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Production Areas & History: Valpolicella

Valpolicella

The Valpolicella area is located to the north of Verona, east of Lake Garda, to the east and north of the Lessini mountains.

 

La zona doc del Valpolicella Classico

Generally the climate is mild, with the Lessini Mountains providing protection from the cold northern winds and Lake Garda ensuring temperatures are rarely extreme. Annual rainfall is ideal for viticulture.

The terrain varies, from limestone to basalt, marne to tufa, glacial rock to clay. The differences of terrain and microclimates influence the personalities of the wines, together with a unique heritage of indigenous grapes and centuries old vinification techniques, such as appassimento, combined with more modern methods. Consequently, the diversity of wines produced is extremely rich, quite apart from those wines which are already famous for their quality at an international level.

The Valpolicella area comprises five communes: Fumane, Marano, Negrar, Sant'Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano.

Click on the above map for a bigger detail and to gain access to some pictures showing the area.

History and locations of Valpolicella

The origins of the name are ancient, even Latin, if we believe that it is derived from "polis-cellae", i.e. a place with many wineries.

This is just a myth, but you must know it when drinking a glass of Valpolicella, Recioto or Amarone in which the prevailing part of the blend is the black Corvina Veronese grape.

It is said that this grape was once white. During a particularly harsh winter, flocks of crows descended on the snow-covered fields and houses in a desperate search for food. The vision of all those squawking and unpleasant birds with black feathers intimidated the farmers who decided to exterminate them. The massacre left only one specimen with broken wings found by a farmer. He did not have the courage to kill the beast and kept it in the house and took care of it for the whole winter. In the spring, the healed crow took flight but before leaving, he flew over the vineyards of his saviour. From that day on those, vines stopped producing white grapes, producing black grapes instead, vigorous and rich, and the wine obtained from it was of an extraordinary quality.

Proposed amendments to the DOC guidelines

The guidelines for wine production were created in 1968 and have undergone certain changes since then.

 

The most important ones are: elimination of alcoholic Recioto and recognition of the name "Amarone" that in the first regulation of 1968 was intended only as a type of Recioto and so the label contained the words "Recioto Amarone". Given the inadequacy of the guidelines today, they are in the process of being modified.

The main changes under discussion include: elimination of the obligatory use of Molinara, lowering the minimum obligatory quota of Rondinella, formalisation of the use of Corvinone, introduction of minimum density of vineyard planting, setting of a limit on the percentage of grapes intended for Recioto and Amarone production, increase in the minimum alcohol content of the grapes after withering and definition of a minimum withering period, regulation of the use of air conditioning during grape overripening, modification of certain analytical and sensory characteristics.

Characteristics and vine varieties of Valpolicella

The grapes allowed for the production of Valpolicella are: Corvina 40-70%, Rondinella 20-40%, Molinara 5-20%, addition of other local grapes up to a maximum of 15% is permitted. Ruby red colour with hints of garnet with age; intense and enveloping vinous scent with notes of bitter almond, cherry and spices, sometimes even of underbrush; full, rich persistent flavour with a sharp scent.

The Superiore qualification is obtained with 12% and an ageing period of one year.

Typically, Valpolicella Classico should be drunk within 2 or 3 years after the harvest; the Superiore, however, can be aged in the bottle for over 5 years. Both are paired with red meats and medium aged cheeses.

If the Classico Superiore is full-bodied and properly aged, it can also be paired with game and aged cheeses.

Vine varieties

"Lavoro nei campi" (foto di Fulvio
Roiter - archivio Masi)

The Valpolicella Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara area: these are the three indigenous grapes that have constituted the history and fortune of wines from Valpolicella since Roman times. Traditionally, they are considered to be the wine-producing symbol of the area and, although the prevailing varieties, they are in good company.

The range of cultivars in Valpolicella, in fact, offers many other varieties both indigenous - such as Forselina, Negrara, Oseletta, Rossignola, and Simesara - and imported, more or less recently, such as Barbera, Marzemino, Sangiovese, Teroldego and even Lambrusco and Refosco, to limit ourselves to only some Italian red grapes.

The variety in the area, in short, is broader than it may seem at first and, according to some, the reason for this wealth is to be found in the tradition, common among wealthy families in the past, of bringing rooted vine cuttings from other regions as gifts to friends, a bit like a bouquet of flowers or a box of sweets today. The wines of Valpolicella are, therefore, a result of blends of grapes in different percentages. The production regulations, issued in 1968 and amended in 1990, established blends of 40-70% Corvina Veronese, 20-40% Rondinella and 5-25% Molinara.

 

CORVINA. When respect for the special quality of the location and its vine varieties is greater than the importance given to market trends, the wines of Valpolicella show a unique feature that strikes the eye, or rather the nose and taste buds, from the very first sip: an unmistakable note of cherry, more or less marked, which often merges with that of almond.

This refined touch is primarily provided by Corvina, the 'Queen of Veronese grapes', as some authors have defined it. A robust vine, maybe even too abundant and quite resistant to the winter cold, it blooms in late April and ripens between September and October.

It is recognised by experts for its excellent wine quality. However, the farmer's patience and the ability are put to the test to demonstrate this: in spite of its fame, it is indeed a difficult grape, sensitive to cryptogamic diseases such as peronospora, sour skin and botrytis, demanding in terms of climate (negatively affected by humidity) and land. The preferred terrain is stony and alluvial or hilly and well-ventilated. Over the years, to try to overcome some problems and enhance its best features, certain varieties have been selected for cloning which, depending on the types of vine chosen (medium Corvina, Cruina or large Corvina), can be more or less robust, with larger or smaller bunches, rich in sugar and especially resistant to certain diseases. If vinified alone, Corvina produces a wine of an intense ruby red colour with violet hues and a fresh scent, quite a full-bodied flavour and a slightly tannic vinegary taste.

 

MOLINARA. What once gave durability to Valpolicella was particularly Molinara grapes, so named for the abundant bloom that makes the bunches full of grapes, so as to make them look dusted with flour.

It is a robust vine with abundant and constant production, rarely attacked by botrytis and sour skin.

On the other hand, it is not resistant to the cold and requires dry, sunny and breezy hillside terrain.

The wine produced purely from this grape is pale pink, quite sour and alcoholic at the same time.

 

RONDINELLA. Rondinella is also a native vine, but unlike the previous one, it is better suited to difficult environments and climates.

The wine produced is less robust than that from Corvina, with a less intense ruby colour, a floral, slightly vinous aroma and a dry taste.

As a plant, it shows excellent resistance to botrytis, the cold and attacks by many cryptogamic diseases and harmful insects such as mites, leafhoppers, and moths.

It is not affected by the dry season and grows well on all types of terrain.

 

CORVINONE. This traditional trio of vines has always been accompanied by a fourth grape, the Corvinone, although in an almost 'underground' way, i.e. never officially declared. It has long been considered yet another variety of the Corvina grape rather than a stand-alone vine.

For this reason, its inclusion in the official Register of vines is a recent phenomenon. In fact, the Corvinone has become more recognised and popular in the last few years, such that many producers believe that its organoleptic qualities are superior even to those of Corvina, while presenting the same problems as the latter.

Corvinone, in fact, is hyperproductive when grown in the plains or in the lower parts of the valleys and, while resisting the cold well, the rather large and thick-skinned grapes are easily attacked by botrytis, even if they seem ideal for withering. The best results are, therefore, obtained from the vineyards of Corvinone, planted in the more hilly and less fertile areas, that are well-ventilated and have good sunshine.

OTHER INDIGENOUS VINE VARIETIES OF INTEREST. Other popular vine varieties in Valpolicella, some of which have been reintroduced recently, are Forsellina, Oseleta, Rossignola, Negrara trentina and Dindarella.

 

FORSELLINA is a robust red variety with compact bunches; resistant to disease, producing a light ruby coloured wine, with aromas reminiscent of ripe cherries.

Forsellina is a strong, fertile and balanced variety, with good productivity. It requires long pruning.

If grown in poor soil, it remains easily on the plant, otherwise it becomes sensitive to botrytis due to the compactness of the bunch.

 

OSELETA is another typical variety of the territory which produces a tannic and fresh wine with a ruby colour and ample fruity scents.

The plant has small and compact bunches and quite low yields.

Oseleta is a vine of discreet strength; its production is moderate and constant, in spite of the small size of bunches, due to high fertility of the buds.

Budding takes place quite late and this makes it less sensitive to possible spring frosts. It is not very susceptible to cryptogamic diseases; despite the very compact bunch, it keeps well on the plant and in storage, so it is used in the production of dessert wines such as Recioto and Amarone, to which it brings colour and structure.

 

ROSSIGNOLA is, instead, a late grape; it blooms in April but ripens only towards the middle of October.

It is a late variety in terms of budding and maturation; very robust, with very fertile buds. It is partial to expanded vineyards with long and abundant pruning.

Resistant to cold and drought but sensitive to disease. The wine made from it has a fresh taste, good acidity and a cherry red colour.

 

NEGRARA TRENTINA is very sensitive to powdery mildew and botrytis, is not affected by the cold and adapts to any terrain, unless very poor. This vine has remarkable strength and is characterised by good production and late budding.

It produces a deep-coloured wine with violet reflections, rich in tannins but with little scent.

The bunch is large, elongated pyramidal, winged, compact - the grape is medium-large and spherical.

The skin is pruinose, thick, leathery, blue-black in colour.

 

DINDARELLA is equally resistant, a grape whose sub-variety Pelara is also known and used.

As a plant, it is not very sensitive to the cold, diseases, insects and parasites.

When used alone, it produces a light ruby-coloured, slightly aromatic wine with aromas reminiscent of bell pepper. It is a robust vine with balanced vegetation; its production is good and constant, but the "Pelara" type shows sparse bunch growth and, in any case, is no longer planted.

It requires long pruning; Dindarella is highly resistant to rot and cryptogamic diseases; its grapes keep well on the plant and in storage.

 

CROATINA is a variety of Lombard origin, resistant to powdery mildew but not to downy mildew.

Being a late ripening grape, it is partial to well-exposed land. Productivity is plentiful but inconstant.

Black grape vine variety, medium or medium-small leaf, elongated and pentagonal, five-or three-lobed; large bunch, conical, elongated, winged, medium compact or compact; medium grape, regular spherical shape, with blue, thick and leathery skin, abundantly covered with bloom.

Recioto della valpolicella

L'appassimento delle uve

The grapes are the same but the processing method is different.

The name Recioto originates from the dialectal term "rece", meaning "ear", and indicates a wine which was once obtained by using only the ears of the bunches, i.e. those so-called "winged" parts, which are more exposed to the rays of the sun.

In modern processing, the best grapes are used whole, hung to dry in special rooms. The wine that is obtained is a beautiful garnet red with an intense smell of must, a warm, velvety, sweet flavour.

At the end of processing, it has a minimum alcohol content of 14% and it is a dessert wine, especially paired with pastries, but also with spicy cheeses.

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