Valpolicella is the ‘umbrella’ term for a red wine denomination in which 5 different DOC/G wines can be produced from the same vineyard using the same grape varieties, mainly Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, all of which are autochthonous.
Where is Valpolicella produced?
The area, a series of valleys running north to south in the foothills of the Venetian Pre-Alps north of Verona, overlaps with the Soave DOC to the east. Two geographical sub-sections, Classico and Valpantena lie towards the western edge; the remaining DOC area is known locally as Valpolicella Orientale (Eastern). Unless labelled Classico or Valpantena therefore, the wine comes from ‘Orientale’. There is little to choose between the three in quality terms, though Valpantena, a single valley, is tiny by comparison.
What are the five wines?
Approximately 64,000,000 bottles are made across the 5 DOC/Gs: Recioto DOCG, Amarone DOCG, Valpolicella Superiore DOC, Ripasso DOC (including a Superiore version) and Valpolicella DOC.
Valpolicella Wines Styles
At the top of the quality pyramid, Recioto and Amarone are made from semi-dried grapes; the drying process is known as Appassimento. While Recioto has been around since Roman times, Amarone dates back no further than the middle of the twentieth century. Little Recioto, the sweet version, is produced nowadays; Speri’s La Roggia is exemplary. Meanwhile Amarone’s popularity has exploded: great bottles come from dried grape specialists Masi who make 5 different versions.
Further down the pyramid the wines are no less exciting. At its base is the criminally underrated, simple Valpolicella DOC. Feted by Hemingway, this fragrant, peppery red is a marvel with food, showing a real affinity with pork-based dishes.
Superb examples in Classico come from Antolini and Monte Dall’Ora; in ‘Orientale’, Ederle and Vicentini excel (Vicentini’s barrel-fermented Valpolicella DOC comes closest in style to the wine Hemingway would have enjoyed).
Re-ferment or macerate Valpolicella on the lees of either Recioto or Amarone (or both) and you have Verona’s unique take on winemaking: Ripasso, literally meanining ‘passed over’. Ripasso only gained DOC status in 2010, yet now accounts for nearly half the area’s entire DOC/G output, so successful has it become.
In Classico look for Rubinelli Vajol and Villa Spinosa, or from ‘Orientale’, Tedeschi’s Capitel San Rocco. At its best Valpolicella Superiore DOC is the stand out wine of the area, whether made from partially dried or freshly gathered grapes or indeed a mixture of the two.
In ‘Orientale’, the Dal Forno wine (semi-dried grapes) is legendary while in Classico, Ca La Bionda’s extraordinary ‘Decennale’ (fresh grapes only) with 10 years barrel ageing, is a true statement wine.