We seem to overlook Italian wine to some extent in the UK. I think this has a lot to do with its complexity – the sheer variety of local grape varieties used in each different region is daunting for any student or connoisseur. Because none of those grapes are anywhere near as internationalised as France’s Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, or arguably even Germany’s Riesling, most of the wine buying public doesn’t recognise them. The best way to tackle this? Surely, it has to be one region or grape (or wine!) at a time.
Valpolicella is a region in the Veneto area, in the North East of Italy. Its wines are usually made from a blend of local varieties of black grape, with Corvina being the most prominent, and, according to most people, the best.
‘Standard’ Valpolicella is generally a rather light red wine, you might say one of Italy’s answers to France’s Beaujolais. At the other end of the scale is Amarone della Valpolicella, made with partially dried grapes, a process which concentrates the sugars and flavours, producing powerful (and very alcoholic) wines. In the middle are Valpolicella Superiore and Valpolicella Ripasso, made by taking ‘standard’ Valpolicella and then leaving it to get familiar with leftover grape skins from an Amarone wine for a few months. That leaves you with a wine that’s the more lighthearted (but by no means delicate) cousin of the Amarone.
The standard stuff can be bought quite cheaply. The superiore and ripasso seem to start at around £8-£9 and Amarone at around £15 (at the time of writing). Our example was priced at a keen (for the style) £8.99. But wherever the prices for a particular style start, they can be disappointing at that level.
Not in this case, I’m pleased to say. By promising layers of dark cherry and a little chocolate, the label rather undersold the bottle’s contents. There’s plenty of dark cherry / prunish fruit, but rather than being ‘fresh’ or ‘cooked’ or ‘jammy’, this fruit is lip-smackingly tangy and sappy. Maybe not for everyone, but I loved it.
Even more surprising was the long, rich and tobacco-infused finish. Throw in a well judged acidity level, and just enough tannin to tickle your gums, and what you have is a pretty moreish wine. Just don’t serve it to someone who wants a drink to slip down the hatch without demanding attention.