The Vino in Veneto

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Scenario: Trip planned, then just days before we learned of an excellent opportunity causing us to completely change things up. That’s how we landed in Verona, land of Romeo, Juliet, and wine.

Purpose: Mark attended the Tenth International Symposium on Grapevine Physiology and Biotechnology.

Location: Verona is an easy 1.5 hour train ride from Milan and 1 hour from Venice. Actually most train rides in Italy are easy. The kiosks for purchasing tickets have English as an option and are a breeze to navigate.

Layout: It’s not difficult to wander about Verona, the streets are mostly grid planned thanks to the Romans. They built the the third largest amphitheater (1st century AD) now home of the annual Verona opera and an occasional rock show. Located in the Piazza Bra, it’s a central crossing point for accessing many areas of the city.

Props for the opera Aida waiting patiently

Props for the opera Aida waiting patiently

Hiking: Some of you know the theme of our trips is always food, wine, and hiking. Early one morning we crossed the Ponte Pietra Bridge and meandered up to San Piero hill. Although it was mostly street hiking, it was worth it. The view of the city is spectacular

View of Verona from San Piero

and the effort warrants another gelato.


Coffee: We dig the coffee culture in Italy. Just pull in to most any café, snuggle up to the bar (standing) and order a “caffé”, which is an espresso in Italy. Our morning ritual was “due cappuccini” or “due caffé macchiati”. Most days the macchiati were also an afternoon ritual. A special thanks to Mary Kercher for educating us on the plural form of these two habits.

Food: We arrived late our first evening and wondered if we could get served anywhere. Strolling into Bottiglieria Corsini at 11:15 p.m., an outside table of ten jovial Italian guys talking ravenously and laughing lots just opened another bottle of wine- a good sign. By the time we finished (12:30 a.m.) the place was packed. Yes, we had arrived. Late? No worries!

The outstanding meal of our trip was at Osteria Mondodoro. Lunch one day, dinner the next. Like an invigorating hike (the food) followed by a two hour massage (the wine pairings) and a foot rub (dessert with several different wines). A modern take on traditional dishes, a must for foodies in Verona.

Wine: The Veneto is home to Prosecco, Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone and more. It’s split into three geographical areas distinguished by topography and geology. It spans from Lake Garda and the foothills of the Alps in the north to Venice and Padua south and east of Verona.

Neither Mark nor I had much experience with these wines except for Prosecco. When it comes to Soave, as a kid I remember my dad saying “it’s a good, cheap wine you can count on, nothing special”.

The heartland of Soave is Soave Classico DOCG where volcanic and limestone soils prevail on the hillsides, and the Garganega grape is queen (DOC law stipulates Soave must be a minimum of 70% Garganega). Fermented and aged mainly in stainless vats, common aromas are white and yellow peaches, pears, minerals, lemon, white flowers, and almond. Sometimes they’re aged on the lees, and periodically stirred (battonage) resulting in a delicate layer of nuttiness, bread, and a weightier mouth feel. A downside to Garganega is when grown on the flat plains and produced for the mass market it can result in lackluster aromas and taste. That’s the wine my dad must have drank.

As with many wines, Soave has various levels. I’d be remiss if I didn’t share them with you because Soave isn’t just any old Soave.

Soave, Soave Classico, Soave Superior, Soave Superior Classico, Soave Cru, Recioto di Soave, Soave Spumante

The various Soave we tried were far from boring. Each wine had that similar aromatic profile, give or take: peaches, pears, lemon and minerals. At Tessari winery, we tasted through their Garganega based line up; fresh, balanced and endearing, and probably the beginning of a long-term relationship.

The sweeter side of Garganega (sometimes with the addition of Trebbiano) is Recioto di Soave DOCG. This is a Passito, meaning it’s made in the appassimento method. Grapes are harvested then laid out on straw mats or in pallets to dry, concentrating the flavors and sweetness prior to vinification. There are several Italian wines made by this method including Recioto della Valpolicella (red and sweet), Amarone (red and dry), and Vin Santo (just heaven).

Up the road from Soave Classico is Valpolicella. This wine centers around 3 grapes: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinari. Little did we know Valpolicella has five levels, each bigger and richer than the previous wine.

Valpolicella Classico DOC – A vibrant, young, lower alcohol wine with cherry and earthy-forest like flavors. There are five communes in the Classic DOC (Negrar, Marano, Fumane, Sant’Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano). If a wine is produced in one of them, it can boast Classico on the label.

Valpolicella Superior DOC- Kicks it up a notch spending a year in wood. A more complex, higher alcohol wine with deeper, rounder fruit flavors. By law, it must be aged for one year.

Valpolicella Superior Ripasso DOC– Made by passing, or macerating, an already made Valpolicella Superior wine over the pressed grapes from an Amarone. A second fermentation takes place resulting in a richer, more complex wine with deeper, slightly dried fruit characteristics.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – The grapes are harvested and laid to dry via the appassimento method. Because they have higher sugar content due to shriveling and drying, the wine is higher in alcohol (often 15%+). It must be aged a minimum of two years and a reserve, four years. We’re talking dried red fruit and berries, cherry spices,  and chocolate. This  is a full-bodied, intense yet elegant wine. One of the most famous Italian reds out there.

Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG – Made in smaller quantities, this is a complex sweet wine with enough acidity to keep you going back for more. The minimum aging requirement before release is 2 years. It has the ability to age another 10+ years but I’ll bet it would be hard to keep one for so long. Dried red fruits, fig and mocha blend into a rich and silky palate feel that lingers endlessly.

The Valpolicella line up at Le Guaite.

The Valpolicella line up minus one.

Changing things up and heading to the Veneto was indeed a good choice!

If going to Verona and wanting the ease of a half or full day wine tour, we recommend Pagus Wine Tours.


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