Veneto is a large region in the north-east of Italy, encircled to the north by Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia and bordered to the west and south by Lombardy and Emilia Romagna respectively. The Italian wines of the Veneto region reflect all facets of the wine world, from the most neutral Pino...
Veneto is a large region in the north-east of Italy, encircled to the north by Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia and bordered to the west and south by Lombardy and Emilia Romagna respectively. The Italian wines of the Veneto region reflect all facets of the wine world, from the most neutral Pinot Grigio to the great dry Soave wines for the whites, or from the umpteenth Merlot to the world acclaimed Amarone della Valpolicella. It is the largest DOC/DOCG wine producing region in Italy with 29 DOC and 17 DOCG.
Wine production has been attested in the Veneto region for several millennia. With the Etruscans giving way to the Romans, Veneto became the 10th and last Roman region to be conquered in 264 BC. It was already a wine-growing hub exporting its wines to all the provinces of the Empire. A thousand years of the Republic of Venice would not change this, the regions of Verona and Piave fed the taverns of Venice and the merchant ships on the Mediterranean. Napoleonic intermittently, Veneto was mainly Austro-Hungarian for most of the 19th century, opening up new export markets and increasing its fame in Europe. In 1963, the DOC system was officially established in Italy, and Veneto was to rush like no other region to gain recognition for the quality of its prestigious wines.
Veneto is a land of geographical contrasts. Its border with Austria to the north gives it the benefit of the influence of the mountains and its many Alpine rivers (Adige, Brenta, Piave), its wide coastline on the Adriatic Sea regulates the overwhelming continental temperatures that prevail on the long Po plain. The immense Lake Garda makes the Verona area suitable for the production of elegant white and rosé wines. The best vineyards are to be found on the countless hills that criss-cross the area on soils composed mainly of siliceous glacial marl.
The Veneto region produces every type of wine possible and imaginable! The vineyards on the plain saw their production intensely mechanised and absorbed by the powerful cooperatives. The numerous IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) represent regional appellations that can produce wines from native grape varieties, international grape varieties or ambitious experimental blends. The smaller DOC appellations produce equal proportions of white and red wines of high quality and complexity, with their best historical sites often obtaining DOCG and « Classico status».
The greatest red wine of the Veneto region is without doubt Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG. Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara grapes are used for its very special preparation: it is a wine of passerillage (appassimento) normally intended to produce a sweet wine, the Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, a wine known and appreciated since the Roman Empire. A forgotten barrel saw its yeasts finish the dry fermentation and created this extraordinary wine: dark, powerful, high in alcohol, viscous, extremely fruity.
Modernity will be found further east, ambitious winegrowers have planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on volcanic soils and the results are more than convincing, rivaling in class with the greatest wines of Bordeaux and California.
Garganega is the grape variety responsible for the greatness of one of Italy's best dry white wines, the Soave DOC. Its exoticism and power are admirably complemented by the freshness and delicacy of Trebbiano di Soave. The best examples come from the DOCG Soave Classico.
Prosecco is certainly the best known Italian sparkling wine in the world, ahead of Emilian Lambrusco and Lombard Franciacorta. The production area of Conegliano is located in the Province of Treviso, 60 kilometres north of Venice. Made from the Gléra grape variety, according to the Charmat method (second fermentation in pressurised stainless steel vats and not in the bottle as in Champagne), Prosecco is a superbly fruity wine, from dry to slightly sweet, excellent from aperitif to dessert.
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During the fourth century, Cassiodorus, minister of Theodoric, king of the Visigoths, described in a letter a wine which was made from a special technique of drying the grapes, it was called "Acinatico", and was produced in the area of Valpolicella. The name Valpolicella, derived from the Latin "Vallis-polis -celle", meant "Valleys of many cellars".
"Acinatico" is undoubtedly the ancestor of Recioto and Amarone. Until last century, only Recioto, a sweet and velvety wine, was produced in Valpolicella. Its name comes from the dialect "recia", which means orecchia (ear), because originally only the highest and best exposed part of the bunch was used.
The fermentation of Recioto was interrupted in order to leave residual sugar and to give its typical sweetness. But one day, an owner, who returned to his estate too late, found that the fermentation had been completed. While tasting the wine, he exclaimed "Ma, è amaro". Which means, "But, it’s bitter." This anecdote is one of the explanations for the origin of the wine and its name "Amarone".
The first bottles were only produced at the beginning of the 20th century for family use or for friends.
Actual marketing, however, only started after the war. In 1968, the red wine Amarone obtained the controlled designation of origin (DOC). At that time, Amarone represented only a small percentage of the region's production. It was only during the second half of the 1990s that production increased significantly. However, the quantity will always remain limited, as the yield cannot exceed 7.8 tonnes per hectare in the areas defined by the Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella.
Valpolicella is located north of Verona. Its area borders Lake Garda to the west whilst it is protected to the east and the north by the Lessini mountains.
Composed of valleys that developed in a north-south direction, Valpolicella is presented as a range of valleys starting from Verona.
With a hilly landscape and gentle slopes, the area is covered with vineyards, interspersed with olive and cherry trees. The proximity of Lake Garda and the Alps ensures a flow of fresh air which is beneficial for the vines during summer nights.
The cultivation of the vineyards, mainly in Veronese pergola, is guided by the experience of winemakers, who rely on traditional knowledge, whilst incorporating more modern environmental techniques.
Amarone is produced from mainly 3 varieties of native grapes: Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella. The production regulations stipulate that the blend be composed of Corvina (between 45 and 95%) and Rondinella between 5% and 30%. To substitute Corvina, Corvinone is allowed up to a maximum of 50%.
It is also expected that up to 10 to 15% of indigenous grapes from the region, such as Molinara, Dindarella, Corbina, Spigamonte and Turchetta, can be added to the blend under certain conditions. Finally, 3% of international grape varieties can be accepted.
Corvina is the main grape of the Valpolicella region. It is a variety with medium budding and late maturation (late September - early October). It brings from its structure, a beautiful aroma and suppleness in the wines.
Rondinella is a grape variety that was introduced relatively late in the region, during the 19th century. Its name seems to derive from the colour of its skin which resembles the adornment of swallows (Rondini in Italian). It brings colour and flavour to the blend. [Photo]
Corvinone has always been compared to Corvina. However, it was only in 1993, with modern techniques of genetic analysis, that it was shown that Corvina and Cornivone are two different varieties. It brings a beautiful complexity of aromas and structure to the wines.
The harvest generally takes place at the beginning of September. The bunches of grapes are carefully selected in the vineyard and arranged in a single layer in plastic boxes so as to allow the air to circulate better. The boxes are generally placed in large, perfectly ventilated rooms, most often above the cellars.
The grapes will stay there between 3 and 4 months, until they have lost 35 to 40% of their water volume.
Once the drying process is complete, the grapes are destemmed and crushed. There are two methods of the winemaking process. The traditional takes place at very low natural temperatures, depending on the weather (January and February) followed by a long maceration with the skins which can last several months. This approach makes it possible to obtain wines which require much longer ageing and refinement times in barrels and bottles.
In the second, more modern method, fermentation takes place at a controlled temperature and thus makes it possible to obtain more supple wines in youth with a more accentuated fruity character.
Finally, Amarone must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in wooden containers, which range from large Slavonian oak barrels to small French oak barrels from 225 to 300 litres. The wine finishes its refinement with at least one year in the bottle before being put on the market.
Two other appellations connected to Amarone
Ripasso della Valpolicellla
This wine is often compared to the Amarone red wine, but its production technique is completely different. In September, the grapes for the wines of the Valpolicella appellation are harvested and fermented. After fermentation, a portion will remain in stainless steel tanks until February. When the fermentation of Amarone ends in late January or early February, the wine is drawn off by gravity from the tank, while leaving a base with the marc. The Valpolicella goes back (ripasso) in this tank to make a second fermentation in order to gain richness and roundness.
Recioto della Valpolicella
Finally, recioto is produced using the same technique as the Amarone red wine with just a longer drying time of approximately 2 months, an interrupted fermentation to keep residual sugars and a stainless steel aging.
To be enjoyed with game, grilled meat, Tournedos Rossini, duck breast with prunes, quail stuffed with foie gras, oriental food, full bodied and full bodied cheeses
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