Valpolicella embraces wine-making history with new initiation

Words: Henry Yuen

We were in Italy last May visiting Sicily, Piedmont, Milan, Lake Como and Venice. There were many highlights. The three days in Venice sightseeing, cultural crawling and food and wine indulging was definitely one of them. One regret though was missing the opportunity to explore the surrounding Veneto area, Italy's north-eastern region, home to Valpolicella where my next Italian visit will certainly be including.

Fortunately for me, Valpolicella came this way! The Director of the wine consortium of Valpolicella, Olga Bussinello was in Vancouver and hosted a tasting session of all manners of Valpolicella wines and this time, I was one of the first to show up.

As with any business, the importance of trade association  to facilitate, lobby and promote the trade is never undermined. The gathering of forces and having a strong voice continue to help secure long term benefits. Formed in 1924, The Consortium for the Tutelage of Valpolicella DOC Wines is an association serving 80% of grape growers, wineries, winemakers and bottlers in the 19 municipalities of the Verona province under the DOC & DOCG designations of wines. Dating back to ancient Greek and Romans eras, Valpolicella has long history of crafting wines. However, only after the formation of the Consortium the concerted efforts to improve the wine quality took place, and gradually led them to international recognitions.

In terms of appellations, they are Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella. Naturally, the common grape varietals are indigenous to that area. The main varietals are Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinalla and Molinara, grapes we seldom see in the New World wine regions.  While the long history of wine-making is always the backbone, the Consortium, according to Olga, is mandated to continuously improve wine quality through various sustainability initiatives and projects. As a matter of fact, they have recently embarked on a three year sustainable project to improve the overall quality and re-embrace Valpolicella's wine-making history and appellations.  

 As Olga explained, Valpolicella wines are generally light to medium-bodied with bright acidity. The fruit-forward style is to be enjoyed in its youthful delight. Lots of cherries and red fruits with a hint of dry herb and vanilla aroma rounds out the taste profile. The rediscovery of the Amarone style of wines in the 1950s enabled the regions to gain a strong foothold in the Italian wine industry. Obtaining the DOC designation a decade later further enhanced the consumers confidence on the quality and enjoyment of their wines. Amarone style is obtained by harvesting the grapes a bit later to allow higher residual sugar content in the grapes while still on vines. The harvested grapes are then left to dry for a period prior to pressing to increase the juice concentration. The result is a full-bodied, hearty wine with adequate acidity, good tannins and concentration while maintaining a well-defined sugar level during fermentation so it is not an overly sweet wine. This big wine usually needs a few years of bottle-aging to allow the flavour to fully expressed.  It is agreeably an ideal candidate for cellaring - a great potential that reveres it as a classic wine.

To introduce us to the different varieties of Valpolicella wine styles, Olga Bussinello selected four wines to pair with the dinner at the Glowbal Telus Garden. First up was the Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015 (Scriani) to pair with Fresh Garden Salad. Fresh, savoury and juicy upon entry with a tingle of herbs and spices surfacing to charm the finish. Definitely a good example of a young wine ideal for immediate consumption and a palate teaser for bigger wines to come. Next up was the Cantina Valpantena Verona, Valpolicella DOC Superiore 2013 Torre del Falasco to go with Rabbit Three Ways. Earthy, leafy and a mist of forest floor and red fruits aroma for a medium-bodied wine with balanced acidity . Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Superiore 2012 Campo del Ciliegi spilled soft tannins laced with black berries, dry plum and hints of spices. A tantalizing wine with layers to sip with the Roasted Venison Loin. After all the talk about what Amarone was, the classic Amarone hand-picked by Olga was poured. The Tinazzi, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2012 Ca’ de Rocchi La Bastia was a perfect fit to go with the Slow Cooked Lamb Belly. This full-bodied robust wine offered beautiful velvety tannins yet not too sweet.  Brushed with dry herb and berries aroma, this very pleasant wine was indeed a wow factor provider and prompted everyone to ask for a quick refill.
Draying Amarone grapes

While the four wines we tasted were only a tiny representation of all things Valpolicella wines, nevertheless we felt that all the styles tasted were really approachable and unpretentious. The only challenge is to remember their long names and making sure the spelling are correct!