- Q & A
Italy - Veneto
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, Valpolicella and Bardolino 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 exclusively on the best hill sites. As they became more popular, grapes were planted on the surrounding plains which yielded wines of lesser quality.
Today, the wines coming from the original, hilly heartland are labeled "classico." Their quality is several notches up from those not labeled so.. In addition, the classico wines of top Soave producers such as Anselmi or Pieropan, or Valpolicella estates such as Allegrini, Le Ragose, Zenato and others 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. This super-Valpolicella is called "Amarone." It 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 leftover, post-fermented stems, seeds and skins of Amarone.
The Garganega grape gives Soave its almondy character and bitter almonds aftertaste. Bianco di Custoza is not dissimilar but has a bit more fruit and zip, the result of being made from other grapes together with Garganega.
Further east is the domain of the classic Veneto grape: Prosecco. Prosecco wines are light and white with a milky softness, an apple-like crispness and a spicy tang. A large number of estates are producing wines that fully reflect the grape's charms. They may be dry or medium dry and are more often sparkling than still.