Just south of Trentino – Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost wine region, is the united wine federation and powerhouse region of Veneto, boasting an extremely diverse landscape of microclimates, winemaking styles and local traditions. A short drive from the famous city of Venice, this dynamic ribbon of land is home to 28 DOC and 14 DOCG areas, producing more wine than any other region of Italy. A closer look at the region’s contrasting terroirs and the native varieties grown there (the Garganega of Soave, the Glera of Prosecco, Oseleta and Valpolicella blend…) will allow us to discover the stunning array of Veneto wines. This fascinating region has given us everything from sparkling Prosecco to hearty reds and the sweet regional signature, Amarone.
A Brief History of Veneto
As in all other viticultural regions of Italy, the art of winemaking in Veneto has ancient roots. While the first written evidence of wine production takes the form ancient Roman texts recording the quality of the then popular Raetia wine (favoured among famous authors including Pliny and Virgil), the Etruscan-Raetic people of this region were producing wine all the way back to the seventh century BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was known for the production of Acinatico, a sweet wine made from grapes dried on mats and considered to be the ancestor of Recioto della Valpolicella. After many of the region’s vineyards were devastated during Barbarian invasions, the vines were replanted and Venetian merchants began importing Greek wines and exporting local wines to neighbouring markets around the Mediterranean Sea. Around the second half of the 16th century, the import of Greek wines slowed significantly, which served as a momentum for the development of local winemaking in Veneto. Surviving a bitter frost in 1709, as well as a series of wars, oidium and phylloxera, the region enjoyed periods of high appreciation, as well as decay. The establishment of the first Italian school of oenology – the Scuola Enologica Conegliano G.B. Cerletti – in 1876 and the Experimental Station of Viticulture and Oenology in 1923 were fundamental in the survival of this region and the commercial success it would come to enjoy after the 1950’s. Today the region covers over 90,000 hectares planted with vines and more than 25% of the wine produced is sold under DOC/DOCG titles.
Terroir: The Many Faces of Veneto
In terms of topography and the corresponding climate, we can first divide the Veneto region into a handful of main areas. In the northwest, the Alpine foothills meet the Adige River, which flows from the peaks of Alto Adige. Here the climate is rather cool, perfect for crisp and very fresh white wines like the Bianco di Custoza and Garda blends, as well as bright, fruity red wines, such as the Corvina-and-Rondinella-based blend Bardolino, produced on the eastern shores of Lake Garda. The Bardolino DOC and the superior classification of Bardolino Superiore DOCG is often compared to the Beaujolais wines of France, especially the Bardolino Novello “young wine,” first introduced in this appellation in 1987.
White wine is also famously produced in the Soave region, granted DOC status in 1968. Garganega grapes, which must constitute at least 70% of any blend bearing the name of this appellation, are grown in the hills of eastern Verona and are used to make dry, crisp and very refreshing white wines. The sweet wine Recioto di Soave is also produced in the wine’s namesake appellation within this region. In order to highlight high quality wines from this region the Soave Superiore DOCG was created in 2001.
Amarone, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Classico…
On the eastern side of Lake Garda, towards the north of Veneto is the region of Valpolicella, known for being the Italian DOC with the highest production volume, with 500,000 hectolitres per year. In terms of quantity, Valpolicella produces mostly a bright and tangy red wine, often served slightly chilled, from a blend of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara grapes harvested in the flat plains of the region. The soil here ranges from morainic gravel just east of Lake Garda to dolomite gravel with alluvial deposits in the plains. The best terroirs of Valpolicella, however, are located in the hills, which enjoy better drainage, a sunnier aspect and the tighter restrictions of the Valpolicella Classico appellation. Within the Valpolicella Classico area, the best terroirs are to be found near the villages of Negrar, Marano and Fumane, at an altitude above 600 meters. Wines from Valpolicella and Valpolicella Classico may add the name “Superiore” to their name if they contain an alcohol level of at least 11 percent and are aged one year before release.
The mention of Valpolicella Classico often recalls “amarone,” which actually refers to a style, rather than a geographical region. The style is a result of a method invented by winemakers in Veneto to enhance the body, complexity and alcohol content of their wines. The apasimento technique involves letting whole bunches of grapes dry after harvest in order to remove some of the water and concentrate the natural sugars and aromatics naturally present in the fruit. The amarone style actually came about as a result of a mistake. This technique of apasimento was originally used to produce Recioto della Valpolicella and the accidental total fermentation of the tank led to wines that were darker in colour and deeper in flavour. These rich, full-bodied and velvety smooth still wines are now known as Amarone della Valpolicella (if made in the larger Valpolicella DOC) and Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (if made in the Classico zone of that DOC). These regal wines stand out among the rest in the warm aromas of ripe fruit (hints of raisins and figs) that they offer on the nose. On the palate, they express dried fruit, with hints of bitter chocolate, mocha and earthy flavours as well. Amarone wines are also excellent candidates for ageing, to be kept for a special moment for over 15 years.
Prosecco and its Appellations
Up in the far north-eastern part of the Veneto region is the land of the Glera grape. There are several DOC and DOCG appellations within this region, spread on either side of the Piave River, that produce still wines. However, north-eastern Veneto (and parts of neighbouring Friuli Venezia Giulia) is undeniably best known for producing Italy’s flagship white sparkling wine, Prosecco. While this popular Italian frizzante often gets dubbed as the “cheaper alternative to French Champagne” because of a few very commercial, low-quality brands, there is plenty to discover when it comes to Prosecco, including the several styles in which it is made.
Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from the Prosecco (a.k.a. Glera) grape using the Charmat method. The most common Prosecco is qualified as Prosecco DOC. In the hills between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano is where the highly concentrated Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG wines are made. Across the river from this region is the Colli Asolani DOCG appellation, where very high quality Prosecco wines are produced in a small hillside area planted in Glera vines. Sparklers labelled Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Rive DOCG are those produced in the 43 specific communes of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. Finally, the precious terroirs of the 265-acre Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG appellation are known for producing some of the most sought-after Prosecco in the world. The highest quality Prosecco is produced in regions characterised by a mild climate, protected by the Alps and brushed by warm breezes from the Adriatic Sea. The soil here is of alluvial origin, mostly composed of clay-loam with plenty of minerals to make for complex sparkling wines.
Feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay. The Veneto region is famous for being one of the most complex in Italy. Each geographic pocket of its terroir seems to offer a new varietal or blend, a new style or technique, and several different layers of classification. We have found that the best way to clear things up in the world of Italian wines is to get to tasting some. We have highlighted two Prosecco and two Amarone della Valpolicella Classico wines, a great place to start exploring Veneto.
Bisol : Crede Brut 2016Browse this wine
Cesari : Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2012
The 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico of Gerardo Cesari is a Veneto wine which offers good sensations on the nose as well as on the palate. The ruby-tinted dark red hue leads to an elegant nose that combines fresh almonds and fleshy black cherry fragrances, foreshadowing a good aromatic potential. An intense freshness sensation concludes the olfactory examination. It is a young 2012 Cesari but it will satisfy the most patient. Very precise wine!