Monday, December 17, 2007

Wines of the Veneto Region

A comment left in my blog entry, "Best Restaurant Photo 2007" of a restaurant in Bardolino, says that Bardolino is also known for its wine. This is, of course, true. The Veneto region, and Verona province, are well known for their fine wines. On our rides which include lunch there is always wine on the table. Savoring delicious food and great wines are part of the wonderful experience of cycling in Italy.

The Veneto is among the foremost wine-producing regions of Italy, both for quality and quantity. The region counts over 20 DOC* zones and a variety of sub-categories, many of its wines, both dry and Spumanti, are internationally known and appreciated.

The three most well known DOCs are Bardolino, from the town with the same name and surrounding the shores of Garda Lake, Valpolicella, and Soave. Other noteworthy wines produced here are the white Bianco di Custoza, the excellent sparkling Prosecco, the Breganze, and the Amarone (a rich and powerful red from the Verona province that is gaining in international recognition).

The importance of winemaking in this region is underscored by the creation in 1885 of the very first Italian school for vine growing and oenology. In addition, the Veneto was the first region to constitute the first "strada del vino" or wine road. This first wine-touring road featured special road signs providing information on vines and the wines they were made into and joined the Valdobbiadene and Conegliano DOC zones crossing a series of hilly vineyards.

The most appreciated wines in the region come from the provinces of Treviso, Verona, Padova, Venice, and Vicenza. The area around Verona, with its temperate climate and hilly surrounding, is believed to have cultivated grapes since the Bronze Age.

Wine details:
From the region of Veneto, Verona's classic wines are bona fide natives. Soave, from Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave, is usually dry and still, though sparkling and sweet Recioto versions are also prescribed. Soave, the most popular of Italian dry whites, ranks third after Chianti and Asti in volume among classified wines (with more than 50 milion liters a year).
Valpolicella, made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, has been fourth in volume among DOCs with more than 30 million liters. Valpolicella is noted as a hearty red to drink relatively young, though grapes from its vineyards in the hills north of Verona can also be partly dried and made into the richly dry Amarone della Valpolicella or the opulently sweet Recioto della Valpolicella.
Amarone, amply structured and long on the palate, ranks with Italy's most authoritative red wines with a list of admirers growing around the world. It is unquestionably one of the great red wines for aging.
Bardolino from the same basic grapes as Valpolicella, is enviably easy to drink, whether in the light red or dark pink Chiaretto version. Bardolino has also gained in popularity as a Vino Novello, another category in which Veneto leads production in Italy. Bardolino, from the shores of Lake Garda, also ranks high in terms of volume with about 20 million liters a year.
Another Veronese DOC wine of note is Bianco di Custoza, a crisp white much appreciated in northern Italy. Verona also shares two DOCs with Lombardy: Lugana and Garda. A distinctive DOC produced between Verona and Vicenza is Lessini Durello, a steely dry white, usually sparkling, that seems destined for wider recognition. The Veronese also make alternative wines of distinction, especially the reds produced by the so-called ripasso method in which the basic Valpolicella is refermented with the pomace of Amarone to gain body and structure.
The Veneto's central hills take in several DOC zones. Near Vicenza are Gambellara, with whites similar to those of neighboring Soave, and Colli Berici, where varietal wines from Tocai, the Pinots, Merlot and Cabernet prevail. Also in the province is Breganze, where Cabernet, Merlot and whites from the Pinots and Chardonnay have earned a reputation, though the most admired wine is often the sweet Torcolato. Near Padova are the Colli Euganei range of hills, whose sheer slopes render a range of red and white varietals.
Treviso's province takes in the hills north of Venice between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, noted for the popular Prosecco, a dry to softly sweet white, almost always bubbly. A refined version is known as Superiore di Cartizze. The adjacent Montello e Colli Asolani zone is noted for Prosecco, Cabernet and Merlot. Producers of Prosecco have used their experience with sparkling wine to build markets with Pinot and Chardonnay, made either by the tank fermentation or the classical bottle fermentation methods.
The plains northeast of Venice take in the Piave DOC zone, where Merlot and Cabernet dominate a large range of trendy varietals, though the local red Raboso and white Verduzzo still attract admirers. Lison-Pramaggiore (previously noted for white Tocai and Cabernet and Merlot) has a full list of popular varietals. Merlot and Cabernet Franc have been the workhorse varieties of the central and eastern Veneto for decades, often in light and easy wines to drink young. But some producers blend the two, increasingly with Cabernet Sauvignon, and age the wines in small oak barrels to develop greater style and complexity. Among white varieties, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Chardonnay continue to gain ground, often in youthfully fruity versions but also as oak-aged wines of depth and style.
Veneto shares 5 DOC zones with other regions: Garda, Lugana and San Martino della Battaglia with Lombardy, Lison-Pramaggiore with Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Valdadige with Trentino-Alto Adige.

*The meaning of DOC and DOCG:
Reading an Italian label is usually straight forward: there's the winery name, perhaps the vineyard that the grapes came from, the year, and an abbreviation (DOC, DOCG) or a phrase (Vino Da Tavola). Have you ever wondered what a DOC wine is, and how it differs from a Vino da Tavola?
There are four major categories of Italian wines:
Vino Da Tavola
Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT)
Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

Vino Da Tavola: (VdT, in the wine books) is the lowest class of wine, a wine made by the producer as he sees fit to make it. There are few rules, other than that the stuff not be poisonous. Most is insipid, thin, weak, and acidic, the sort of wine that used to be sold in jugs and is now sold in tetrapacks. However, there are also some spectacular Vini da Tavola, wines made by extremely good producers who have decided to make something that doesn't qualify for a superior status because of its composition or the way it is made. So, with Vino da Tavola you either get plonk or something spectacular.

Vino a Indicazione Geografica: is just that, a wine produced in a specific area. There's nothing special about most of it, though there are some nice exceptions.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): is the Italian answer to the French AOC. DOC wines are produced in specific well-defined regions, according to specific rules designed to preserve the traditional wine-making practices of the individual regions. Thus, the rules for making Barolo differ markedly from those for making Chianti Classico. The winery can state the vineayrd that the grapes came from, but cannot name the wine after a grape type (doing so would cause confusion, because there are some DOCs named after grape types, for example Brunello di Montalcino), and cannot use a name such as "Superior." Since a wine has to meet certain standards to qualify as DOC, the quality of Italian wines as a whole has improved since the first DOCs were established in the 1960s.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): Similar to the DOC but more stringent. Allowable yields are generally lower, and DOCG wines must pass an evaluation of a tasting committee before they can be bottled. The establishment of DOCG wines has again resulted in an overall improvement in the quality of Italian wines -- it doesn't make sense for a producer whose vineyards are in a DOCG area to produce wines that aren't good enough to qualify. The only drawback is that in some cases the areas are too large (all of Chianti, about half of Tuscany, is DOCG for example, despite fluctuations in quality from place to place).

Photo: near Lago di Garda


  1. I do have one question, are you going to continue your Blog into 2008? I hope that you do as it has become a must read in our office, during those boring moments of looking out of the window at the mountains, wishing that I was out there on my bike (most of the day, every day), have a great Christmas and New Year, keep riding (as if you wouldn't), hope to see you on the road one day.

  2. The blog will continue as long as we are here. It's been chilly but not cold (0C) enough to stop riding. Season's Greetings.

  3. Hey "Angelo"!!

    Don't know if any of the boys here have mentioned, but I have been reading your blog (with envy!!) for quite some time also. The scenery, food and wine, and, especially, the comraderie are fantastic.

    I appreciated the story about your steel frame restoration. I refurbed the old Trek last spring. Stripped it down, sandblasted, painted, new Columbus decals and vintage Campy components from e-Bay. Still rides like a dream and is ready for another 25 years!

    Things here in NJ are now cold, icy, and dark. Time to break out the mountian bike for a spin around the dirt roads of Tewksbury.

    Please continue the great writing and keep those pictures coming!

  4. Great to hear from you George! Remember the TREK well. Hope you got some vintage TREK decals for it. Say hi to B. and G. Jr.