A Valpolicella Wine Masterclass

Valpolicella Masterclass with Daenna Van Mulligen
Valpolicella Masterclass with Daenna Van Mulligen

Valpolicella may not be as well-known to many wine lovers compared to Chianti Classico in Italy but deserves to be.  There are different levels of quality of Valpolicella wines to satisfy everybody’s palates.  I was fortunate to attend a Valpolicella Masterclass with Daenna Van Mulligen leading the class.  Following is information that I thought would be of interest to you followed by my tasting notes for the wines we tasted.  Some of the wines are available in our BC market. Enjoy.

Our Masterclass

The cornerstone of Valpolicella wines is appassimento, the method of drying grapes before fermentation.  The name, Valpolicella, is Latin for “valleys of many wineries”.  1939 was the very first bottling of Valpolicella wine.  In the 1960s the Italian DOCs started to appear and in 1968 Valpolicella as a DO was expanded and the first production rules for Valpolicella were put in place.

The rules for Valpolicella have changed little, but the wines taste much different from today.  A cooler climate then, difficulty in controlling the trays while drying the grapes, old barrels and old methods of winemaking made wines that were more austere, thinner and lighter in alcohol in the past. The 1980s and 1990s saw technological advances around the world for winemaking; Cleaner wineries and selected yeasts, to make better quality wines.  It wasn’t till the 1990s when red wines came back in style that Valpolicella wines started to shine.  The winemakers modernized their wineries and methods. In 2005 Ripasso wines came on the world’s RADAR and in 2010 it was for Amarone wines. 

Wine Producing Regions of Valpolicella

Graphic of Valpolicella DOC with Geographical Specifications
Graphic of Valpolicella DOC with Geographical Specifications

Lake Garda, a large lake, on the west side, has an important effect in the region.  Valpolicella has three macrozones.  Valpolicella DOC covers the entire region.  Valpolicella DOC “Classico” is on the western side of the region, and in the middle is the Valpolicella DOC “Valpantena” region. Valpolicella covers 30,000 hectares and about 75% of the region is on slopes. Of the 30,000 hectares, 26% is covered in vines.  The valleys come down from the north like fingers.  There are 11 valleys in Valpolicella. Lake Garda has the largest influence on the vineyards on the western side of Valpolicella.  There are also influences from the cold air in the mountains to the north and on the far eastern side you get some Adriatic Sea influence. The temperatures in Valpolicella are coolest in January and hottest in July, similar to our BC temperatures. 

What is very important and historic to the sloped areas are terraced vineyards made with stone walls. These terraces are more prevalent in the Classico region.  They were made by small landowners in the 1800s and 1900s who needed a place to farm because the lower lands were owned by the nobility or the church. These small landowners needed a place to farm so they moved higher up the hillsides to make these terraces and farm whatever they needed to survive. The common folk would build these terraces and would get the stones from either clearing their land or from local quarries.  Many terraces were eventually abandoned and became forest covered.  But now, some of these higher sites with cooler temperatures are looking more appealing with the effects of climate change in the region. 

The soils of the region go back around a hundred million years.  There is lots of limestone and some marl stones, plus a few places with volcanic sediments. The valley floors have lots of alluvial debris soils, and the higher you go up the valley you get limestone.

Grape Varieties

The grapes described below, with the percentage used in blends, are the same for all levels of Valpolicella wines.  97% of the wines from the region are made from indigenous varieties.  The main grape is Corvina, but there is also Corvinone, and Rondinella that make the majority of the blends. 3% of blends have international varieties; 2% are from Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% is from Merlot. Of interest is that we also learned that up to 15% of the blend can be from other  Verona grape varieties or 10% of indigenous grapes from other parts of Italy.

Corvina is the queen of the grapes, the backbone of the blend, and offers structure, aromatics and softness. It is the most aromatic of the main grape varieties but does not offer much in colour. This variety tends to have fruitier aromas, some bergamot and orange blossom kind of character and then with age you get balsamic notes. 45 – 95% of the blend can be made with Corvina. 45 – 95% of the blend must be Corvina and/or Corvinone. The grape bunches are very compact/dense which makes it very good for drying as the grapes dry slowly. 

Corvinone has a deeper colour, more structure and tannins than Corvina but maybe a little less aromas.  It has black cherry and spice aromas, and a slightly herbaceous flavour. 45 – 95% of the blend must be made with Corvinone

Rondinella has a lot of colour and sapidity (a salty savoury character). It offers aromas of blackberries and red berries. This grape can be between 5 – 30% in the blend. 

Molinara used to be a required grape in the Valpolicella blend, but now the blend can use 0 – 10% of the Molinara grape. It has a very pale colour, but high acidity and sapidity.  The lack of colour is the main reason why Molinara was dropped or used minimally now in Valpolicella.

Oseleta has become more popular recently.  It is an old variety that has firm tannins and is quite spicy. 

About 75% of the grape vines are grown on pergolas.  It is an ancient method for training grape vines.  It creates a canopy that protects the grape clusters from the sun and you get lots of air circulation. The pergolas do require hand harvesting as the vines grow up higher in the air and still need irrigation.  The other 25% are mainly guyot trained, but many are being transitioned to pergolas. With the increase in temperatures world-wide it seems like using pergolas makes more sense to protect the grapes.

The drying of grapes, appassimento, affects the resulting flavours from the grapes and needs to be done in a slow process.  We were told that trying to use a quicker drying method did not produce wines of the same quality.  Drying concentrates the sweetness and phenolics in the grapes, decreases the acidity, and adds spicy and balsamic notes to the wine.

The wineries primarily use Slavonian oak barrels for ageing their wines, but there are still a few that use French oak barrels.

Wine Styles

There is one blend, four wines (from 4 appellations) and four styles of wines that are made in Valpolicella:

  • Valpolicella DOC (light-bodied wine)
  • Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (medium-bodied wine)
  • Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (full-bodied wine)
  • Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG

Many consumers are looking for light-bodied, fresh wines, so Valpolicella DOC wines are in demand now. 

Ripasso and Amarone wines go together.  Ripasso is dependent upon Amarone as the grape marc after being used for Amarone (there is still about 10-15% of juice remaining) are added to the Valpolicella wines and then re-fermented, or re-passed, to produce Ripasso wines. The Ripasso wines are a bit sweeter thanks to the Amarone marc, plus the Ripasso wines are slightly higher in alcohol.  Amarone is full-bodied being made with the appassimento method ( the drying of grapes before fermentation).  The goal is to reduce the water in the grapes by 30%. 

The first Amarone bottle was labelled in 1939.  A maximum of 65% of a vineyard can be used in Amarone, the best 65% of the vineyard. When the grapes are dried it is a 90-120 day process. The Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico wine, made in the Classico area needs to have at least two years of ageing after January 1 of the following vintage with one year regulated being in oak barrels. The Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Reserva has to have at least four years of ageing from November 1 during the same vintage.

The Recioto wine is less than 1% of the production in the region and 99% is consumed in the region. 

67.4 million bottles of all Valpolicella wines are produced yearly. Of the wine production, 47% is Ripasso, 27% is Valpolicella, 26% is Amarone, and 1% is Recioto. $600 million Euros of production with 60% of the wine being exported to 87 countries. Canada consumes more than double the amount of Valpolicella and Ripasso wines compared to the United States.  That is quite amazing. Amarone consumption is about equal for both Canada and the United States. 

That is all for the Masterclass; let’s move on to the wines.

My Wine Tasting Notes

Corte Figaretto Valpolicella DOC Superiore 2019 “Alte Quare” – Made with Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara, and Oseleta grapes. This wine has a medium-minus garnet colour. Light red fruit and red cherry bright aromas plus a touch of oak.  Dry, light body, lightly round mouthfeel.  Medium-plus acidity and light tannins.  Light cherry flavour plus some sweet spices, pepperiness and floral.  Light oak.  Medium length.  Medium-intensity drying tannins on the finish. 4 stars

Cantine Riondo Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019 – Made with Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara, and other grapes. The grapes are dried till December then fermented for about 20 days on the skins and oak aged for 18 months then another 6 months in bottle. This wine has a medium-plus clear garnet colour.  Light aromas of black cherries, specie and some herbaceousness.  Dry, medium-plus body.  Medium plus acidity and tannins.  Darker fruit flavours plus touches of herbaceousness.  Firmer tannic finish.  A hint of dark chocolate and black fruit on the finish. 4 stars4.5 stars

Cantine di Verona SCA Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 “Torre del Falasco” – Made with Corvina Veronese, Corvinone, and Rondinella grapes. A lighter, clear garnet colour plus a touch of bricking.  Light aromas of dill and red fruit.  Dry, medium body.  Cedar, dill, ripe berry fruit and candied and dried red fruit flavours.  Off-dry finish with a medium-plus length. A very nice wine. 4.5 stars

Corte Figaretto Valpolicella DOC Superiore 2019 Alte Quare, Cantine Riondo Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019, and Cantine di Verona SCA Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 Torre del Falasco wines
Corte Figaretto Valpolicella DOC Superiore 2019 Alte Quare, Cantine Riondo Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019, and Cantine di Verona SCA Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 Torre del Falasco wines

Monte Zovo – Famiglia Cottini Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 – Made with 70% Corvina, 20% Corvinone, and 10% Rondinella grapes.  This wine has a deep garnet colour, about 80% opaque.  Light aromas of dark cherries, sweet spices and a touch of oak.  Medium-plus body with a smooth round mouthfeel.  Medium acidity and fine-grained tannins. Dark chocolate, sweet ripe berries, black fruit, cedar and some pepperiness on the palate.  Also some balsamic notes and dark chocolate flavours.  Medium-plus length with firmer tannins on the finish.  4.5 stars

Ilatium Morini Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 “Leon” – Made with 70% Corvina/Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, and 10% a mix of Croatina, Oseleta and other grapes.  It has a deep dull garnet colour.  Quite aromatic with a strong cedar component.  Fuller body, off-dry, thick and round mouthfeel Ripe berry fruit, cedar and sweet spices.  Medium-plus length.  Firmer drying tannins along with dark fruit and cedar flavours on the finish. 4.5 stars

Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico Riserva 2017 “Le Origini” – A blend of 80% Corvina and Corvinone, and 20% Rondinella grapes from vines approximately 50 years old.  A medium-minus intensity clear garnet colour.  Light sweet aromas of red fruit.  Medium body, soft and round with a light mouthfeel.  Light red fruit and a touch of oak plus a hint of candied red cherries.  A dry grippy finish. 4 stars4.5 stars

Monte Zovo - Famiglia Cottini Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018, Ilatium Morini Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 Leon, and Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico Riserva 2017 Le Origini wines
Monte Zovo – Famiglia Cottini Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018, Ilatium Morini Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2018 Leon, and Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico Riserva 2017 Le Origini wines

Massimago Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2017 – Made with Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella grapes.  This wine has a pale translucent garnet colour.  Medium-minus intensity red cherries, dark chocolate and nutmeg aromas.  Off-dry, medium-minus body.  Bright sweet dark cherry flavours and pepperiness. Medium-plus acidity. 4 stars4.5 stars

Sartori di Verona Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Riserva 2015 – Made with 60% Corvina Veronese, 20% Corvinone, and 20% Rondinella grapes. After fermentation the wine is left to mature in small and medium sized casks for six years then at least another six months in bottle.  This wine has a deep dull garnet colour. Lighter aromas of ripe black berry fruit, tar, plus cedar and vanilla with swirling. Dryish, medium-minus body.  Herbaceous, tar, dark chocolate and spicy flavours.  Medium-plus length.  This wine needs decanting to open up and show the fruit flavours. 4 stars4.5 stars

Corteforte Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2015 “Vigneto di Osan” – A blend of 65% Corvina / Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Molinara, 5% Dinderella / Perlara, and Oseleta grapes.  This wine was aged in steel tanks for 24 months followed by French oak barrel for 30 months then an additional 18 months in bottle before being released.  It has a deep dull garnet colour.  Lighter aromas of dark chocolate, dark fruit, and a hint of oak and molasses.  Medium-plus body, off-dry with a smooth, thicker mouthfeel.  Sweet cherries, sweet spices and molasses on the palate, plus light pepperiness toward the finish.  Medium acidity and medium-plus tannins.  Drying finish.  Medium length. 4.5 stars

Massimago Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2017, Sartori di Verona Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Riserva 2015, and Corteforte Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2015 Vigneto di Osan wines
Massimago Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2017, Sartori di Verona Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Riserva 2015, and Corteforte Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2015 Vigneto di Osan wines

Valentina Cubi Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2013 “Morar” – Made with 65% Corvina, 25% Corvinone, and 10% Rondinella grapes.  It has a lighter, dull garnet colour with some bricking.  Medium-intensity aromas with molasses / butterscotch, sweet spices and red fruit aromas.  Dryish, lighter body with medium acidity and medium-plus tannins.  Red fruit plus a touch of peppery and oak flavours.  Dry firmer tannic finish.  Light pepperiness and some tart red fruit on the finish. 4.5 stars

Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 – A blend of 80% Corvina and 20%  Rondinella grapes.  It has a medium intensity clear brickish garnet colour.  Light aromas of red fruit and woodiness  Dryish, medium body, round but not mouth filling.  Juicy berry fruit, light pepperiness, red fruit, red cherries and sweet spices.  Medium plus acidity and medium tannins.  Medium length with firm tannins. 4 stars4.5 stars

Valentina Cubi Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2013 Morar and Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 wines
Valentina Cubi Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2013 Morar and Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 wines
Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.