Apr 24, 2018
Valpolicella's Corvina Grape
Photo: Corvina grapes; courtesy of Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Vini
Delving into the wines of Valpolicella and what makes them so special is a complex and history-laden subject.
The region itself, in Italy’s northeastern quadrant, is anchored by Lake Garda to the west and it rolls across finger valleys spreading out from the Prealps foothills as it points in the direction of Venice.
Wine has likely been made here for centuries, in some fashion; vines planted on small terraced vineyards, were family tended, as part of the necessary biodiversity of survival, like gardens and livestock.
Along the way, traditions of making wines from desiccated (known as withered) grapes were passed down from generation to generation.
As with everything else they evolved and modernized, and became something different, and yet the same.
In short, it’s not just the process of drying the grapes to make Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto that’s important, but also the grapes themselves.
While there are several important varieties, which come together to make the wines of Valpolicella (Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta and Molinara among others), the queen of Valpolicella is Corvina.
Native to Valpolicella and neighboring Bardolino, Corvina has medium-sized-berries and bunches, and offers floral and fruity characteristics.
It is a low vigor vine, which is mostly planted in pergola formation because of its proclivity to sunburn.
Corvina must also make up a minimum of 45% of the blend, and up to 95%.
However, one of the most significant features of Corvina are its compact bunches and thick blue-black skins with densely packed cells.
To translate: compared to most other red grape varieties, it is slow to wither. Withering is a more complicated biological process than simply losing moisture; the composition of the grape changes. For example, during the drying process, approximately 30-percent weight loss occurs, but slower weight/moisture loss is imperative to a superior product with higher sensorial quality. During this time, acid decreases, and skin degrades making it easier to extract the grape's remaining juice, once it has dried.
The withering process adds additional characteristics; notes of balsamic, pepper and tobacco, but also a glycerol weight and texture, which is perceived as sweetness.
These withered grapes have long been used to make the region's historical sweet Recioto wines; today, these wines, while still cherished by locals, have fallen out of favour internationally—as is typical for all sweet wines.
Regardless, the post World War II darling, Amarone (a dry version of Recioto) and subsequent Ripasso wines, have more than picked up any slack; the latter especially in higher volume.
These wines have helped build the region and ergo the Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Vini, a producers organization which aids in production regulations and marketing, among other tasks.
The consorzio, established in 1958, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and has rolled out the first ever Valpolicella Educational Program.
In January 2018, a group of 21 wine journalists and educators from around the globe gathered in Verona to take part in an intense three-day immersion into the region, its wines, history, production methods and marketing.
On the last day, an exam was administered and seven diplomas were handed out.
Since then, more have joined the ranks and gained their diploma, having re-sat the exam.
Canada boasts one of those graduates, as does the USA, Germany, Poland, and the Ukraine, among others.
Additionally, here in Canada, we love our Valpolicella wines.
We are one of the region’s most important global consumers and rank impressively, based on our relatively small population, compared to the USA, UK and Germany (other important importers of Valpolicella wines).
Now you know more—cheers to Valpolicella!
~Daenna Van Mulligen
►Read more on Valpolicella in the Vancouver Courier here
►Read more on Valpolicella in Vines Magazine (p.20) here