A number of Valpolicella producers are going down the Super Tuscan route, stepping outside the DOC appellation. Richard Baudains charts the different styles of premium wines being made.
Coming from a long line of highly respected Amarone producers (the family estate was founded in 1824), Riccardo Tedeschi is thoroughly grounded in the traditions of the great dried grape wines of Verona. His personal mission, however, lies in other directions. Tedeschi’s ambition is to create what he describes as ‘a great red to compete with Bordeaux or top level Tuscan, which is made from native varieties, without using dried grapes’. He began work on the project in the early 1990s, looking for the right fruit supply, experimenting with different grape varities and studying ways of handling the potentially coarse and bitter tannins of the local Corvina. He identified three early ripening sites in the high part of the Valpolicella Classico area for the new wine and settled on a blend of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, topped up with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon (‘to help structure, not aroma – I hope you are not going to notice it,’ he says slightly apologetically). He makes the wine in small temperature-controlled stainless steel vats equipped with paddles – the same computerised cellar equipment that is used to such telling effect by New Wave Barolo producers. He allows the temperature to rise to 34.5˚ for the first two days of fermentation to extract colour and soft tannin, which he stabilises by ageing in new Allier barrels.
Tedeschi says his aim is to make a wine ‘inspired by the New World, but very much an expression of the Valpolicella terroir’, and under the new DOC which allows the use of limited amounts of non-traditional varieties his Rosso La Fabriseria would qualify as a Valpolicella Classico Superiore. But – and this is the crux – Tedeschi has ditched the DOC. ‘Having put so much time and effort into making this wine there was no way I was going to come out with a denomination that you find in supermarkets at £1.99,’ he says. So last year, at the same time as Franco Allegrini was pulling his Valpolicellas out of the DOC, the first vintage of Tedeschi’s Rosso La Fabriseria joined the quietly swelling ranks of the new IGT Rosso Veronese.Emilio Fasoletti, director of the producers’ Consorzio, estimates there are now 60 to 70 IGT label wines produced in Valpolicella. In terms of quantity, they represent a drop in the 300,000hl a year ocean of Valpolicella, but in terms of quality they are right up there at the cutting edge. But why is it that so many of the best new wines made in the Valpolicella are not DOC? There are two possible reasons. The first is all about market positioning. Producers opt out of the DOC because it allows them greater freedom in their pricing. Theoretically, switching from DOC to IGT status is a declassification, but in effect – thanks to the Super Tuscan phenomenon – it is just the opposite. Traditionally the Valpolicella has always been very DOC-oriented, but the idea of elite table wines is beginning to take hold in the area. As Pier Angelo Tommasi, another of the up-and-coming young winemakers of the Veronese, says: ‘Chianti has its Super-Tuscans; what we are creating now are Super-Venetians.’ (Tommasi’s premium Corvina/Oseleta/ Cabernet is due out next year).
The other scenario is that of the winemaker who kicks over the traces of the official norms. This category ironically unites the ‘Terroir Purists’ and the ‘International School’, on one hand the producers who want to work with local grapes but in cépages not contemplated by DOC, and on the other winemakers who are experimenting with exotic blends. In the first group are winemakers like Franco Allegrini, the first and to date the only producer to come out with a mono-varietal Corvina (La Poja), and Masi whose rescue from extinction of a very gutsy variety called Oseleta has opened up important new horizons in Valpolicella. The second group is the one which has introduced the most radical departures from tradition in Valpolicella. When the guru of Italian ampelography Attilio Scienza suggested about 10 years ago that it might be a good idea to grub up the local varieties in Valpolicella and replace them with Cabernet Sauvignon, producers were outraged, but it did not stop them planting Cabernet, Merlot and even Syrah which are now beginning to appear in oaky, full-bodied blends with the local grapes.
The French varieties are also creating a stir in their own right. Whatever you might feel about yet another area of Italy putting in Bordeaux varieties, several of the new Valpolicella Cabernets are very eye-catching. The fact that Bertani’s Albion has picked up gold medals in France is testimony not only to its undisputed quality but perhaps also to a broadly Bordelaise style. Less international and more Veronese are Le Ragose’s Garda Cabernet and the Tenuta Sant’Antonio’s Capitello Riserva, which has a huge concentration of grapey flavour and unbelievable extract.
IGTs are designed to be catch-all denominations and Rosso Veronese is no exception. Alongside the Corvina blends and the Cabernets there are a multitude of intriguing one-offs such as the Nebbiolo/ Cabernet-based Libero from Mazzi, Aldegheri’s rare Dindarella and a splendid example of the gritty Trentino variety, Teroldego, made for the Marion estate by Celestino Gaspari, consultant to a crop of progressive, small, new estates. The one thing that they all have in common (with the exception of the honourably traditional Guerieri Rizzardi) is the self-consciously modern style which has become the trademark of IGTs in general. Translated into tasting terms this means you can expect colour, fruit, new oak and body. In terms of quality the local varietals are the most consistent of the IGTs. In terms of style, the number of important wines from fresh (as opposed to partially dried) grapes is limited. Besides Tedeschi’s La Fabriseria at the very top level, there’s Allegrini’s La Poja and La Grola and Masi’s Toar and Oseleta-based Osar. The trend for wines from local varieties leans towards pumping up the fruit and body by using one or other variation on the theme of dried grape. Possibly the most successful of these is the modified ‘ripasso’ technique of spiking a previously fermented wine with whole dried grapes in the middle of the winter, setting off a refermentation which adds colour, extract and aroma without risking the integrity of the wine. You can taste the results in Masi’s Campofiorin and Brolo di Campofiorin and Allegrini’s Palazzo della Torre.
The other way of obtaining fuller-bodied wines, namely the addition of fuller-bodied varieties, can work well as long as you are not looking for distinctive local character. Zenato, for example, has begun to make a Corvina/Merlot blend called Alberto with a luxurious volume on the palate and a depth of fruit which has certainly never been associated with Valpolicella. The other thing to bear in mind if you are shopping around among the new releases is that some of the innovative blends might taste just a bit too much like work-in-progress wines.Consorzio Director Emilio Fasoletti sees great potential spin off for the quality of Valpolicella in general in the current boom of alternative wines, and it is easy to agree that the IGT trend is a good thing for the area. All the bustle around the new IGTs, however, should not lead one to assume that all the best things are happening outside the DOC. There is a robust group of producers making excellent new wines under the Valpolicella label who, by the way, have no difficulty getting their prices. Romano dal Forno’s superb but notoriously pricey wines are all rigorously DOC. But that is another story.
RECOMMENDED IGT/VDTs FROM VALPOLICELLA
The Terroir Purists
Allegrini, Palazzo della Torre
Allegrini, La Poja
Allegrini, La Grola
Guerrieri-Rizzardi, Castel Guerrieri
Masi, Brolo di Campofiorin
Tedeschi, Rosso La Fabriseria
Tedeschi, Capitel San Rocco
Musella, Monte del Drago
Cantina Sociale di Valpolicella, Domini Veneti Raudii
The International School
Le Ragose, Cabernet
Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Cabernet Sauvignon Capitello Riserva