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Valpolicella may just be your next favorite wine—and best of all, there’s an expression for every style of wine drinker out there. Whether lighter-bodied, chillable reds (à la gamay or pinot noir) are what you love, or you tend to go for fuller-bodied, powerhouse bottles (hello, New World cabernet lovers), there’s a valpolicella for everyone. This is what to know about the versatile Italian red wine, plus five bottles to try.
What Is Valpolicella?
Valpolicella is a red wine blend produced in the Veneto region of Italy. The blend is most often dominated by the corvina grape variety, with the local varieties of rondinella and molinara playing backup roles; rosignola, sangiovese, barbera, bigolona, and negrara are also permitted as well. Valpolicella wines span the flavor profile and style spectrum, ranging from light to full-bodied. Those with a “superiore” label attached to their name must be aged for one year in oak and have a minimum of 12% alcohol; most producers of valpolicella will age even their entry-level bottlings in some form of wood.
Where Does Valpolicella Come From?
Valpolicella wines come from the province of Verona, located east of Lake Garda and in the overarching region of Veneto in northern Italy.
What Is Valpolicella Ripasso?
Valpolicella ripasso is one of the most popular styles of valpolicella wine. These textured and tasty bottles are made by taking valpolicella superiore wine and leaving them in contact with the leftover partially dried skins from amarone or recioto production. This additional skin contact adds weight, flavor, and body to these silky, fruit-driven wines.
Are Valpolicella and Amarone the Same Thing?
Kind of, but not really. amarone, the full name of which is amarone della valpolicella, is made from late-harvested, dried red wine grapes, half of which must be corvina corvinone, rounded out with rondinella and other local varieties. The process of grape drying causes the berries to shrivel and dehydrates them, which in turn concentrates the sugars. With more sugar and less water, the final wines have higher alcohol contents when vinified dry, generally around 15% to 16% ABV. Grapes for amarone production are generally allowed to dry for three to four months; post-fermentation, the wines age for a few years in oak prior to release. The resulting wines are concentrated, full-bodied, and pack a serious punch.
On the contrary, recioto wines are also produced from dried grapes but generally are not vinified dry. Therefore, these wines have higher levels of sugar and lower levels of alcohol, around 12% on average.
What Does Valpolicella Taste Like?
Due to the many styles and designations of valpolicella, every expression will have its own unique flavor profile. However, generally speaking, classic expressions of valpolicella show flavors of sour cherries, red berries, and cinnamon. Ripasso wines will show fuller-bodied, velvety textures, with possible added notes of baking spice, vanilla, and/or chocolate due to their time in oak. Regardless of style or designation, these wines are generally always best enjoyed slightly chilled.
What Are Good Food Pairings with Valpolicella?
Think of lighter-bodied expressions of valpolicella (not ripasso) like your favorite pinot noirs or gamays, and pair them with poultry, charcuterie, or a variety of appetizers. Fuller-bodied ripasso expressions will show exceptionally well alongside roasted meats, burgers, and hearty vegetarian stews. For amarone, grab some aged Parmigiano cheese and get the post-dinner course started, or simply light up a cigar to sip with the wine.
These are five bottles to try.
Accordini Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso
For a silky, fuller-bodied expression of valpolicella ripasso, check out this mouth-coating expression. Produced from 60% corvina, 15% corvinone, and 20% rondinella grapes, plus a touch of molinara, this intensely fragrant wine shows flavors of dark fruits, violets, milk chocolate, and sweet spice. The wine ferments in stainless steel tanks and ages for 18 months (12 in oak) prior to bottling. Although this wine is extremely approachable in its youth, this budget-friendly gem will withstand up to five to seven years in the cellar.
Buglioni l’Imperfetto Valpolicella Classico Superiore
Based in the heart of the valpolicella wine-producing region of northern Italy, Buglioni organically farms all 46 hectares of its vines, all of which are dedicated to regionally indigenous varieties. Impressively, the estate only uses 40% of their grapes to make wine, which ensures that only the highest-quality fruit makes the cut. The ripe and bone-dry valpolicella classico superiore is produced from 50% corvina and 20% corvinone, rounded out with rondinella and croatina. Velvety flavors of ripe red fruits, vanilla, and sweet spice lead to a harmonious, long-lasting finish.
Corte Sant'Alda Ca' Fiui Valpolicella
Located on a sun-drenched hillside in the Veneto region of Italy, this producer’s cellar is nestled amongst 20 hectares of vines and 19 hectares of woods, olive groves, and cherry trees. Its vineyards are farmed all organically and biodynamically, and each site-specific cuvée is produced from a particular vineyard site. Fruit is hand-harvested, spontaneously fermented, and aged in large oak vats. This youthful valpolicella shows flavors of sour cherry, fresh-picked herbs, and a touch of crushed stones.
Domini del Leone Valpolicella Classico Ripasso
If you’re looking for a high-quality, budget-friendly option to explore the world of valpolicella ripasso, this bottle is a great place to start. Produced using the pressed skins of the region’s famed amarone wine, this rich and complex expression of valpolicella provides an extra punch of a flavor with every sip. Expect flavors of black cherries, vanilla bean, and a touch of cinnamon. Serve it on chilly nights with your favorite comfort foods.
Tommaso Bussola Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso “Ca' del Laito”
Sourced from a handful of vineyard sites ranging from five to 30 years old, this textured and tasty bottle is one of our go-to picks year round. Bussola ferments this wine in stainless steel, then moves the wine over to the pressed amarone skins in February and March. After 23 to 24 months of aging in oak, the wine is finally bottled and sent out for release. Expect floral, spice-forward flavors of morello cherry, chocolate, and a hint of menthol. The wine’s bright, palate-coating acidity leads to a refreshing and lingering finish.