Verona is a city rich in culure, history, art and cuisine, yet for me and many of my trade, wine is the first thing that comes to mind when Verona is mentioned. Once a year, this time of year, Verona hosts Vinitaly on its huge fairground and the city is flooded with producers, importers, retailers, restaurateurs, etc. from all over Italy and the world. For five maddening days the hotels empty its guests into the fair each morning and restaurants pack them in each night as businessmen meet with producers to discuss their trade and inspect the new releases to organize their buying strategy. A trip to Vinitaly however, without a visit to a few of the Veronese vineyards, is not complete.
The Veneto (accent on the first syllable), Verona’s region, is one of the most prolific wine producing regions of all of Italy. The bulk of this production comes from three appellations and all three are among the most internationally known DOC’s of Italy and all are in the province of Verona: Soave, Bardolino, and Valpolicella. Despite their international fame, these three zones are not always known for their quality, yet the quality can be, and often is, exceptionally high.
Soave is named for the beautiful castle town that sits at the base of the hills where the best vineyards lie. The wine is made predominately from the Gargànega with lesser portions of Trebbiano di Soave and up to 5% of “international” varietals such as Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. The resulting wine is characterized by tones of minerals and almonds with excellent acidity that leads to a pleasantly bitter finish. The market for Soave was once dominated by the giant Bolla winery and is still vastly controlled by large wineries, yet there are many smaller wineries well worth seeking out. Among the many are Pieropan, Suavia, Inama, Prà, and Coffele.
To the east of Verona on the southeast corner of Lake Garda is the town of Bardolino. Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara are the main players in the blend of Bardolino. The wine seldom reaches significant heights in terms of depth or complexity, nor does it pretend to. They are bright, fresh and floral reds that can be a true joy when paired with salumi or lighter grilled fare like chicken, veal or even fish. The sad side of the Bardolino story is that wines like this have fallen out of favor with the megalomaniacal drinkers who feel that all the wine they drink needs to be rich, profound and intense. Thus the wine is poorly represented in the marketplace. Fortunately there are some wines of interest. Look for the Zeni winery, Corte Gardoni, or Guerrieri Rizzardi. Also look for Bardolino Chiaretto, a rosé version which is one of the most interesting and enjoyable of Italian rosés.
The greatest red DOC of Verona, Valpolicella, is found in the hills a short drive north of the city. It is made from a similar blend of grapes as Bardolino, yet with a heavier reliance on the corvina grape. There are four main types of Valpolicella. Simple Valpolicella is a bit fuller than Bardolino, but still soft floral and quaffable. Valpolicella Superiore is a designation for wines which meet a higher minimum of alcohol. This is usually done through a process called ripasso in which Valpolicella wine undergoes a second fermentation by passing the wine over the lees from the finished Amarone della Valpolicella, which leads us to the third style. Amarone della Valpolicella is made with the same grapes that could be used for the regular version, but they are left is ventilated lofts through the winter to wither and concentrate sugars. In March or April the grapes are pressed and the resulting wine is about as rich a wine as can be found anywhere in Italy. The fourth type of Valpolicella, a dessert wine, is the Recioto della Valpolicella, which is a sweet wine that results from the fermentation of Amarone arresting before it has run its full course, leaving residual sugars.
Producers to look for include the master Giuseppe Quintarelli, and the gems of Romano Dal Forno, both of whose wines are extremely rare. Tommaso Bussola is a personal favorite. Roccolo Grassi, Nicolis, Le Ragose, and Lorenzo Begali are the other producers with regular representation on our list.