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Wines Of The Veneto

Mon, Jan 18, 21

Wines of the Veneto

   While the majority of Italian wine-producing areas are known primarily for one or two grape varieties – Sangiovese in Tuscany, Nebbiolo in Piedmont for example – the Veneto and its adjacent regions offer a bewildering array of grapes and wine types that range from frothy, delicate whites to massive alcoholic reds, with almost every conceivable variation sandwiched in between. In this week’s newsletter we’re going to take a look at two of the more popular wines from the region: Prosecco and Valpolicella.

     For the longest time, the Veneto was synonymous with mass-produced wines of middling quality. Boatloads of cheap and vapid Bardolino and Pinot Grigio crowded the bottom shelves of supermarkets, and high-quality producers were hard to find. Over the past thirty years things have been looking up, with now over 70% of the region’s 95 million cases being at the regulated DOP level, essentially guaranteeing a certain level of quality. Much of the growth in recent years has been driven by an almost insatiable thirst worldwide for Prosecco.

Prior to experiencing a rapid surge in popularity in the early 2000s, Prosecco had historically been a sweetish fizzy white of middling quality, produced from the grape of the same name across northeastern Italy. Today the grape has been renamed Glera, and Prosecco can only be produced in strictly defined areas, with the best examples coming from Valdobbiadene, Conegliano and, more recently, from the relatively new district of Asolo. Lighter, simpler and less carbonated than Champagne, most Prosecco is now made using the bulk process, whereby the secondary fermentation occurs in tanks, as opposed to in the bottle. The result is pleasantly
straightforward and designed to be consumed young, although some excellent and rare bottle- fermented examples can be found that offer a great deal of complexity.


Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
From a century-old estate, now in its fourth generation of family ownership, this is one of the finest Proseccos on the market. It’s just a touch off-dry, with attractive yellow apple and floral notes, a creamy texture and a persistent finish with plenty of bubbles.


Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut
Another well-established estate, Mionetto is located just outside Valdobbiadine in the heart of Prosecco country. This bottling offers a similar but more delicate flavor profile to the Nino Franco and carries a touch more sweetness. Exceptional value, this is a great choice for brunch and the ever-popular bottomless mimosa.

I’ve been enamored of these wines for decades, but frequently frustrated by inconsistencies in quality. At their very best, the wines of Valpolicella can be sublime, complex and age worthy; at their worst, water with pink food coloring would provide a perfect substitute. The principal grape in Valpolicella is Corvina, a variety almost entirely exclusive to the Veneto, with high acid and a thick skin, qualities that endow the best wines with their crunchy palate, dried fruit flavors and the ability to age quite well. Other local grapes including Rondinella make up the balance, while the once popular but inferior Molinara is on the decline, a factor that has probably contributed to Valpolicella’s steady improvement in quality. What makes this area particularly interesting is that there are four major styles of wine produced from the same grapes - Valpolicella, Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto - each with its own unique character.

Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore 2012/13
From one of the undisputed masters of Valpolicella, this extraordinary red is made from meticulously selected grapes that are dried out after harvest for six weeks to further concentrate their flavors. This is Valpolicella on an entirely different level: deep black cherries, dried fruits, vanilla and cocoa leap from the glass; the palate is savory and focused, with stunning length and complexity. Modern in style, with suave cedar and balsamic notes from oak aging and the potential to cellar for years, it sets a whole new standard for the appellation.

Bertani Valpolicella Ripasso 2016
Ripasso is a hybrid style in which Valpolicella is aged on the lees of the previous year’s Amarone, lending a raisined complexity and slightly higher alcohol level to what might be an otherwise simple red. This is a very solid example, with lovely dark cherry and walnut aromas, a chewy texture and an appealing tension between the dried fruits and bright acidity.

Buglione Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2013
Amarone is a very expensive wine to make, so this bottling represents a relative bargain, especially when compared with the flashier Barolos and Brunellos that seem to garner all the attention and attract the collectors. Great Amarone, and this is one, can hold its own against the best wines in the world. After harvest around mid-September, the grapes are dried out on rush mats in attics prior to fermentation, a process that concentrates the flavors and sugars, producing a dry, robust and ageworthy red that is traditionally enjoyed with hefty dishes or aged cheese. Hugely aromatic, bursting with black fruits, leather and loam, this gorgeous red displays an enormous depth of fruit on the palate, bolstered by chewy, persistent tannins and a gloriously long finish.


Neil Charles

A 30 year veteran of the wine industry, Neil Charles has worked in production, importing, retail and wholesale. Born into a family of brewers in England, Neil is a Certified Sommelier, and studied on the Master of Wine program for 10 years. In his spare time he is contributing editor for Sophisticated Living magazine, where he writes about food, drink and architecture. Neil can be found at our store at 86th and Ditch.