Regions - Italy - Northeast

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 massive Amarone.

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.