This Is ITALIA!! (Valpolicella, Italy – Day One)

Driving south through the Adige Valley is quite a spiritual experience, as the Dolomites jut out of the earth in a very rugged and wild way, and houses and vineyards seem to sit precariously on the edges of cliffs. As Alto Adige becomes Trentino, one of the first things you notice is the difference in vineyards. Whereas in the north it is more common to have guyot trellising systems, in Trentino it is more common to have pergola-based vineyards, as Trentino tends to be a little bit more focused on volume. There are a number of great small producers who are focused on quality, and also on more traditional viticultural and winemaking techniques in harmony with nature. One of these is Elizabetta Foradori who I caught up with at Vinitaly, producing wines using biodynamics and using such techniques as amphora fermentations on skins. For white wines no less. It is a shame that I didn’t have enough time to spend in Trentino as I drove through, but Verona and Vinitaly beckoned. As did Valpolicella, less than 30 minutes from the city.
Valpolicella Rosso = pergola trellising

The first producer I visited in Valpolicella was one I was quite familiar with having stocked it at King & Godfree, and meeting my host last year when he showed me the wines in the store. The Speri family are now in the fifth generation to grow and vinify wines in the heart of Valpolicella, and are doing so in a very traditional and uncompromising way. The extended family all work for the business, making it truly family run. Speri own quite a lot of hectares, but only use their own fruit for their wines. This is the first thing that distinguishes them from other wineries of comparable size. The second is their commitment to Valpolicella, by only producing red wines. Whilst many others only produce Valpolicella Superiore wines at their base, Speri are traditionalists and purists, producing Valpolicella as their entry. Whilst many others have given up on the most traditional wine, Speri continue to produce one of the best Recioto wines in the region. The general style of the wines is less is more, with less oak, less residual sugar, less alcohol and less extraction. They are not motivated by the markets, but about making traditional wines that best express the region and style.

Casks, an important part of Amarone della Valpolicella

Luca Speri is one of the fifth generation working in the winery, and I met him last year to look at some of the wines in the store. In the lead-up to Vinitaly it was very generous of him to give me some time to show me around and allow me to better understand the winery. The vineyards immediately surrounding the winery are on flat parts of the Valpolicella region, and are used only for the Valpolicella Classico. The better parcels of fruit come from vineyards planted on the sides of the hill facing south. Interestingly the fruit destined for Amarone and Recioto is actually harvested earlier than fruit for Valpolicella and Ripasso wine. The reason is that the completion of maturity of the berries is conducted through the drying process, much like fruit you buy from the market and let sit for a day or two. The winery has started to go back to using cement fermenters rather than stainless steel tanks, taking advantage of equipment that already existed and preferring the style and stability they provide. The winery only produces one Amarone (no riserva), and it comes from a single vineyard that ripens fruit for Amarone and Recioto exactly how they want it. In a time when Amarone is very much in vogue and many other wineries are making several levels, this integrity and stoicism is admirable if traditional. The Valpolicella Classico and Recioto that Speri produces are currently not brought into Australia, but according to Luca’s grandfather, are the styles that determine how good a Valpolicella producer is. Click here to read my notes from the tasting.

Luca Speri

Zenato was established just as the world was being introduced to Amarone, and was instrumental in ensuring that every great wine list had at least one on offer. The winery itself sits outside the classic Valpolicella area, on the south-western side of Lago di Garda, Italy’s largest lake. It is a purpose-built winery, very modern and functional, and not restricted to space like many wineries at least 100 years old. In many ways it is like a new world winery; situated in the middle of one of the estates, outside of a village, precise efficient yet elegant and stylish. The winery produces a range of wines from different parts of Veneto, and in general they are market led. For example the winery does not produce Valpolicella Classico or Recioto, and also makes a number of wines from French varieties. It is committed to delivering quality at all levels to their many and varied markets, and also produce a diverse range of wines which includes sparkling wines. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Zenato branded barrel

Click here to see more photos from Day One in Valpolicella, Italy.

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