The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Wine education for us all – Valpolicella ~ Saturday, July 7th, 2012
Quintessentially Italian: The most important DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) (or subregion) in the Veneto, Valpolicella is one of the most famous light-bodied reds in Italy. Located right above starry-eyed Verona, in many ways Valpolicella might remind drinkers of Chianti: easygoing, fresh, and carrying that extra degree of acidity that’s so important with food pairings.
And like Chianti, there are regrettably more bad versions than good. At the top end, Valpolicella is just as complex and meaningful as any great Italian wine. At bottom, however, the commercial versions often taste artificially sweet, underripe, and excessively acidic. Fortunately, there are nowadays many bottlings, relatively inexpensive, which provide much satisfaction. Most of these hail from the Classico (or heartland) part of the region, with vines located on the best parts of the hillsides.
According to regulations, Valpolicella must be made from 40-70% Corvina Veronese, 20-40% Rondinella, and 5-25% Molinara, with the option of up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Negrara, Barbera, and Sangiovese (as well as a few others). Excepting the very best bottlings, the oak influence in Valpolicella is minimal. Basic versions are usually aged for up to a year in Slavonian oak casks, while those labelled ‘Superiore’ require longer maturations. Here, the primary aim is freshness and a reasonable upgrade in complexity, not tannic extraction or more powerful flavours.
Indeed, the key to appreciating good Valpolicella is discovering its gentleness and easygoing attitude. When young, aromas should include fresh cherries, red plums, light savoury nuances, cedar, underbrush, and the slightest hint of almond bitterness. On the palate, the ideal Valpolicella should emphasize these flavours while maintaining as fresh and rejuvenating a disposition as possible. Most Valpolicella should be served between 10-12°C. Though the best examples can be cellared for up to ten years or more, basic versions should be drunk young. Food pairing options are diverse, though pasta dishes (especially lasagna) and light game birds (especially Cornish hen) are a few personal favourites. When in doubt, just follow your own taste buds.