Late last year, when we visited Italy, we spent a bit of time near Verona but did not have an opportunity to dive into Valpolicella. I had heard about the valleys carved out by glaciers that also created Lake Garda. I had even learned about the Amarone-making process (a process I saw firsthand in Valtellina, where they use a very similar method to make their Sforzato.) I did have the opportunity to taste a bit of wine from the region, including a Valpolicella wine, but that story will wait for another day.
Nonetheless, diving into the region in a way that did it justice was not something we had the luxury of time for on that particular trip.
Back at home, I was offered an opportunity to taste 3 Valpolicella wines from Zenato. Ah, finally, a bit of time to dive into these wines a bit, even if I was not still in the region.
*These wines were received as Media Samples. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.
These 3 wines are affordable and widely available (You can find them at Total Wine and Wine.com.)
Of course, you know I don’t just taste wines. I need to dig into the story, the place, oh, and the food pairings!
First, we will start with the place.
The name is lovely, and being as it is the region just north of Verona, well, we are feeling the romance, are we not?!
Let’s start with a few shots of Verona.
Our visit to this fair city was brief. It was a Sunday afternoon in early October. We took in the stunning views from the Castel San Pietro at the top of the funicular and strolled the grounds. Then we descended and then entered the city via the Ponte Pietra.
The city was crowded. No, it was packed. We were hot, tired, and hungry. We looked for a cafe, but all were filled to overflowing. We passed Juliet’s balcony, where the line predicted an hour wait. No time for that. Carried along in the crowd, we made our way south, searching for quieter streets. We came into the Piazza delle Erbe with the Fontana Madonna Verona and continued on to the Arena exiting the city along the ancient city wall.
I long to return and stroll Verona properly, without swarms of tourists on a Sunday afternoon.
We returned to the Agriturismo in the eastern part of Valpolicella, where we would spend 2 days. The Magari Estates is located at the end of the Illasi Valley in the Valpolicella DOC region.
This 16th century villa in the center of vineyards, sits between the Progno di Illasi (a stream that flows down from the mountains) and the Via C. Battisti the road that heads into the mountains through the nearby town of Calle. Our patio facing south gave us stunningvineyard views.
The Valpolicella Wine Region
The valley is made up of 3 main regions, the Valpolicella Classica region, which includes the San Pietro in Cariano, Sant’Ambrogio, and the Valleys of Fumane, Marano & Negrar.
East of that, you find the Valpantena region, named for the Valley within.
The final region surrounds these two and encompasses the region beyond them to the east, including the region of Verona, plus the three eastern valleys of Mezzane, Tregnago, and Illasi.
The Wines of Valpolicella
The wines in this region are red and are based on indigenous grapes, including Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinare. Blends of these grapes are made in 4 Different styles.
Valpolicella DOC – the youngest, freshest version.
Valpolicella Ripasso DOC – this wine is a bit fuller in body. They make it by refermenting a regular Valpolicella on the leftover skins from an Amarone or Ricioto. This increases the alcohol and extracts a bit more flavor from those skins!
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – This wine is made by drying the grapes for 3 to 4 months in a drying room called a “fruttaio.” This concentrates the fruit. The grapes will have lost much of their moisture, and they are left to ferment over the winter slowly. This makes a dry wine with high alcohol. This wine is then further aged in wood.
Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG – this is the oldest method of making wine in the region. The grapes dry in a “fruttaio,” losing half of their weight, and then they are fermented. Fermentation is stopped to keep the wine sweet, but due to the grapes’ natural acidity, the wine does not become cloying.
With our tasting, we will taste wines from the first 2 categories.
Zenato and the Costalunga Estate
The wines I received came from Zenato. The estate was founded in 1960 by Sergio Zenato and is now run by his children Alberto and Nadia. They have property in Lugana, where Sergio began Zenato, as well as Tuscany and Valpolicella.
The Costalunga estate in Valpolicella is in the Classica region in Sant’Ambrogio. Here they have 35 hectares purchased over 35 years ago. While this land lay fallow when they purchased it, Sergio knew that vines had thrived on these hills for centuries before. He carefully laid out the planning of where each row would be.
This estate, today, is run by his daughter Nadia.
A passion for the Arts
Nadia also has a passion for the arts, something I identify strongly with. She founded the Zenato Academy. This project supports young photographers, allowing them a place to explore and share their unique perspectives.
You can see some of these works at https://www.zenatoacademy.it/en/wine-beyond-photography-exhibition.html From their event, which collaborated with the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese 2019
Alanera refers to the raven, translating to “black wing.” Raven in Italian is “Corvo,” the root of the name of the primary grape in Valpolicella, “Covina.” It all ties together in the most poetic of ways.
The vineyards where the grapes for this wine grow, sit at 825 feet and were planted in 2012. The soils here are calcareous.
While Corvina leads this blend with 55%, it also includes 25% Rondinella, 10% Corvinone, and 5% each Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Just because this wine is of the Rosso Veronese IGT, don’t think that it is simple. Half of the grapes in this wine were dried for 45-60 days. The grapes then ferment in Stainless Steel, and age 12 months is 2-3-year-old French oak Tonneaux and large steel tanks.
This wine was tart, and while it was relatively light on the palate in body, it was full in flavor. I got black currant and cherry juice and something like roasted red pepper, as well as notes of dried cranberries, coffee, tobacco and sweet spices.
$18 SRP – 200,000 bottles annual production – 13.5% abv – 5.1 g/L rs
Zenato Valpolicella Superiore
This is a Superiore wine, which means the grapes are harvested later, giving them more sugar when picked and higher alcohol levels to the finished wine.
This part of the estate is between 825 and 990 feet in elevation, with silty-loam soils.
The blend here is 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella and 10% Oseleta.
*Oseleta – sidebar – This variety almost went extinct. In the 1970s in Pigozza, a small village northeast of Verona, this grape was revived by Masi. The grape has a thick dark skin and gives the wine aromas of wild berries.
This wine ferments in Stainless Steel and then spends 12 months in neutral French Oak barrels.
The nose on this was leather and tobacco with fruits and berry notes that leaned toward cooked or dried. There were notes of chocolate, dark cherries, currants and spice.
$19 SRP – 350,000 bottles produced annually – 13.5% abv – 5.1 g/L rs
Zenato Ripassa Valpolicelli Superiore
This wine comes from the same elevation as the last, 825-990 feet in elevation. The blend is 85% Corvina, 10% Rondinella and 5% Oseleta.
After the Amarone is fermented, Valpolicella wine is “re-passed” over the Amarone lees. This starts a second fermentation in the Valpolicella wine, kicking up the alcohol a bit and giving more depth of flavor and color. It rests in tank for 6 months and then ages in French Tonneaux for 18 months.
This wine gave sweet fruit and sweet spices. It is heavier on the palate with notes of tobacco, anise and clove. There is a bit of chocolate in the middle and notes of black pepper and leather.
$32 SRP – 800,000 bottles produced annually – 14% abv – 7.3 g/L rs
Pairing the Wines of Valpolicella from Zenato
Gnocchi in a Gorgonzola sauce
Since we had 3 of these wines, I wanted to choose something that would pair with all three as we tasted.
We began with an antipasto platter. I took all the berry notes, blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, black currants and added Parmegiano Regiano curls, Grana Padana, and Gorgonzola, plus olives, Sopressato, Prosciutto, walnuts, dark chocolate and marinated red peppers. This allowed us to pull up different notes in the wine. I love being able to taste one thing at a time and find the perfect blends and pairings for a glass of wine. Is it science, seeing what my palate likes together, or art, mixing flavors in my mouth like paint to get just the right shade.
For our main course, I chose gnocchi with a gorgonzola sauce with toasted walnuts and fried sage.
Potato Gnocchi is a popular dish in Verona, and with the gorgonzola and toasted walnuts I thought this would be delicious with the Ripasso. The best part is the simplicity of this elegant dish. The sauce is simply heavy cream with gorgonzola melted in it. The gnocchi go for a bit of a swim in this sauce and it is topped with the toasted walnuts and fresh sage. It was heaven with all three wines.
- With the Alanera Rosso Veronese, you might try light meats, roasted vegetables, stir-fry or Pizza.
- With the Valpolicella Superiore, try duck or tuna steaks
- With the Ripasso, wine braised short ribs, mushroom risotto, or a ragu.
Want to taste these wines? There is a link right over there —> to Wine.com (it’s on the side bar. You might have to scroll up a bit.) They carry all three of these delicious wines and will ship them to you!
**I will receive a commission if you purchase through the link on this site. (So if you decide to do that, I say, “Thank You!”) But know that my opinion of these wines is authentic. I really enjoyed them! (I would never steer you wrong on wines!)
There is so much more in this region. Just to the west is Lake Garda with Bardolino, Lugana & Valtenesi, to the east you find Soave & Lessini. The wines of this region are lush and amazing. Here are a couple articles to whet your whistle beyond Valpolicella.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. 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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