Italy is known for its wine, but Italian wine is more than just Chianti.
It’s more than just Tuscan vineyards.
It’s more than just a house red.
And though the house wine is often delicious and well-made, and though the wine is cheap and sometimes does, yes, flow like rivers, Italian wine also comes with a 2,000 year history and deeply ingrained culture. It also comes from throughout the peninsula.
Tuscany isn’t the only place you can take a tour in a vineyard or enjoy local grapes and internationally-famed wines. So in an effort to spread awareness about the excellent local wines throughout Italy I’ve decided to focus on the other wine regions of Italy – beyond Tuscany.
And for no other reason than coincidence and inspiration, I’ll start with Veneto.
It won’t be easy. Veneto is a substantial producer of high-quality wine, many of which is exported and well-known in the United States. It is the largest producer of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines in Italy, which, along with Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) means that their origin is controlled, protected and guaranteed, with 28 DOCs and 14 DOCGs. This isn’t a all-encompassing wine guide, however, but a dip into the region’s delicious enophile culture.
To understand Veneto wine, you have to understand Veneto’s geography.
Like I touched on in my post on the foods of Veneto, the region is split between sea and hinterland, and so are its wines.
The Wines of Veneto:
Eastern Veneto makes up Venice and the Adriatic Coast, west to Treviso and the Piave River. Here you’ll find a plethora of white wines (perfect for all that fish!) such as Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Grigio and world-famous Prosecco.
Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene
Grown just north of Venice, prosecco is an unpretentious white wine that anyone can enjoy – and nearly anyone does! It’s one of the most well-known exported whites throughout the world. Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene was granted DOCG status in the last decade as well, further increasing its quality.
Reds include Pinot Nero and international grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in the Colli Euganei, the hills around Padova. A favorite of mine from this area is Raboso Piave (there is also Raboso Veronose, which is very similar but slightly more acidic). Raboso is a full-bodied red that goes down easily, pairs well with red meat and aged cheeses and makes an incredible Raboso and taleggio cheese risotto. mmm!
Beyond these wines, the grappa of Veneto is a must-try. Italy’s infamous “firewater”, grappa is potent at around 70 to 120 proof alcohol. It’s usually served as a digestif after dinner, though the Venetians will gladly pour some in their morning espresso to create their beloved caffè corretto.
Western Veneto is dominated by Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. Making up some 30 miles of western Veneto, the Lake’s microclimate produces some gorgeous wines. Here you’ll find some of the region’s most famous and important wines, with a production and circulation that influences the wine market and culture throughout the world. The two most famous of the area are without a doubt the white Soave and red Valpolicella.
The Soave is a small hilly area celebrated for its native Garganega grape. The most well-known still white wine. Soave owes its worldwide fame to the Garganega grapes, which are used to make Soave and Recioto di Soave wines. They’re dry white wines, both designated DOC and DOCG. Soave Classico is is a fresh, crisp white wine, while the deep-yellow Soave Superiore is strong enough to hold up to a meat-based dish.
Take a trip to the town of Soave: A Sweet Sip of Soave
Valpolicella comes in many different names and flavors: the Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Recioto della Valpolicella. Classico is the simplest, while Superiore is higher in alcohol content, structure and body.
Amarone is a deep, dark blend that has DOCG status. Considered an elite wine, it’s described as “complex and heady” and perfect for a fancy dinner.
Finally, the Recioto is a sweet Valpolicella. Also DOCG, it’s considered one of Italy’s top sweet wines. All of these varieties are produced in an incredibly small area near Verona. Their diversity thanks to a long history of winemaking and a unique blend of grapes.
Bardolino is another DOC red made on the eastern shores of Lake Garda with some of same grapes as Valpolicella, but has a slightly more fruit, sour-cherry flavor. There’s also a light, pleasant rosé version of Bardolino, called Il Chiaretto that’s worth a try!
This is just a brief guide to the wines of Veneto, but enough that if you’re in the area, you’ll have a name or two in mind the next time you order that glass of local wine. When in Venice do like the Venetians do – try them all!