When we think of Northeast Italy, we cannot forget Trentino, Alto Adige, and the Friuli regions—known predominantly for light, fruit forward, easy drinking white wines, typically for early consumption. There’s a broad range of international varieties produced. Specifically in Trentino and Alto Adige, which share geographic, cultural, and political ties to Germany and Austria, we find many varieties that grow in those countries as well. In Friuli, the aptly named Friulano is a dominant white wine grape, of course I believe most of our brain’s will veer toward Pinot Grigio grown in Grave di Friuli DOC. And don’t forget about the red wine grape Schiave. Pop Quiz: Where are more prestigious white wines produced and what is the dominant grape responsible for these higher quality wines? (You can find the answer below this post.)
Today, however, I want to zero in on Veneto: specifically, Valpolicella because there’s something going on in there that, even in my Level 3 I kept getting confused. And, unfortunately that confusion came back to me in my Diploma Studies. I want to take the time to dive into the definitions of basic Valpolicella, passito/appassimento, recioto, Amarone, and ripasso and (hopefully) solidify that understanding with a conjunctive tasting.
For those of you following along on my WSET wine tour around the world, we recently did a brief stop in Northern Italy for a pop quiz about some of the wines produced. Indeed, that did cover a lot of ground, but not nearly the whole region. So I want to take time to look at Northern Italy in its entirety and explore the different regions and wine styles produced.
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
When we look at Northern Italy, we are looking at the area closest to the foothills of the Alps as well as the plains of the River Po. In general, Northern Italy has a moderate climate with dry, short summers. The Alps, which you may be able to tell from the map above, span the length of the Northern Italian border, thus shielding the area from rain. Like the River Po, other bodies of water that provide climatic moderation to the more inland areas include lakes such as Lake Garda. As you can see, there are also portions that are close to the sea—these areas can have higher levels of rainfall, so the major vineyard concern there will be fungal diseases.
Traditionally, vineyards were trained on the pergola system, as this provides air flow as well as keeps the grapevines off of the moist vineyard floor. Furthermore, with the vine canopy drooping over the fruit clusters, the training system also helps minimize excessive sun exposure. This system is still utilized today for grapes that require a high amount of acidity and low sugar (such as for sparkling wine) and for those wines that require grapes to be sun-dried (as in the passito method, which requires grapes to be fully developed and free of fungal disease so they can dry-out off the vine, post-harvest—we covered last time, but will touch on it again here). However, it’s noted that higher density plantings utilizing a VSP training system is now more widely used overall.