The vineyards of Valpolicella are located to the east of Lake Garda and North of Verona on limestone and granite slopes. Valpolicella is typically a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. From these three grapes, many styles are produced.
Beginning with the simplest and least expensive is Valpolicella DOC and Valpolicella Classico DOC. The wines are dry, light, fruity, best consumed young and ideal with cured meats. Quality varies and overcropping to meet high market demand has caused the wine’s reputation to suffer somewhat. Look for a reputable producer to ensure quality. The best vineyards are found in the Classico zone. The top wines produced from these region are the Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG. The same grapes used to produce basic Valpolicella are harvested and dried prior fermentation. Historically, the drying process took place on straw mats in barns, but for the most part, today this process has been modernized and the grapes dry under controlled conditions in special rooms. Drying the grapes concentrates their sugars, acids and flavours and this is evident in the powerfully rich and alcoholic Amarones. Dark concentrated fruit melds with aromas of chocolate, spice and leather making these veritable vini da meditazione, as they say in Italy. Wines to sip, savour and enjoy after a meal with dark chocolate or strong cheeses. To make the other famous Venetian wine, Ripasso, the unpressed grape skins from Amarone production are added back to basic Valpolicella during fermentation in order to gain some of that concentrated and fruity passito character and perhaps a degree of alcohol along the way. Ripasso wines are medium to full bodied, plummy and velvety. Their ripe fruit and fine tannins make them appealing to New World wine drinkers and a lot more compatible with an everyday meal than most Amarone. Frinally, to satisfy one’s sweet tooth there is also sweet variation, called Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG.
It is made by the same process as Amarone, but fermentation is stopped before all of the natural grape sugars are converted to alcohol. The resulting wine is extremely concentrated and complex with aromas and flavours of dried fruit, lively acidity, supple tannins and about 12% alcohol. Exquisite with dark chocolate and Gorgonzola.
Another region around Lake Garda making red wines from the same grapes as Valpolicella is Bardolino DOC. The local rose, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, is one of Italy’s best.