Verona, in northeast Italy, is a romantic city, steeped with history and beautiful vistas along the Adige River. In the old city, one can cross the ancient Ponte Pietra bridge, visit a Roman arena and Casa de Giulietta (House of Juliet), the setting for Shakespeare’s classic love story or the Enoteca Oreste Dal Zovo, a wine shop that looks like something from an old novel. It is there that the local wines from Soave and Valpolicella can be found.
In the hills surrounding Verona to the north, near the marble quarry region, lie the vineyards of Veneto, spread over many appellations, but known for the notable wines from Soave and Valpolicella. At times overshadowed, Valpolicella ranks just below Chianti in total production.
Valpolicella is most identified for the use of unique grape varietals and the distinct styles to their wines. Grapes like Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, Croatina and Oseleta, relatively unsung outside of Italy, comprise the red blends from the region.
Most wines from Valpolicella are light and fruity, but offer many styles, including the richer Amarone made from dried grapes, Valpolicella Classico from the original sector, aged Valpolicella Superiore and Recioto, a dessert wine.
For decades, many of the highly rated releases from Valpolicella have come from Tenuta Sant’Antonio, an estate started by the four Castagnedi brothers: Armando, Tiziano, Paolo and Massimo. Beginning with their father’s vineyards and later adding the Monte Garbi property, Tenuta Sant’Antonio has produced some of the best wines from the region. Wine and Spirits magazine recently named their 2013 Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli (94pt/$70) and the 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Selezi (92pt/$45) among the year’s best releases from the region.
It is from the Monte Garbi property that Tenuta Sant’Antonio produces Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC Monti Garbi 2017($20), made from re-fermented Amarone skins and aged 12 months in oak casks. Ripasso is the name given for wines made from previously fermented grapes skins.
A blend from corvina, rondinella, croatina and oseleta grapes, the expressive bouquet of this wine was fruity with doses of cherry and spice. The flavors were light, soft on the palate and savory, pairing well with a flavorful hard cheese. A good value.
Also from the Monti Garbi District, the grapes for the Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG Antonio Castagnedi 2015 ($40-50) are dried out for three months prior to fermentation. With natural malolactic fermentation and batonnage with regular stirrings, the juice sits in new French oaks casks for two years before bottling.
Deep colors and rich texture highlight this wine with heavy spice elements and licorice on the nose, balanced flavors and a luscious mouthfeel.
Fermented and aged in all stainless steel, the Valpolicella Superiore DOC Nanfre’($15) blends corvina and rondinella grapes from vineyards in the villages of Colognola ai Colli and Illasi, near Verona. The aromas and flavors are present and expressive throughout, making it an attractive option for an everyday wine.
Scaia is a brand of value-priced wines from the Castagnedi Family that includes, among the reds, a traditional Valpolicella blend and two single-varietal releases: corvina and cabernet sauvignon.
However, it was the pale wine releases that captured my attention.
Made from 100% rondinella grapes the Scaia Rosato 2018 ($15) is fermented and aged in stainless steel resulting in a lovely light salmon color, floral hints in the aromas and tangy fruit flavors that lingered throughout the soft finish.
Common in the nearby Soave, the garganeda grape, the sixth most planted white in Italy, is native to the Valpolicella region and, with tight clusters, is often used for recioto dessert wines. The crisp Scaia Garganeda-Chardonnay ($15) has a steely bouquet of wet stone and citrus while the flavors are dominated by tangerine and almonds with a surprisingly long finish.
Wines from the Valpolicella region are available on-line and in most retail and wholesale outlets. A little research may reveal some new discoveries of fine Italian wines priced much lower than those from Tuscany or Piedmont.
Better yet, the best way to unearth Valpolicella and Soave wines is to travel to Verona, rent a room in the shadow of the Roman Arena and, at the same time, discover Titian’s “Assumption of the Virgin” in the Verona Cathedral or the sweeping sunset views from the Torre dei Lamberti (Lamberti Tower).