Any region worth its salt will have its signature style and its variation. The whole world knows the trademark aromas and flavours of Burgundy, but the difference between Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne Romanée are nonetheless striking enough to have created different, internationally-recognised brands.
Few regions have variety so baked into their identity as Valpolicella, however. The hallmark tasting notes – black cherry, cocoa powder and so on – will be found in all wines based on the region’s principle varietal, corvina, but the key to understanding them really lies in the various different ways and methods in which they are made. Rather like sherry the various styles interrelate, even forming a symbiotic system which makes up the core of Valpolicella, several levels of wine styles each of which builds on the last. Here is our basic, non-comprehensive guide to the pride of the Veneto, and the unique ways their unique wines.
A note on the grapes: all of the reds of Valpolicella are blends, primarily based on the three grapes of corvina, rondinella and molinara; 45% at least must be corvina, with a maximum of 95% (practically it is usually dominant in the blend); rondinella must be 5-30%, though these days it tends to be less than in the past when it was used more for its fresh acidity; other grapes are permitted to add aromas, to a maximum level of 25%, from which no single varietal can make up more than 10% of the total.
Method: conventional wine production.
Style: fruity, democratic wine for any occasion.
Pairing: charcuterie, young cheeses like a provolone, improvised parties.
Conversation: mainly jokes.
Method: minimum 12% alcohol, aged for at least one year in barrel.
Style: more complex, more concentration.
Pairing: chicken and lighter roast meats, somewhat richer cheeses like aged Parmiggiano Reggiano, parties with a social media events page.
Conversation: so what do you do for a living?
Method: pomace (stems, often still-fermenting skins, lees from Amarone production) is added usually to Valpolicella Superiore to macerate for a period, concentrating the wine and resulting in a deeper, more complex wine.
Style: well, deeper, more complex, etc.
Pairing: beef, venison, richer mushrooms and cheeses, somewhat fancier dinner parties.
Conversation: bigger questions of the ‘what does it all mean’ variety.
Amarone della Valpolicella
Method: grapes are dried from at the earliest 1st December, and for 90-120 days until their water levels have reduced by 40%; they are then crushed and the resulting must fermented very slowly, to a minimum level of 14% alcohol (practically speaking, usually at least 15%); the wine is then aged for a minimum of two years in barrel before bottling and release.
Style: absolutely enormous, dry, ultra-concentrated, ageable, complex – the star of the Veneto.
Pairing: the richest stew you can imagine, at the richest dinner party.
Conversation: this wine is too distracting to allow talk about anything else.
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Recioto della Valpolicella
Method: grapes dried even more than for Amarone; fermented to the desired alcohol level (at least 12%), at which point the wine is racked into another barrel (transferred while filtering the lees to prevent further fermentation to preserve sweetness); the final wine must have at least 50g/l of residual sugar (for context, dry wines generally have 9g/l or less).
Style: sweet, rich, dense wine of extraordinary ageability, even lasting decades in careful conditions.
Pairing: a fantastic dark chocolate wine, as well as seriously complex cheeses (including blue), a substitute for brandy at the end of serious, serious parties.
Conversation: philosophical insights that seem incredibly important at the time.
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