Over the last couple of weeks I’ve tasted a bunch of wines from the Valpolicella and have also attended two Valpolicella tastings. At the end of this post I will share all my tasting notes with you.
The Valpolicella is a pattern of different valleys between Lake Garda and the mountain chain of the Monti Lessini in Veneto, Italy.
The viticulture zone is divided into three subregions:
- Valpolicella Classica: The Valpolicella Classica lies in the west and is the heart of the region. Some of the best vineyards are found here. It is entered around the town of Negrar. It is the traditional viticulture zone of the Valpolicella.
- Valpolicella Valpantena: This sub-region is named after a Pantheon in the village Santa Maria in Stelle and only became part of the Valpolicella viticulture zone in the 1960s. One fifth of the Valpolicella productions come from the Valpantena.
- Valpolicella: Wines labeled Valpolicella are produced in the east of the region near the villages Squaranto and Illasi. However, wineries in the Valpolicella Classica and Valpantena can also decide to label their wines Valpolicella. There is no obligation to label wines Classico or Valpantena.
There is a distinct difference in-between wines because each subregion has its own terroir. For a long time it was believed that the Valpolicella Classica was superior to the other two but that is simply not true anymore. The Valpantena for example is known for more complex and tannic wines. Each sub-region has its own style. It’s up to you to decide which style you like best.
Even though the Valpolicella is mostly known for its wines, olive trees grow well there, too.
Valpolicella is also the name of one of the red wines produced in said region from a set of autochthonous grape varieties including Corvina, Corvinone Mollinara and Oseleta. Only rarely are varietals produced out of these grape varieties. The exact blend varies from vintage to vintage and depends on several aspects like grape quality.
- Valpolicella is a usually inexpensive, fruity, light and not meant for aging.
- Valpolicella Superiore. If the wine meets certain criteria then it can be labeled Superiore. The most important one is that the wine has to age for at least 12 months before it can be put into commerce. Valpolicella Superiore have a larger body and are more complex. Depending on the quality of the wine, a Superiore can be stored for 5-7 years – some can be stored even longer.
- Recioto della Valpolicella. Generally speaking, the Valpolicella has the ‘problem’ that its wines are on the lighter end. To give them more structure, wineries like to dry the grapes before fermenting them. This process is called appassimento. Depending on the style, the appassimento process varies from a few weeks to many months. For Recioto, the grapes get dried at least until December 1st but the better Recioto are produced from grapes that dried until January. Unlike Valpolicella, Recioto is a sweet wine. It has been produced for centuries. Producing Recioto is expensive because the grapes lose most of their weight but the resulting wine is highly concentrated and complex. Dried grape skins are the by-product of wines that undergo appassimento process. These are often used to make Grappa but some wineries prefer to recycle them for another wine: Ripasso.
- Valpolicella Ripasso. Ripasso is a relatively new style that was was awarded DOC status only in 2010. In Italian “Ri-passare” means to re-pass. Unlike Recioto, Ripasso is a dry wine produced from regular grapes as well as grape skins that underwent appassimento. This means the grapes used for Recioto and Amarone get fermented a second time, hence the name Ripasso.
- Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone is the dry version of Recioto and one of Italy’s most prestigious red wines. Amarone has to age at least two years in oak before it can be put into commerce. This period used to be longer but more on that later.
What about international grape varieties? Of course the likes of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah are also found in the Valpolicella but they are not permitted for any of the above listed wines. This hasn’t stopped winemakers to experiment with them and some of created interesting blends of local Valpolicella varities and international varieties. Syrah, for example, grows well near Illasi.
Ever since Valpolicella was awarded DOC status in 1968, the demand for the wine has drastically increased and is still increasing. The situation is even worse for Amarone. The high popularity of those wines has led to an inconsistent quality and many producers have focused for too long on quantity. This has in parts ruined the reputation of these otherwise great wines. Buying a Valpolicella or an Amarone can be like buying a lottery ticket if you are not familiar with the producer. Some of the best wines I’ve tried come from this viticulture zone but also some of the worst.
Large, influential wineries have managed to loosen the once tight Amarone DOC law on multiple occasions. Not too long ago, Amarone had to age at least three years in oak – this was reduced to two years. This is problematic because now even younger Amarone is found on the market and unlike Valpolicella, Amarone is not a wine that should be consumed young.
Furthermore, the market has been flooded with highly alcoholic, way too heavy, not-fun, Amarone. In parts this is also the consumers’ fault. Producing a good Amarone is expensive but the average consumer does not want to spend €50+ ona single bottle of Amarone and so the wineries want to meet the consumers’ demand and offer a less expensive product. In the past, Amarone was only produced in very good vintages. Some wineries still refuse to make Amarone in less-favorable vintages but the majority, unfortunately, produces Amarone no matter how good or bad the vintage is. Why? Because they know that their Amarone will be sold anyways as long as the price isn’t too high.
2014, for example, is a terrible vintage for Amarone but you can be assured that in four years you will be able to purchase 2014 Amarone. For a more detailed report on the 2014 vintage in the Valpolicella I recommend you read this article from The Wine Economist. But I want to point out again that not all wineries focus on quantity. So there is still hope for Amarone.
Ripasso della Valpolicella is another one of those products that was only created to meet the consumers’ demand for a less-expensive Amarone and many of the wineries that still do focus on quality do no produce any Ripasso at all, which I think is a good thing. Ripasso is highly overrated in my opinion.
Anyways, I hope I didn’t paint the world too black but I wanted to bring to your attention that you should be careful about which Valpolicella/Amarone you buy and that there is an immense inconsistency in quality between different wines.
So let’s get to the tasting notes, shall we?
Short reminder, in case you are not familiar with my rating system: Wines rated below 2.5 stars are not recommended.
Intense nose with aromas of blackberries, blueberries, coffee, leather. Medium body, fresh, quite mineral, slightly tannic, crisp, notes of chocolate and forrest fruit.
Rating: 4/5 stars
2013 Tedeschi – Lucchine – Valpolicella Classico DOC (Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara)
Dull nose with aromas of strawberries and raspberries. Light body, crisp, fresh, short finish – boring.
Rating: 2/5 stars
2010 Pieropan – Vigna Garzon – Amarone della Valpolicella DOC
On the nose blueberry jam, cloves, red cherries, pepper. Full-bodied, vivid, well-structured, elegant, relatively smooth tannins – will be perfect in 2-3 years.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Valpolicella blend + Syrah. Complex nose with aromas of roasted coffee, rhubarb, blackcurrant, rumtopf, tobacco, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves. Medium body, well-balanced, earthy, fresh, a bit green, good acidity.
Rating: 4/5 stars
2006 Tedeschi – Capitel Fontana – Recioto della Valpolicella DOC
Forrest fruit and cherries on the nose. Good sweetness, smooth tannins but lacked acidity, medium-long finish with notes of blackberries and black cherries. The wine is already in decline – quite a pity for a 2006 Recioto.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
2012 Tedeschi – Capitel San Rocco – Ripasso della Valpolicella DOC
Aromas of raspberry jam, plum jam, black pepper. Medium body, Oaky, tannic, lacked complexity, rather short aftertaste.
Rating: 3/5 stars
2012 Tedeschi – Capitel Nicalo – Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC
On the nose there are forrest fruits and vanilla. Light body, mineral, crisp, green, short-ish finish.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Last year, I reviewed the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi – Recioto della Valpolicella DOC. Follow this link to read my tasting notes for it. It’s a must-try Recioto. Rating: 5/5 stars.
Here you can read my thoughts on the 2010 Cantina di Negrar – Amarone della Valpolicella DOC. Rating: 3/5 stars
There you have it: Seven tasting notes and some background information to the Valpolicella and its wines. The Valpolicella is a great travel destination. Exploring the territory, visiting local wineries and of course drinking delicious wine. I’ve visited the region myself on several occasions and I’m always looking forward to going back because there is always more to see. If you plan to tour the Valpolicella during late March/early April then make sure to also visit VinItaly in nearby Verona. Combining a VinItaly visit with a Valpolicella tour is ideal because of the close proximity of the two.
That’s all for today. Cheers!