For fans of the varietal, “That’s Amore.”
There once was a time when Bardolino and Valpolicella rolled off the tongues of American wine consumers as we raised our glasses high. These wines made in the northern Italian region of Verona could be found in restaurants and retail shops all over America. The most popular of them were bottled under the Bolla label, but with the expansion of the wine industry and the sheer volume of wines available these days from all over the world, these wines have been lost in the crowd. The Valpolicella (originally called Vallepolicella) is a charming, easy-to-drink wine rich in red fruit tones, that serves well with any Italian red sauce or cheese dish and at a very affordable price. Chances are though that today, fans of Valpolicella will have to search out a wine that would once have been commonplace on wine merchants’ shelves all over the country.
Valpolicella is made using a blend of grapes, the Corvina grape being the dominant grape in the blend. In Italian winemaking, only grapes sourced from the original growing zone can be called “classical,” while those that achieve twelve percent alcohol or higher can be called “superior.” The Zenato Valpolicella Superiore ($12) is bursting with ripe berry and cherry notes and has a charming disposition. Even better—this wine requires no ageing and is ready to drink right now.
A heartier version of the same Valpolicella is the Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($65). This wine is made using grapes picked from the ears of grape clusters, where the grapes are ripest from maximum exposure to the sun. This process is known as Recioto, which translates to “ears.” Once picked, the grapes are dried to a raisin-like state to concentrate their flavor. The fermentation process may take up to a month to finish, producing a wine of deep color with ripe, mature fruit flavors and a high alcohol (15% - 17%) content. Making this wine is labor-intensive and a large percentage of the volume is lost to evaporation. Hence the steep price. But this is an investment, folks. Amarones age gracefully, continuing to improve for a decade.
But if the price tag for the Amarone seems a bit high, I’d suggest a wine made in the Ripasso style. Fresh Valpolicella grape juice is added to fermenting Amarone, starting a second fermentation to make a stronger, more complex Valpolicella. The Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre ($24) is a great example, displaying hints of the Amarone but with a lower alcohol content, that makes it easier to pair with hearty foods.
If you haven’t tried Valpolicella or haven’t done so recently, perhaps it’s time to visit an old friend. Or to make a new one.
Steve Staples has been encouraging the enjoyment of wine in Baton Rouge for twenty-seven years. By day a rep with Glazer’s Companies of Louisiana, by night Steve teaches a series of wine education classes as part of the LSU Leisure Classes program. For information and to register, visit lsuunion.augusoft.net.