Italian Wine Series, Volume 2- Veneto
Continuing our wine tour d'Italia, let's focus on the Veneto region in Northeast Italy. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to call Verona, a small town in Veneto, home for 4 months during a study abroad program a few years back (well, 7, but who's counting). Although it's probably not on the top of everyones list of places to visit in Italy, I highly suggest you put it there as it is one of the most charming cities I've ever experienced. The Adige river runs right through the middle of the town and it's also home to three of Shakespeare's plays including Romeo and Juliet. If you could care less about either of those things, go for Balu (aka the best gelato spot in Italy) and for the wine glasses and tagliatelle with truffles at Trattoria Tre Marchetti. Just trust me on this one, k?
Moving onto the wine. Although Veneto is smaller than Italy's other major wine producing regions, it actually generates more volume than any of them. The four wines we are going to focus on today are Soave, Prosecco, Valpolicella and Amarone. Let's dig in.
Soave- Soave is a dry Italian white wine produced in the province of Soave. Originally, it was only permitted to be produced using the Garganega grape, grown on the hillsides just east of Verona, however, today small amounts of Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay grapes are permitted to be used in Soave as well. Soave has come to be one of the most mass produced wines in Italy and therefore has gained a bit of a negative reputation for producing dull, uninteresting wines, however, there a couple tricks to finding a decent bottle of Soave in your wine store that is also very affordable.
Most Italian wines have a heartland from which they were originally produced. This is noted on the bottle with the term 'Classico.' When you see a bottle that is labeled Soave Classico, you know it's being made with it's traditional grape variety and style. On that same note, the DOC laws say that Soave must have a minimum of 70% Garganega grape, leaving way for 30% of the wine to be any combination of Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay or another local white grape. This also leaves room for a lot of different flavor characteristics to influence the wine. I always look for a wine with the highest percentage of Garganega.
The typical tastes of Soaves are light to medium bodied with hints of citrus, herbs and even almonds. They pair very well with white fish, chicken, salads, goat cheese, light pasta dishes and also drink well on their own. Try a Soave if you like unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay. I would also recommend trying this wine if you are a Viognier drinker.
I found a great bottle of Soave (below) at a local Italian market in Charlotte, NC. This is 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano. It's a bit more expensive than I would usually pay for a Soave ($16.99), but the guy running their wine program was so excited about it that I couldn't resist (I'm sort of a sucker for a good sales pitch on a wine). And he was right- it was delicious. Typically you should expect to pay $10-$15 for a bottle of Soave.
Prosecco- Prosecco is an off dry to dry Italian sparkling wine produced from the Glera grape. These wines are high in acidity and carry notes of white peaches, citrus fruits and even floral flavors. Prosecco's popularity comes from it's price point and easy drinking nature. It's also the base of many cocktails, my personal favorite being the Aperol Spritz (see recipe below).
Prosecco is great on it's own but also a nice accompaniment to a meat and cheese plate. This is also a great wine to serve at a party. You should expect to pay anywhere from $10-$20 for a bottle of Prosecco. I found a great, bone dry bottle for $14.
Valpolicella- Valipolicella is one of my favorite everyday drinking Italian wines. It has medium body, bright fruit, good acidity and notes of sour cherry. It is produced from the grapes Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Valpolicella ranges from your typical Valpolicella Classico all the way to a Amarone della Valpolicello. Let's break them down a bit:
1. Valpolicella Classico- light to medium body, ripe fruit, sour cherry. Serve slightly chilled with oily fish, grilled chicken or pork, burgers, meats and cheeses. These wines range from $10-$15. Try Valpolicella Classico if you're a Beaujolais lover.
2. Valpolicella Superiore- these have 1% higher minimum alcohol content than Classico and must be aged for a minimum of 1 year. They will be a bit more rich and intense in flavor than Classico. I would use similar food pairings but I also think this could pair well with flank steak and roasted chicken. These wines range from $15-$20. I would recommend trying this wine if you enjoy Cote du Rhone. It will have the softness and fruit forward flavors of a Cote du Rhone but won't necessarily be as earthy.
3. Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso- These wines are fantastic and complex- they are made by macerating leftover Amarone skins and lees with Valpolicella Classico. This process adds more color, flavor and complexity to the wine and also increases the alcohol content by putting the wine through a secondary fermentation. These wines are often referred to as 'baby Amarones' and are a more affordable option if you are looking for something with a similar flavor profile.
These wines usually range from $17-$30 and drink similarly to a Napa Cab. Pair with heartier meals such as roasted or braised meats.
4. Amarone della Valpolicella- Also referred to as Amarone, this is the most prestigious of the Valpolicella wines and earned its DOCG status in 2009. These wines are made from grapes that have been dried for 4-5 months so as to concentrate the sugars. They are full bodied with firm tannins and very bold intense flavors. Alcohol content usually surpasses 15%. They require a minimum of 2 years aging before release and have the ability to age for 10-20 years.
These wines usually start at about $40 and go up from there. Similar to Ripasso, they pair well with braised meats and also fine aged cheeses. I was lucky enough to find an awesome bottle for $36.
Now that we've covered the primary wine regions of Northern Italy, let's make a cocktail, shall we? Aside from the copious glasses of Valpolicella that were consumed during my time in Verona, we always made it a point to start the night (or day) with a refreshing Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian aperitif similar to Campari in color and flavor although a bit more mild and with a lower alcohol content. The combo for an Aperol Spritz is very simple:
Aperol Spritz Cocktail:
3 parts Prosecco/ 2 parts Aperol/ 1 part soda
Garnish with a slice of orange, pour over ice in a wine glass and enjoy!