Valpolicella: More than Amarone

Bunches of ripered grapes ready to be picked up and will become a tasty wine like Valpolicella Amarone or Recioto

Valpolicella: More than Amarone

Valpolicella is primarily known for Amarone, but the grapes grown here are made into other wines. You will find red wines and Ripasso that are affordable and delightful.

Beautiful panoramic view on Valpolicella from San Giorgioin in the province of Verona - Italy, Lorenzo, Adobe Stock
Beautiful panoramic view of Valpolicella from San Giorgio in the province of Verona – Italy, Lorenzo, Adobe Stock

The Valpolicella Region

This region sits North of Fair Verona and east of the beautiful Lake Garda in the region of Veneto.  It is made up of 13 Valleys that channel the winds in from the Alps.  Many know it as “Valley of the many cellars” or “Valley of many fruits”. In truth it is the Valley of alluvial deposits.

The area has a mix of soils. On the hillsides you find limestone, in the flats alluvial soils. Then there are some regions, like Marano, with volcanic soils that give the wines a smokier or meatier note.

From West to east, the first region is the Classica region with sub regions of Sant’Ambrogio, San Pietro in Cariano, Fumane, Marano and Negrar.

As you move east the valleys are winder and further from Lake Garda and get more hours of sunshine as they get near Soave.

The grapes of Valpolicella

Bunches of ripered grapes ready to be picked up and will become a tasty wine like Valpolicella Amarone or Recioto
Bunches of ripered grapes ready to be picked up and will become a tasty wine like Valpolicella, Amarone, Ripasso or Recioto mrighetti82, Adobe Stock

The primary grapes are Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara. Molinara has all but dropped off but was known to add salinity and increase acidity.   Only recently Corvinone was only found to be a different grape than Corvina.  Before, as the name says, it was thought to be “big Corvina”.  It does add more tannins to the wine.  Rondinella adds color.

There are rules to the blend.  If it is called Valpolicella it must have 45-95% Corvina or Corvinone.  5 to 30% MUST be Rondinella.  Molinara had previously been required but is no longer. You may, however, insert it into the blend if you choose.  With all of this, 60% of the production in the region is Corvina.

The Wine Styles of Valpolicella

The region is best known for Amarone, made through the appassimento process. This is a process where grapes are dried for several months and then fermented.

Appassimento delle uveGrapes drying for the Appassimento method of making Amarone in Valpolicella Italy,
Grapes drying for the Appassimento method of making Amarone in Valpolicella Italy, Massimo Beccegato, Adobe Stock

How and why did this method begin?  Originally in this high latitude, the grapes did not ripen well. They would gather the grapes before the weather changed. The grapes would then dry inside, giving the vineyards a bit more control. 

After 100 days of drying, they press the grapes. The wine is then made from this free run juice, and ends up about 15-16% abv.

Amarone is expensive, as I said. The reason?  With drying the grapes, it takes grapes from 3 vines to make 1 bottle of Amarone.

The 5 levels of Valpolicella

I mentioned that there were other wines other than Amarone made in Valpolicella. Here is the full list of DOCs in the region.

  • Valpolicella Classica DOC: This is a wine from the Valpolicella Classica region.  Just a regular wine of Corvina, Corvinone & Rondinella
  • Valpolicella Superiore DOC: slightly higher quality of grapes.  Same process as the Classica
  • Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC: (read the Amarone first!) They take the Amarone grapes after they have been pressed and toss them in with Superiore grapes, they ferment together and get pressed.  It’s like a halfway between at Valpolicella Superiore and an Amarone.
  • Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG: The Grapes dry, then they press them to make wine.
  • Recioto della Valpolicella: This wine is in a sweet style.  Made like Amarone, but not fermented dry.

Valpolicella Superiore DOC and Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC.

We tasted 2 wines; a Valpolicella Superiore DOC, as well as a Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC.  It was nice to see the basis for the Ripasso, to taste the flavors in the base wine and how the Ripasso process changed the wine.

Cecilia Beretta Valpolicella Superiore 2017

This wine comes from the Pasqua Family.  It is a Valpolicella Superiore DOC wine, so a blend of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella made as a red wine.  The wine was bright and tart, with notes of sour cherry.  It has a long finish, but is relatively light with good acid, so it makes for a good wine to pair with food.  Suggestions were, salad, seafood, gnocchi, pizza…. So, you can see that it is good with lighter food.  We paired it with a flatbread pizza with arugula and prosciutto, sweet potato gnocchi, and a green salad and it went very well!  At $13.99 this was a fairly good deal.

Acinum Valpolicella Ripasso 2016.

Valpolicella Superiore with gnocchi, pizza and salad
Valpolicella Superiore from Cecilia Beretta with gnocchi, pizza and salad

This is a Ripasso wine.  It is made from Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara grapes that do a second fermentation with the Amarone marc (or grape skins) left after making Amarone.  It gives you some of the Amarone notes, without the price!

The grapes for this wine were grown in the Negrar Vineyard, which is one of the seven villages in Valpolicella, located in the eastern part toward the Lessinia mountains.   The importer, Vias Wine, provides us with some information on this region:

“The name “Negrar” seems to come from the Latin ‘Nigrariu,” which means ‘the land with the black earth.” This is rightly named because the soil of this area is richly colored red-brown with cretaceous marble, basalt, and Eocone limestone.”

Vias Wine (http://viaswine.com/national-importer/about/)

This wine is a proprietary label created by Vias.  The winemaker is Enrico Paternoster.

Some other details:

This 6 hectare vineyard has soils of marl and limestone with a southern exposure and sits at 300 meters above sea level.  They train the vines via the Veronese pergola method, which has been noted to be better for growing grapes for Amarone.

Bunches of ripered grapes ready to be picked up and will become a tasty wine like Valpolicella Amarone or Recioto
Bunches of grapes in Valpolicella on the Veronese Pergola trellis system. mrighetti82, Adobe Stock

The vines range between 15-25 years old.  The blend is 70% Corvina Veronese, 20% Rondinella and 10% Molinara.

Fermented in Stainless steel for 20 days, it did its second fermentation with the Amarone marc, which is what makes it a Ripasso.  It is aged for 1 year in New French Barriques.

This wine had just the right bit of sweet on the nose with 6 g/L of rs (residual sugar).  It was still dry enough to be delicious with the food.  This is a lovely comforting wine that I will happily return to.  It was also reasonable $23.99 retail.

Pairing roasted cauliflower with a Valpolicella Ripasso

My pairing decision for this came from a Roasted Cauliflower recipe from Wine Enthusiast.

While we were not roasting an entire head of cauliflower the roasted flavors would be similar.  They suggested pairing this with a Vapolicella Ripasso Superiore. 

‘Fernando Trivisonno, general manager/sommelier at Mora Italiano, suggests pairing this tender-roasted vegetable based on its consistency.

“The cauliflower is soft in texture, and so is this wine,” he says. “It has very soft tannins and is full-bodied, but doesn’t feel heavy, making it ideal for late summer.”

Fernando Trivisonno, Wine Enthusiast, July 27, 2019

Sicilian Rigatoni with orange segments and roasted cauliflower.

We did another Sun Basket pairing. Sicilian Rigatoni with orange segments and roasted cauliflower.

Valpolicella Ripasso with the ingredients for a Sicilian Rigatoni with roasted cauliflower and orange
Valpolicella Ripasso with the ingredients for a Sicilian Rigatoni with roasted cauliflower and orange

We roasted the cauliflower and onion with olive oil, and added it to the cooked rigatoni. We then added orange segments (we supremed our orange), walnuts, parsley, thyme, currants (I love getting to use currants!) and piment d’Espelette (a French red pepper powder).  After stirring it up to warm all the ingredients, we added ricotta and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Valpolicella Ripasso from Acinum with Sicilian Rigatoni with Roasted Califlower
Valpolicella Ripasso from Acinum with Sicilian Rigatoni with Roasted Califlower

The sweetness of the roasted vegetables paired well with this wine. The acid and brightness made the meal go quickly and created a bright but cozy meal.

Sources and Resources

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
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