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Veneto Travel Diaries Part 5 – Valpolicella 101

Valpolicella

Valpolicella…land of wine, charm and tradition. So proclaims the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, responsable for the marketing and promotion of the region. And they are not wrong. Those three descriptors aptly sum up what awaits you when you arrive in this sunny paradise. Lush green hillsides and plains covered in vines, cherry and olive trees, farmers out tending to their crops and ancient stone villages boasting delicious trattorias.

The vineyards of Valpolicella lie in the province of Verona in Northeastern Italy. There are three distinct areas. Firstly, the “Classico” region, the historic heart of the appellation which consists of three major valleys (Fumane, Marano and Negrar). This area is slightly higher in altitude than the outlying DOC area and benefits from optimal ripening conditions. “Classico” on a label of Valpolicella is generally a good indication of quality, although increasingly producers from the outlying areas further to the east (Valpantena and the generic Valpolicella DOC area) are now producing excellent wines.

Valpolicella is red wine country. All of the wines are blended from the same set of indigenous grapes featuring the prerequisite Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella. Corvina is the major grape. It gives structure, body, bright acidity and attractive cherry and herbal notes to the wines. Its thick skin is a vital quality for the appassimento process (more on this later). Corvinone was originally thought to be a clone of Corvina, but has been proven to be a separate variety. The bunches are looser, with bigger grapes. It gives heady, perfumed wines, redolent with cherry and floral notes. Molinara is the minor player, accounting for 5 – 30% of blends. It is also a fairly aromatic grape, with the necessary thick skins. Small amounts of lesser known varieties like Molinara and Oseleta are sometimes thrown in for seasoning. Each producer will determine their own blend (within the DOC regulations), depending on what grows best in their vineyard, and what style they are looking to craft.

Corvina…gives structure, body, bright acidity and attractive cherry and herbal notes…

There are two key elements that make the wines of Valpolicella so enticing. Firstly, there is incredible value for money on offer here. While Tuscany and Piedmont enjoy greater international renown, the producers of Valpolicella have quietly but surely ramped up quality, while keeping the prices nice! Secondly, the region boasts unique winemaking methods resulting in a range of wine styles from light and fruity to rich and full-bodied.

As with so many classic, Old World wine regions, the wine classifications are best understood by picturing a multi-tiered pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, you have basic Valpolicella DOC. This is your every day, barbeque wine. It is lively, with tart cherry fruit flavours, medium body and smooth tannins. Served slightly chilled, it is dangerously drinkable. The next step up the pyramid brings us to Valpolicella Superiore DOC. These “superior” wines are aged a minimum of one year in oak or other wood vessels, and have a minimum alcohol content of 12%. They retain the bright, fruit driven character of the basic level, but with a little more depth and persistence. Ripasso della Valpolicella DOC offers even greater concentration and complexity. The vinification technique for Ripasso is unique. Dry base wines are made in the same manner as basic Valpolicella. Several months later, the base wine is transferred into a tank containing the leftover pommace of grape skins from the vinification of another wine, the Amarone. These skins are still rich in sugars and yeasts, provoking a second fermentation for the Valpolicella. The wine is “repassed” (hence the name Ripasso). This process adds glycerol (leading to a rounder mouthfeel), gives richer flavours and higher alcohol levels.

At the top of the pyramid, we have the two DOCG wines: Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella. This is where the “appassimento” process comes into play. Appassimento is the act of drying grapes for an extended period so that 40% or more of the water evaporates, resulting in shrivelled berries rich in flavour and sugar. The Amarone destined grapes are dried for 90 to 120 days on average, in large drying lofts designed to permit good air circulation. The bunches are carefully inspected throughout the process to ensure they remain in good condition, free of moulds that would taint the flavour. The raisined bunches are then carefully transferred to tanks or large wooden vats for fermentation, followed by long aging (2 years for Amarone, 4 years for Amarone Riserva) in large, generally neutral wood casks. The wine is opulent, bold, rich, full bodied, highly alcoholic, generally over 15% and often up to 17%. These are reds to cellar for 7 – 12 years and serve with savoury, hearty fare. Recioto winemaking begins in the same way, but the drying period is longer (120 to 150 days on average), and instead of then fermenting the wines dry, the process is halted mid-way to give a rich, concentrated, cherry and dried fruit scented, sweet wine (often up to 150g/L of residual sugar).

The wine is opulent, bold, rich, full bodied, highly alcoholic…best served with savoury, hearty fare.

Recioto is the oldest wine style of the area with a history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The “Retico” was the wine of choice for the emperor Augustus, and the pride of all growers. It was in crafting this fine nectar that the Amarone style was (accidently) born. Amarone derives from the Italian word for bitter, and was the adjective used when the Recioto was occasionally left too long during fermentation with all of the sugar transformed to alcohol. The dry, alcoholic wine was considered overly bitter and generally thrown away. Not until the 1050s did opinions change and the Amarone style become appreciated in its own right.

Valpolicella is a storied region, with a long history of crafting unique, captivating wines. From light and fruity to heady and rich, there is a wine for every palate. Try this local recipe with a glass of Ripasso or Amarone and you will be packing your bags for Verona!

http://www.amaronetours.it/wines/amarone/amarone-recipes-risotto

 

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARIES PART 4 – VALPOLICELLA TALES

Valpolicella Tales

Perhaps it was the proximity to Verona and its star-crossed lovers that made me sentimental. And perhaps, after a week travelling with two strong, talented women, I had become somewhat biased. Whatever the reasons, the themes of enduring love and of trailblazing females seemed to define my time in Valpolicella. As I find myself in a story telling mood, I will recount the history of three of the estates visited this week. Don’t worry, a review of the wines and an overview of the regions will follow shortly (in part 5).

CORTE SANT’ALDA  http://www.cortesantalda.com/en/

Our first stop was an unassuming old villa, atop a pretty hillside with panoramic views of vineyards strewn with wild poppies. From the moment I shook hands with the wry, spirited Marinella Camerani, I knew I would like her. In short order she had rattled off a tale of rebellion and passion. Tired of working as a lowly accountant in the family car battery business, she left her father and brothers, and even husband, behind and moved to the country. Without a lick of experience in winemaking, she began working in the cellars and slowly learnt her trade. Small Italian towns in the 1970s were not particularly receptive to divorcées living alone and taking on men’s work. The first years were hard, but she persevered, eventually getting the capital together to buy her first vineyards. Today, Corte Sant’Alda is a thriving 40-hectare biodynamic estate consisting of vineyards, olive trees, pastures and forest. Marinella’s eyes shone with pride speaking about her wines, but she became positively radiant when discussing the love of her life. Cesar came to her village as an illegal Peruvian immigrant. Their union was not a welcome one to her already disapproving family, but she eventually won them over. The winery is named for their now 16-year-old daughter Alda. Beautiful purity is the watchword for the whole line up, from the well crafted, cherry scented Valpolicella through to the rich, concentrated Amarone.

Québec: Private imports via La QV http://www.laqv.ca/

Ontario: Private imports via The Toronto Wine Club

VILLA MONTELEONE http://www.villamonteleone.com/principale/azienda_en.htm

After retiring from neurosurgery at North Western University, Anthony Raimondi and his Colombian-born wife Lucia Duran decided to follow their dream and retire in Italy. They happened across the stately old villa in their travels and fell in love. The estate came with a hectare of vines, so they decided to try their hand at winemaking. Initially they just wanted to supply their own cellar, but ambition got the better of them and the estate grew. Sadly, Anthony passed away not long after. Lucia found herself alone, in charge of a large property and a demanding enterprise.  She considered closing up shop but after some soul searching, decided to roll up her sleeves and carry on. She moved into a small cottage on the property and transformed her home into a tastefully furnished, welcoming bed & breakfast*. After a number of years growing her vineyard business alone, she recently found a business partner, Marco, to manage the vineyards and winemaking. Today, the estate makes 30 000 bottles, sold primarily in North America. We tasted the line up in Lucia’s lovely, heritage-classed gardens. The wines were a true reflection of the noble woman in front of us: elegant and refined.

Ontario: Private imports via Small Winemakers http://www.smallwinemakers.ca/

* For more information on the B&B: bedandbreakfast@villamonteleone.com

Follow Villa Monteleone on facebook for Marco’s authentic Italian recipes (in English)

TINAZZI http://www.tinazzi.it/

This last story is maybe a little less pertinent, since it is technically the story of a determined, strong-willed man. It was however, recounted over the course of a fabulous evening of Paverotti, antipastis and wine, by his equally tenacious daughter. Gianandrea Tinazzi was just 18 when his father, Eugenio, lost his job. The cantina where he worked went bankrupt. Tired of working for others, Eugenio decided he would set up his own operation and that his son would help. He started by buying small quantities of grapes, and vinifying them in a crude winery set-up in the garage. Gianandrea’s job was to drive around the holiday camping grounds surrounding Garda lake and sell the wine, returning with the empty bottles. Quickly realizing that they needed more than holidaymakers to grow, Gianandrea began selling in local restaurants, and then to national wholesalers. As the business continued to thrive, father and son began purchasing vineyards and looking for clients abroad. Without a word of German or a single business contact, Gianandrea drove all night and started the process of knocking on doors to present his little known wine. Fast forward to 2016, and a new generation of Tinazzi’s work at the family firm. Francesca studied economics in Milan and initially resisted the idea of joining her father and brother at the now flourishing 3-million bottle a year winery. But after 5 years away, the lure of the vineyards proved too great and she returned as financial director to oversee, if not quite, control Gianandrea’s ambition. The winery now consists of 100 hectares of vineyards in Bardolino, Valpolicella and Puglia, with additional grape contracts and brands out of Chianti, Abruzzo and Sicily. A heady, voluptous style defines Tinazzi’s line up of Veneto & Puglia wines.

Québec: Tinazzi’s excellent Puglian Primitivo “Feudo di Santa Croce” is available at the SAQ. The Veneto lineup can be private ordered via Vinicolor http://www.vinicolor.ca/produits.php#canada

 

 

 

 

 

Life

ITALY AWAITS…!

Distretto

I have been a little remiss in posting recently. This is simply because the big count down has begun…  I am T-26 days from the Masters of Wine exams. So, as you can imagine, I have had my head permanently in the books (and my nose in the glass) for the past couple of months.

The dread and anticipation is bringing me close to fever pitch. So the world’s greatest husband (mine), is sending me away for a week to cool my heels. I am making the potentially risky move off taking a week off. I have been tempted into accepting the gracious invitation of the Italian Chamber of Commerce to attend the annual Vino in Villa (http://vinoinvilla.it/en/) festival. This annual event honours the top quality Prosecco from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG.

Watch this space for a week long travel diary on my musings, tastings and so forth. I will also treat you to a cheeky little jaunt to Valpolicella before I head home. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….!

Producers Reviews

PRODUCER PROFILE – MASI AGRICOLA

masi appassimento

If you live in Canada and like Italian wines, you have certainly come across the prodigious line up from Masi Agricola. They are known as one of the founding fathers of Amarone. Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending a tasting of some of their finest cuvées.

The process of drying the finest grapes to make richer, more concentrated wines is an old one in the Valpolicella region. However, until fairly recently, production was largely dedicated to crafting the sweet recioto style. Amarone, meaning “the great bitter”, refers to the technique of fermented the raisined grapes to near dryness, making for a full-bodied, high alcohol yet still luscious and velvetty red wine. Masi has dedicated generations to perfected their Amarone style. The grapes undergo the appassimento (drying) process on small bamboo racks in well aerated drying rooms. While the minimum drying time for the appellation is 55 days, Masi holds themselves to a higher standard, waiting an average of 100 days (until the grapes lose 35% of their weight). The resultant Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC wines are bold and intensely flavourful.

Masi’s ever continuing quest for quality improvement and innovation extends to all of their plethora of DOC and IGT wines.  Another case in point is Ripasso della Valpolicella. While the process of macerating the Valpolicella wines on Amarone pomace was used by many winemakers throughout the region, each estate had their own name for the technique. Masi coined the phrase “ripasso” in the 1980s and started selling the medium bodied reds internationally. The name and style caught on and, in 2009, a DOC was granted. By this time however, Masi had already abandoned the concept.

Masi’s ever continuing quest for quality improvement and innovation extends to all of their plethora of DOC and IGT wines.

They decided that simply steeping the lighter (and generally lesser quality) Valpolicella in the dregs of the Amarone wasn’t yielding the quality of wines they sought. They therefore developped a new process dubbed “double fermentation”. The concept is simple. The grapes are classed in three quality tiers; the best for Amarone, the second best for their former Ripasso wines and the third level (less concentrated grapes) for their simpler, every day wines . The second tier is further subdivided, with a portion immediately fermented and the rest put through the same appassimento process as Amarone, but only to a weight loss of 15%.  The dried grapes are added to the fermented wine causing a secondary fermentation to occur, making for a more complex, layered wine. Masi’s Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC wines like the delicious Montepiazzo cuvée are crafted in this manner.

Masi Agricola has been in the Boscaini family since 1772. Their story began with the acquisition of a vineyard plot called Vaio dei Masi (little valley). The estate was thus named and a legacy was born. Today, patriarch Sandro Boscaini heads up the estate, with children Alessandra and Raffaele managing the technical department. Like Robert Mondavi’s role promoting the Napa Valley, the Boscainis work tirelessly to show that the Veneto is capable of world class wines. Deemed “Italy’s wine factory” by Jancis Robinson, the region is best known for the millions of entry level bottles of light bodied Valpolicella and neutral Soave. Great vintages are rarely hailed in the press like those of Piedmont or Tuscany. The Boscainis have therefore taken matters into their own hands, creating a “5 star” concept to highlight top quality vintages like 2012. Weather conditions need to be optimal during the growing season and the appassimento period (good aeration of the drying grapes) for a vintage to be named.

My top picks from the tasting included the following:

Masi MontePiazzo Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2014 – 89pts. PW

Attractive dark ruby colour, with ripe notes of plum, black cherry, mixed spice and earthy undertones. Rounded acidity, medium bodied and a velvetty texture define the palate, with classic sour cherry flavours on the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (27.00$)

Blend details: 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 10% Molinara

Masi Grandarella Refosco delle Venezie IGT 2011 – 88pts. PW

Refosco is an ancient variety, native to the Veneto region. It is generally quite a bold, tannic grape with a touch of bitterness. It is blended here, with Carmenère, which is planted in small pockets of the Veneto and Fruili regions. Intriguing aromatics of potpourri, red cherry, cedar and a subtle animal note define the nose. Pleasant on the palate, with a dense structure and tart acidity providing lift through the mid-palate. Ever so slightly rustic with ripe, chewy tannins.

Where to buy: SAQ (26.30$), LCBO (28.95$)

Blend details: 75% Refosco, 25% Carmenère

Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 1997 – 94pts. LW

A brilliant example of the ageing potential of fine Amarone. The nose delights, with a lovely mix of tertiary earthy, truffle and prune notes, and fresh red and black berry fruit. Still bold and full-bodied, yet showing the mellow smoothness of its age. Sweet sappy fruit, and lifted tones of sour cherry linger on the persistent finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (107.50$)

Blend details: 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara

Masi Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2009 – 95pts. LW

South west facing slopes catch the afternoon sun and benefit from the drying effects of the prevailing wind, ensuring optimally ripe, healthy grapes.  The result is an elegant wine, redolent with floral notes, cedar, black cherries, dark berries and subtle tertiary aromas. Firm, yet broad through the mid-palate with tangy acidity and a long, cigar box scented finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (107.50$ – 2007 vintage), LCBO (101.95$)

Blend details: 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara

Masi Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008 – 92pts. LW

A denser, more structured style. Subtle botrytis notes on the nose interweave nicely with macerated black fruits, spice and dried floral aromas. Full bodied with big, chunky tannins that frame the cedar, cigar box scented finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (86.75$), LCBO (69.95$)

Blend details: 65% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 15% Molinara (Serego Alighieri clone)

Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2009 – 91pts. LW

Intense aromas of plum, mixed black berries and a lively minerality feature on the nose. Full bodied, fresh and tightly woven, with firm, chewy tannins and a lingering toasted note.

Where to buy: SAQ (99.25$), LCBO (101.95$ – 2007 vintage)

Blend details: 75% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara