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Touring Valpolicella

Welcoming wineries within easy reach and surrounded by vine-covered hillsides, charming guesthouses and magnificent villas... the Valpolicella wine route delivers on all counts.

Of the many marvellous wine areas in Italy’s Veneto region, Valpolicella stands out for its combination of vine-covered landscapes and magnificent red wines rooted in fascinating traditions. First and foremost is the celebrated Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, which may soon be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, its wines made with local grape varieties dried by the ancient appassimento method. It’s a historic winemaking area – even its name is often interpreted as ‘valley (val) of the many (poli) cellars (cella)’.

The Valpolicella area, where the four traditional wines are produced (Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella Ripasso DOC, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, the sweet ancestor of Amarone) is composed of 11 valleys running north-south from the mountains of Lessinia (where delicious Monte Veronese cheeses are made) down to the flatter lands surrounding Verona, bordering the Soave area to the east and all within easy reach of the city. The historic zone, home to the Classico versions of the wines, is a compact stretch between Verona and Lake Garda.

The regional climate created by Lake Garda’s mild influence, combined with cooler breezes from the mountains, is ideal for the vines, which are usually pergola-trained to prevent the small, thin-skinned Corvina grapes from scorching in the summer sun. Corvina is the principal variety, which, together with Corvinone and Rondinella, forms the trio of native grapes that make up Valpolicella’s wines. The rows of pergola vines, along with dry-stone walls, olive trees, stone farmhouses and elegant villas, characterise the landscapes here.

Tourist appeal

The Allegrini family’s Renaissance Villa della Torre. Credit: Olimpio Fantuz / 4Corners Images

The area is well set up for visitors, with many Valpolicella wineries offering accommodation, and multiple opportunities for walkers and cyclists. One winery offering trails through the estate, as well as rooms and a restaurant, is Massimago in the unbuilt-up Mezzane valley, east of Verona. It’s run by Camilla Rossi Chauvenet, part of a new generation bringing a fresh vibe to the scene with a wine range including a pét-nat rosé made from traditional varieties, alongside several Amarone crus.

Another young winemaker experimenting with different styles using local grapes, including a dry, mineral-infused still white made from Corvina and Garganega, is Gabriele Righetti of I Vigneti di Ettore near Negrar in the Classico zone (see ‘My perfect day’, below).

Accordini Stefano, high in the hills, offers a range of rooms and visitor experiences, and makes zippy white and rosé Corvina sparklers. Accordini became independent in the 1970s when sharecropping ended, buying a plot where grapes are now sourced for top-range wines made only in the best years, including a Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore.

Although Ripasso (made by adding the dried grape skins from Amarone production to a Valpolicella to encourage further fermentation, bringing depth and richness) is Valpolicella’s top-selling style, many winemakers consider Valpolicella Superiore – in which no grape-drying is involved – their most representative. Prominent Classico zone producer Allegrini uses a double-fermentation technique differing from Ripasso, with dried grapes (rather than just the skins) used for the second round of fermentation for its Palazzo della Torre, named after the family’s Renaissance villa. Another iconic Allegrini wine is La Poja, the winery’s superb Corvina varietal.

Outside the Classico area, Valpantena, just northeast of Verona, is currently alone among Valpolicella’s valleys permitted a mention on labels. Here, the Collina dei Ciliegi winery is scaling new heights, literally: its vineyards, at 670m above sea level, are among Valpolicella’s highest. Aiming for fresh, mineral wines reflecting the chalky terrain, the young winery is working on new blends combining international and local varieties.

In line with current trends, its special selection Ciliegio Amarone displays more approachable and contemporary characteristics than the imposing, austere styles of the past.

Valpolicella wines are particularly food-friendly and Collina dei Ciliegi is among those offering dining (and rooms) at its attractive farmhouse. Others include Buglioni, with stylish locations in Verona and Valpolicella, and Corte Merci, with a rustic, family-run farmhouse restaurant (open weekends only).

My perfect day in Valpolicella

Morning

Wake up at the peaceful haven of Le Croibe, a 300-year-old stone farmhouse near Negrar at the Vigneti di Ettore winery run by the friendly and hospitable Righetti family. After a morning swim in the infinity pool, enjoy local produce for breakfast in the beamed former grape-drying loft. Tour the winery and try young winemaker Gabriele Righetti’s fresh, elegant wines.

It’s a 10-minute drive to Benedetti La Villa and the archaeological site where a Roman villa dating back to the 2nd century is still being unearthed. While the astonishing 4,000m2 site isn’t currently open to the public, you can glimpse the layout of the ancient villa and some of its mosaics. Carry on to visit Zýmē for its stunning location in a former sandstone quarry and intriguing wines.

Lunch is nearby at the Locanda Buglioni. Tuck into local cold cuts, seafood or barbecued beef paired with Buglioni wines, under a wisteria-covered pergola surrounded by vines.

Afternoon

Another 10-minute drive after lunch takes you to the atmospheric Serego Alighieri winery for a tour and tasting, and from here it’s just a few kilometres to the charming hilltop village of San Giorgio di Valpolicella. Take in the views from the lovely 12th-century Romanesque church, then stretch your legs with a walk at the Tedeschi winery’s La Fabriseria vineyard, and taste the Amarone cru among the vines from which it originates.

Evening

Before dinner, check into the Allegrini family’s Renaissance Villa della Torre in Fumane, your base for the night. Tour the palatial villa, try the estate’s own trio of wines, along with some of the renowned Allegrini wines. Take an evening stroll to dinner at Enoteca della Valpolicella, a local byword for delicious traditional dishes with an impressive choice of Valpolicella wines, also by the glass.


Ancient & modern

The 18th-century Villa Mosconi Bertani

At his Zýmē winery, which is located in an ancient sandstone quarry that has been transformed through ingenious creativity, Celestino Gaspari enjoys the freedom of making his own wines, following years as winemaker for others. The range here includes a single-variety Oseleta, made from the intense, tannic grape that’s often incorporated in small percentages in traditional Valpolicella wines but is returning to popularity in its own right; and Kairos, a blend of 16 varieties. Having spent a decade alongside the late Giuseppe Quintarelli, Gaspari is able to draw on a wealth of the maestro’s insights for more traditional wines, too. Book in advance for a tour and tasting (Monday to Saturday).

Nearly 400 years old, Tedeschi belongs to the Famiglie Storiche association of Valpolicella wineries. Sabrina Tedeschi is president of the association’s atmospheric restaurant in central Verona, the 16th-century Antica Bottega del Vino, which features a 4,500-strong wine list and serves traditional dishes including risotto all’Amarone.

Displaying a clean-cut elegance, Tedeschi’s wines include three Amarone crus. Vineyard tastings are offered for each, allowing you to sip the wines where they originate; the Fabriseria tour (see ‘My perfect day’, above) takes place in charming San Giorgio di Valpolicella, with its attractive Romanesque church and views to Lake Garda.

Wine-themed experiences and hospitality are fundamental also for another leading Valpolicella winery, Tommasi Viticoltori, run by no fewer than nine members of the fourth generation of the Tommasi family including Pierangelo, current president of the Famiglie Storiche association.

The family’s Villa Quaranta Wine Hotel located in a splendid 17th century villa surrounded by parkland, offers wine therapy treatments using the winery’s own Valpolicella and Amarone at the spa which also has a series of thermal water pools, while the on-site restaurant has an award-winning selection of around 1,300 wines.

Masi is another long-established winery, run by the Boscaini family. It celebrated its 250th harvest in 2022 and work is underway on an immense new structure, Monteleone21 (which is due to open in summer 2023), incorporating production and multi-sensorial visitor experiences adjacent to its historic site in Gargagnago. Masi also owns several wine bars, including a high-altitude site in Cortina, overlooking the legendary Col Druscié ski slopes.

The neighbouring Serego Alighieri estate, also part of the Masi group, has been owned by descendants of the poet Dante Alighieri since it was purchased by his son Pietro in 1353. Here, cherry-wood barrels used for ageing bring seductive aromas both to the wines and cellars. Its Valpolicella wines incorporate Molinara (a variety once required, now optional) using clones from the 150-year-old pre-phylloxera vine growing in the courtyard.

Thanks to its easy-to-reach position, gorgeous scenery and wealth of wineries, Valpolicella is perfect for wine-themed holidays at any time of year. In April, in addition to the vast Vinitaly wine trade event (Verona, 2-5 April 2023), events include Palio del Recioto over the Easter weekend, and Magnalonga, a 10km walk with stops for food and wine (23 April 2023), both in Negrar, just northwest of Verona. Autumn visitors can see Amarone and Recioto grapes drying after harvest, while newly released Amarone is presented at the Anteprima Amarone tastings (2-5 February 2023).

For more information:
Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella
Valpolicella Wine Route


Credit: Maggie Nelson

How to get there

Verona’s airport and the city centre are both located about 18km from Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella. Milan Bergamo airport is 111km away and Lazise, on Lake Garda, is 11km.


Your Valpolicella address book

Dimora Buglioni. Credit: Marco di Donato

Accommodation

Ca’ del Moro, Collina dei Ciliegi

A beautifully restructured farmhouse with six rooms and a glamping unit in a peaceful hilltop position in Valpantena. Rooms have kettles and coffee machines, and there’s an excellent on-site restaurant offering (not only) estate wines. Activities include horse riding and e-bike trails.

Dimora Buglioni

You’ll feel instantly at home at this attractive farmhouse, with wine always available at the guests’ kitchen honesty bar. There’s a wide patio that’s perfect for breakfast or drinks, and a restaurant just a 600m stroll through the vines.

Villa della Torre

Fascinating to visit and an unforgettable place to stay, this remarkable Renaissance villa influenced by ancient Roman architecture is owned by the Allegrini family. Features include startling grotesque fireplaces and antique furnishings; vines grow just beyond the garden.

Restaurants

Enoteca della Valpolicella

Valpolicella wines take pride of place both on the extensive wine list and in dishes such as risotto with Recioto at this local institution in Fumane, run with energy and enthusiasm by Ada Riolfi. The smart-rustic interior is very conducive to enjoyable long evenings.

Masi Tenuta Canova

There’s an informal atmosphere at the wine bar on this Masi-owned estate near Lake Garda, with patio tables surrounded by olive trees, and a varied menu including Venetian-style bites fried in wine tempura and suggested wine pairings. There’s also a wine shop and small museum.

Trattoria Caprini

A typical trattoria dating from 1907, part of the Tavole della Valpolicella association of family-run restaurants promoting local dishes and wines. The house speciality, tagliatelle (known around here as lasagnette) is made by hand daily; try it with Pierina’s famous ragù.

What to do in Valpolicella

Go shopping

In Arbizzano, enjoy tastings or simply shop for wine-aged charcuterie at Il Vigneto dei Salumi, for grape-skin matured cheeses at I Sapori del Portico opposite San Pietro church, and wines at Enoteca Santa Maria, where monthly events are held.

Tour villas and gardens

The magnificent 18th-century Villa Mosconi Bertani with its splendid gardens, and the Renaissance Villa della Torre are among the area’s impressive villas. Book to visit and for tastings of the owners’ wines: respectively Tenuta Santa Maria and Allegrini.

Go for a walk

While some wineries have marked trails or accompanied walks through vineyards, you can also set out alone. There is a good network of footpaths of various lengths that all start from the town square in the village of Gargagnago, including the scenic, unchallenging 2.5km Quattro Fontane route.


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