Valpolicella

 

If reading the above title you thought of wine – and not an especially memorable one – you are in for two surprises today. The first is that Valpolicella is actually a place: a 240 kilometers-long valley between the Garda lake and the city of Verona, in north-eastern Italy. It does feature vineyards, of course, but it is also the best place to see the majestic ville venete (villas in the style of the Veneto region) that flourished in the Fifteenth century. You can visit over eighty of them, some of which contain splendid art collections or feature statuaries and frescoes themselves, and all of them real architectural marvels similar to scaled-down (or not-so-scaled-down) royal palaces.

Valpolicella is also a prominent location for marble and stone quarries, the earliest of which were already used during the Roman empire. The continuous digging transformed some of them – and the Cave di Prun  complex in particular – into unique underground maze-like environments definitely worth a visit. All around them natural parks abound, such as the famous Parco delle cascate taking its name from the many waterfalls created by the confluence of various rivers. All of the above, not to mention the traditional stone houses dotting the local hills, make Valpolicella a little-known but very pleasant destination for tourism. The second surprise is that, if you are like most non-Italian wine lovers, you probably ignore that Valpolicella doesn’t just bottle the Classico, the aromatic, light and quite unremarkable table wine you should be nonplussed about. As a matter of fact, the same geographic name applies to three more – and very different – wines. From the most to the less common, the first is the Classico Superiore, or Ripasso: aged for one year at the least in wood barriques, it has a stronger flavor heightened by a special pass through the leftover seeds and skins from the preparation of Recioto. This is the real secret that made Valpolicella wines famous through the ages, and that makes this variety unique throughout the world.

Recioto is the name of the Valpolicella variant of the passito technique of making wine from long-harvested grapes. Here the grapes are dried on open-air racks until late Fall: the more water evaporates, the more the natural sugars concentrate and mallic acid deteriorates. The result is a very sweet, dark  and strong wine that earned the title of “seduction wine”. The trick to Recioto is weather: in case of too much rain, humidity or mold the grapes are wasted, so the quantity produced fluctuates quite dramatically each year. The most exclusive variety of Recioto is called Amarone. It is particularly dry and complex, almost a liquor, and its taste changes quite a bit depending on whether it was aged in regular casks or precious wood barriques. Either way, it will change your prejudices on Valpolicella forever.