Monday, September 28, 2009

Wines from Veneto, Italy

Mary and I attended an excellent wine tasting at Young's Fine Wines and Spirits in Manhasset, Long Island this past Sunday. The tasting was moderated by Kim Caldwell who covered the wines of Veneto, Italy. I will summarize some of what we learned. The leading wines of Veneto are Amarone (red), Proseco (white sparkling), Soave (white), Valpolicella (red), Bardolino(red), etc. Veneto is the most prolific wine region of Italy. Unfortunately, this does not translate into fine wines. For some time now the philosophy in Veneto has been largely commercial with industrial amounts of Bardolino, Soave and Valpolicella being produced. These wines are inexpensive, easy to drink and of little distinction. There are some exceptions.


Amarone is made from the same grapes as Valpolicella along with rondinella, molinara, and prehaps negrara. The difference is that while making Valpolicella the grapes are picked during the regular harvest but for Amarone, the grapes are left hanging to achieve extra ripeness and higher amounts of sugar. The more sugar in the grape the higher the alcohol content during fermentation. The grapes are then placed on bambo mats and placed in cool drying lofts for up to four months. This causes the grapes to shrivel which further concentrates the sugars. The wines that result from this are very full-bodied, almost opulent with an alcohol contest of up to 16%. The wine is then aged for 5 years or more in contrast to the regular Valpolicella which is rarely aged.

The top producers of Amarone are Allegrini, Bertani, Tedeschi, Masa, Quintarelli, Tommasi, and Zento.

According to "Amarone is the fourth biggest seller in Italy, behind Chianti, Asti, and Soave. This fine wine has flavors of licorice, tobacco and fig, and goes well with game and ripe cheese. Hannibal of Silence of the Lambs fame, of course, had his with fava beans. In the movie version, they had him drinking the more pedestrian chianti wine type. While some styles of amarone can be very bitter (that's where the name comes from), new styles are more fruity.

Amarone can be drunk young, while still a ruby purple, but they also age magnificently to a dark garnet for thirty years or more. A typical drinking age is 10 years. Amarone should be served around 60 F."


Proseco is made primarily from the proseco grape. Sometimes very small amounts of pinot grigio and pinot bianco are added. The very best proseco is grown in towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene which are both north of Venice. Proseco is a spumante and more fruity and less crisp than Champagne. The difference between proseco and Champagne is that the proseco is fermented twice in pressurized tanks.

We used Proseco at our son's wedding recently rather than Champagne. It was a great hit.

Regarding Amarone and Proseco my brother James who travels to Italy frequently says "Amarone is my favorite wine and it can be pricey. In italy you can get a great bottle relatively less costly. Last week I had a proseco as a dessert wine. I don't remember the name."

Soave and Valpolicella

Much of Valpolicella sold in the US is of commercial grade and not of great worth. However, there are five grades of Valpoolicella. There is Classico, Classico Superiore, which is aged for a year, and an even higher grade called Valpolecella ripasso which is added to amarone pomace (the pulpy mass left over from the fermination of the amarone). The highest grade of Valpolicella is recioto della Valpolicella. In this version the grapes are dried and allowed to raisinate.

Like Valpolicella the Soave sold in the US is cheap, white jug wine. But there is a Soave Classico which is grown and harvested in the original Soave area. Above this is the Soave Classico Superiore which has to be aged for eight months before it is sold.

Kim does a great job at these tastings. Here is a video introducing Young's and introducing you to Kim Caldwell.

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