Italy has proven to be a happy hunting ground when it comes to finding wines that offer plenty of variety and prices that mean you are hardly breaking the bank to explore more and more styles, varieties and regions.
Puglia has featured heavily as has Sicily and even Tuscany, but today we look to the north east of Italy around Venice.
The first red that will likely come to mind from Veneto is Amarone del Valpolicella. A style that suited the global trends through the ’90s and ’00s for full-bodied, rich intensely flavoured wines. Amarone wines will typically have a portion of the grapes dried for several months (known as appassimento) prior to fermentation, concentrating the sugars and adding dried fruit flavours a couple of degrees more alcohol and a richer/glycerol like texture to the wines.
For many ‘modern producers’ the use of new oak would also be employed to add yet more spice and vanilla like sweetness; the height of hedonism. The wines further down the chain at the less stringent quality levels such as Valpolicella DOC or Classico however were neglected and many producers began employing techniques like appassimento to try and appeal to the hedonistic audience or to make their wines seem grander than they are. Many of the wines did, and do, simply taste overly alcohol and unbalanced as they aim for a style they simply can’t achieve.
As global trends continue moving to more moderate alcohols and wines that are fresh and lively the ‘typical’ Valpolicella style is far more appropriate to for the need to doll the wines up with excessive oak and winemaking trickery isn’t necessary.
These wines will only see a year or so in oak (usually old and large format to avoid imparting too much flavour) and the use of appassimento limited if any. The grape varieties used are hardly of importance as the wines will be a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and up to 15 per cent coming from dozens of other varieties planted in the area. Both Corvina and Rondinella will show lively ripe and aromatic red cherries and strawberries, along with very subtle nutty notes and enough acidity to give the wines a lively juicy feel along with fine tannins for a subtle savoury edge. It’s a wine style that seems perfect as we move in to Spring, particularly as an alternative for those looking towards ‘smooth’ styles of wine.
Zenato Valpolicella Superiore – $30
Zenato have been farming the Valpolicella region for over 60 years now, still family-owned and with a focus on the grape varieties native to the Veneto region. Their Valpolicella is always a deliciously smooth, rounded style, medium-bodied with plenty of ripe red berries, subtle chocolate notes, some dried herbs and the typical almond note just on the finish.