Valpolicella a bright welcome for spring
The burst of spring across the landscape means a shift from traipsing around in heavy coats and boots to the lighter clothing and footwear that comes with warmer weather.
My wine drinking is going through similar changes, and with VinItaly only 10 days away away, I’m looking toward Italy, especially the lighter reds of Valpolicella, for refreshment.
The Valpolicella area is east of Lake Garda, in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. It’s a mix of flat agricultural lands and rolling hills, cut with permanent streams flowing north to south where they meet the Fiume Adige (Adige River).
The wine was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, and it gained notice after he made his protagonist in the 1950 novel Across the River and Into the Trees a Valpolicella fan who describes the wine as “better when it is newer. It is not a grand vin and bottling it and putting years on it only adds sediment.”
The medium-bodied, bright-cherry fruited wine made a big splash in the1960s and 1970s with American wine drinkers, an occurrence which brought it not only attention but almost its downfall as well.
As demand for the wine grew, winemakers shifted their attention from the hard-to-farm hills to large estates on the flatter lands and as production increased, overall quality went down.
By the 1980s, the Valpolicella found in Italian restaurants across the U.S. was a weak shadow of what it once was. But the same revolution, and the changing tastes of consumers, that saved many Italian wines also played its part in saving Valpolicella.
Some of the credit goes to the late Giuseppe (Bepi) Quintarelli, a demanding winemaker who knew the wine could produce better wine and better prices.
And there was Sandro Boscaini of Masi, who was among the winemakers offering a middle-level Valpolicella style called ripasso, where regular Valpolicella is refermented on skins and seed remaining from the partly dried grapes used in the Amarone process developed by Quintarelli.
The result is a wine with higher alcohol and more heft and body, midway between the lighter Valpolicella and the mouthful that is Amarone.
Valpolicella DOC regulations allow the use of several grape varieties, mainly corvina (up to 70 percent), along with rondinella (20-40 percent), and molinara (5-25 percent). There also can be up to 15 percent of other grapes such as barbera, sangiovese and negrara.
I recently tried several Valpolicellas made in the traditional style, with bright cherry fruit, floral aromas and enough acidity to stand up to many foods. And Valpolicellas, especially the Superiore and Classico Superiore, won’t break your budget.
I found my favorite of this tasting, a 2012 Folonari Valpolicella for $7.63 at Tri R Liquors in Hotchkiss and I should have bought two. In the glass it was bright garnet with edges fading to red/purple, with a nose of cherry and dusty roses. Bright cherry with soft tannins filled the mouth.
I also had a 2011 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore ($11), a bit heavier in weight than the Folonari but still with plenty of red fruit and bright flavors, and the 2011 Sartori Valpolicella Classic Superiore ($13), biggest of the three but well-balanced with lots of dark cherry flavors and aromas of violets and roses.
As a side note, many writers fall for the story that “Valpolicella” has its roots in the Greek word for “land of many cellars,” a false cognate if there ever was one.
I prefer the explanation offered by the well-spoken Jeremy Parzen in his blog Do Bianchi, where he says the name refers to “the valley of sand deposits, from the Latin pulla, a term used in classical Latin to denote to dark soil and then later to denote alluvial deposits.”
Parzen, a linguist of note, goes on to say, “In fact, Valpolicella is not a valley but rather a series of “wrinkles” defined by the Marano, Negrar, Fumane, and Nòvare torrents (streams).”
The accompanying map shows the complexity of the Valpolicella geography.