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The Italian region is home to some of the world’s most exciting big reds

In northwestern Italy, the Venetian winemaking region of Valpolicella rests within a zone surrounding Verona. Roughly 90 minutes’ drive inland from Venice, the splendid city of Verona is known as the city of love—in part because it’s the setting of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and in part because we love its luscious red wines.

The name Valpolicella means “valley of cellars,” a title suited to its lengthy winemaking history.

Despite its antiquity with regards to wine, Valpolicella’s popularity outside of its own borders did not transpire until recent decades, dating to the 1968 birth and designation of its Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC).

Big, bold, complex and deep, Valpolicella’s wines are wonderfully suited to the cooler fall and winter seasons.

In Valpolicella, vineyards are mainly planted on slopes up to 600 metres high. Vallenari photo


The 30,000-hectare protected geographical indication of Valpolicella is anchored to Lake Garda and Verona; it spreads eastward over the valleys and hillsides of the Venetian Prealps.

Generally, the soils here are calcareous (limestone and chalk), and vineyards are mostly planted on slopes, between 60 and 600 metres above sea level. Historically, as part of a biodiversity common on small family farms, vines were planted on hillside terraces alongside food crops.


Within its boundaries are three macro-zones: Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella Classico DOC and Valpantena DOC. The classic zone, or “Valpolicella Classico” DOC, is the heart of the region and includes the finger valleys of Negrar, Marano, Fumane and Sant’Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano.

The wines can be more easily separated into four styles and classifications: Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella Ripasso DOC, and the higher designations of Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG.


Four types of red wines are made in the DOC of Valpolicella.

The first, dating back to Roman times, are the syrupy and fulsome Recioto wines that were once the darlings of the region. Deeply concentrated, they are still made using dried grapes; their fermentation is stopped during winemaking to maintain their unctuous sweetness. Like dessert-style wines made around the globe, they’ve largely fallen out of favour.

Reciotos were the precursor to the second and third types of Valpolicellas, the modern Amarone and Ripasso wines.

Amarones are the evolution of Reciotos. They began to appear in the early 20th century but did not become commercially accessible until after the Second World War. Drier in style, they lean toward a rich glycerol palate and higher alcohol content than most wines.

Amarones are made only from the best 65 per cent of the vineyard’s grapes, which are then dried for 90 to 120 days in drying rooms called fruittai. In these designated fruittai, with carefully maintained humidity and temperature, the grapes lose 30 per cent of their water. Amarones boast impressive weight, have a perceived sweetness on the palate, and tend toward robust flavours of cherries, balsamic and dark chocolate.

Ripasso wines are a secondary product and their name translates to “re-pass.”

Known as baby Amarones, Ripasso wines are made by adding Valpolicella wine to still-fermenting grape skins left over from the production of Amarone and Recioto wines. Ripasso wines are hugely popular now. They have a weight and concentration similar to an Amarone, but with more freshness, and at a lower price.

Finally, while they may seem like the boring ones of the bunch, the ubiquitous Valpolicella DOC reds deserve more respect. These fresh wines are the only ones made without the use of dried grapes. They are juicy, fruit-forward and approachable, and respond well to a slight chill before serving.

Grape Varieties

Like most of Italy’s winemaking regions, the key wine grape varieties in Valpolicella are autochthonous, that is, indigenous to the region. There has been significant research into why they suit the region’s winemaking styles, and specifically the drying of the grapes.

Corvina is the soul of the wines of Valpolicella and is perfectly suited to the drying process due to its densely packed skin cells and thick skins. With its intrinsically fruity demeanor, Corvina shows juicy cherry and plum aromas; it has intense colour and excellent tannic structure. Between 45 and 95 per cent of the blend in Valpolicella’s wines must contain Corvina.

Rondinella must make up between five to 30 per cent of the blend and offers delicate floral and vinous aromas; like Corvina, it has good tannic structure.

Corvinone is a fruity, late-ripening variety and is perfectly suited to the drying process. It exhibits spicy and herbaceous characters, and can be up to 50 per cent of the final blend, replacing the same amount of Corvina.

Other varieties allowed for blending in Valpolicella are: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Corbina, Dindarella, Merlot, Molinara, Oseleta, Teroldego and Turchetta.

Big, bold, complex and deep, Valpolicella’s wines are wonderfully suited to the cooler fall and winter seasons.

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