-mah-roe-neh DEL-lah vahl-poh-lee-CHEL-lah)
Asiago, Asin, Bagozzo, Bitto, Emmentaler, Fiore Sardo, Gorgonzola, Grana, Handkäse, Jarlsberg, Kashkaval, Kefalotyri, Limburger, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Provolone, Sapsago, Sbrinz, Taleggio
The Wine & Cheese pairings has been taken from: Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple ”
Cheese pairings excerpted From: “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” Copyright 2010 available at Amazon.com