Italy - Northeast
Continuing our voyage through Italy, this month we take on a fascinating
voyage to the Northeastern regions.
Northeastern Italy starts east of Lake Garda with the Veneto region
and spreads to the region bordering Austria (Trentino-Alto Adige)
and that adjoining Yugoslavia (Friuli-Venezia Giulia).
In the Veneto, there is no shortage of viticultural areas, but those
of any importance are in the west of the region, starting at Lake
Garda, and well within striking distance of Verona. Soave and Valpolicella
are household names and sell in vast quantities but, even here,
there's more to them than their simple image conveys.
Soave and Valpolicella were first produced just on hill sites. As
they became more popular, cultivation spread to the surrounding
plains, to the detriment of quality. Wines now coming from the hilly
heartland are labeled Classico. Their quality is several notches
up from basic, so it is a distinction well worth noting. In addition,
the Classico wines of top Soave producers are so fine that they
redefine the terms for examining these household names.
Valpolicella can reach heights of distinction and concentration
that would surprise many. A super Valpolicella, called Amarone, and
is made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes that have been
left to shrivel and dry out for three months or more between the
harvest and pressing. The water evaporates, the juice is concentrated,
and after a slow fermentation, a big, powerful, alcoholic, intense
wine emerges. Occasionally the fermentation is stopped before all
the sugar has been converted to alcohol and the resultant sweetish
wine is called recioto. Producers sometimes beef up their ordinary
Valpolicella by letting the recently made wine ferment again on
the lees of Amarone. This process is called Ripasso and usually
represents a midpoint between the delicate Valpolicella and the
The Garganega grape gives Soave its almondy character and bitter
almonds aftertaste. Bianco di Custoza is similar but has a little
more fruit and zip, the result of being made from other grapes together
with Garganega. A large number of producers are exploiting the blend
to obvious good effect. Near Vicenza are the vineyards of Breganze,
turning out a smart range of wines, mainly from grape varieties
originating in France such as Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.