The Veneto is the leader in wine production in Italy and has 30% of the total DOC/DOCG production. Premium wine producing regions are Vicenza, Padova and Treviso in the western province of Verona hills between Lake Garda and the town of Soave, in the eastern plains of the Piave and Tagliamento River basins. Conegliano, the region famed for Prosecco, has set the standard for not only the production of sparkling wines, but Italian viticulture overall. Of all the wines produced in this region, 55% of which are white, Soave is one of the most popular white varietals abroad. Among the reds, Amarone della Valpolicella is the flagship red wine of this region.
Veneto is located in northeastern Italy — extending from the Alps to the Adriatic sea — bounded to the north by Austria and Trentino Alto Adige, to the west by Lombardy and to the east by Friuli Venezia Giulia. It comprises one-third of the triumvirate known as Tre Venezie (the three Venices – the other two regions being Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto Adige.)
It is a land of magnificent natural beauty, rolling hills, rugged mountains, fertile plains, crystal lakes and sleepy lagoons crowned by the jewel of Venice.
Veneto is divided into two distinct sections. One flat, lagoonal and delta-like was formed by alluvial deposits from rivers that empty into the Adriatic. Besides the Po, Italy’s largest river, the region is crossed by the Adige, Bacchiglione, Brenta and Piave Rivers.
Veneto’s other section is mountainous and includes the foothills and slopes of the full Alpine chains. The foothills consist of wide expanses of meadows and forest, upland plateaus, valley and limestone formations that extend from Lake Garda to the Alps. The Alpine section also includes the upper basin of the Piave and extends northward as far as the Carnic Alps. The landscape here is quite breathtaking as the Dolomites, overlooking the basin of the Piave, rise to altitudes of more than 9,000 feet to form an enchanting backdrop.
The first traces of settlements in the Veneto date to about 160,000 years ago. Relics of the Neolithic and Bronze ages have been found in the vicinity of Verona, an early Roman colony.
The Euganei inhabited the region and were succeeded by the Veneti, an Illyrian people who eventually settled throughout the coastal area of the upper Adriatic, from Aquileia to the mouth of the Po. They lent their name to the region.
The best known of Veneto’s cities are Venice, Verona, Vicenza, Treviso and Padua, the oldest in the region.
Agriculture flourishes in the Veneto because of an abundance of water and a varied, though mild climate. 80% of the land is devoted to agriculture. In addition to the vine, leading crops include olives, chestnuts, rice, vegetables, potatoes, wheat, barley, corn and fruit. Milk and cheese production is also quite extensive, thanks to an abundance of pastureland. Corn became a staple in the 1600s when it was ground, boiled and then served plain, fried or grilled. Polenta quickly became an adored accompaniment to meat, fish or game.
Rice was originally considered food for the wealthy. As it became more common, cooks began to create delicious risottos matching this delightful dish with two other favorite foods including fish and vegetables. One of the most famous of these pairings is Risi e Bisi (rice and peas). More than 40 different risottos can be found in the Veneto. Pasta has less tradition here but delights such as Pasta e Fasoi (pasta and beans) and Bigoli abound. Bigoli, a thick spaghetti is traditionally prepared with whole-wheat flour. You will also find (especially in the alpine areas), Canederli or bread dumplings. Cheeses like Asiago (cow’s milk) also find a delicious home in the Veneto. Desserts such as the much loved and copied (usually not well) Tiramisu were born in this region.
Treviso is famous for its wonderful Radicchio Rosso which is one of the original radicchi. Peas and baby artichokes, as well as the large white asparagus of Bassano, are particular delights of the region.
Foods can be simple, robust and homemade, with lots of onions, yellow vegetables, green vegetables, excellent spicy sauces and, of course, elegant staples such as the famous Venetian liver. Venetians love refinement. Venice was the first place that the fork (called piron) was used in the 1000s; the first napkins were used here and glass was blown here to create beautiful glasses in which to pour the fabulous wines of the area.
Textiles, clothing, footwear, leather, furs and jewelry (Vicenza is the gold capital of the world) form important industries; so, too, do artisan crafts, such as the lace of Burano, Venetian ceramics and the world-famous glass of Murano.
Until 1291, artists crafted their much-admired glasswork in Venice. At that time, the Senate of the Venetian Republic ordered the transfer of all glassmaking ovens to the nearby island of Murano, citing the ovens – which had been spread out all over the city of Venice – as a continuous fire hazard. The concentration of these specialized craftsman fostered competition, and thus began the extraordinary “glass of Murano,” still admired today.
The quality and excellence of the local wines of the region have been renowned since the second century BC when they were considered second only to the celebrated “Falernum.” It is said that Virgil, who was a landowner in the area, fondly remembered and wrote with pride about the local wines because they pleased Emperor Augustus.
Today viticultural production is concentrated in the hills around Verona that descend toward the banks of Lake Garda; the Colli Berici and Euganei in the Vicenza district; Breganze in the hilly strip of the province of Vicenza; and the pebbly plain along the course of the river Piave. The most cultivated grapes of the Veneto include whites such as Garganega, Glera (aka Prosecco), Tocai, Verduzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco; and reds such as Corvina, Rondinella, Raboso, Negrara, Merlot, Pinot Nero and Cabernet.
Verona has had a place of honor in the history of winemaking since the days of the Etruscans. The Romans were particularly fond of a wine that they called Rhetic or Retico (a concentrated passito), which may have been a forerunner of today’s Reciotos.
The Veneto offers eight DOCG wines, Recioto di Soave, Bardolino Superiore/Classico Superiore, Soave Superiore/Classico, Recioto di Gambellara, Congeliano-Valdobiaddene, Colli Asolani, Recioto della Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella; and various DOCs and IGTs.
The most celebrated of these wines include the “Veronesi” Amarone, Valpolicella, Bardolino and Soave; Bianco di Custoza; Gambellara; Lugana and Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco. Other of the region’s DOCs are Bagnoli di Sopra, Breganze, Colli Berici, Colli di Conegliano, Colli Euganei, Garda, Lessini Durello, Lison-Pramaggiore (which shares this DOC area with Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Montello/Colli Asolani, San Martino della Battaglia (which shares its DOC with Lombardy), Valdadige (shares DOC with Trentino Alto Adige and Piave.)
Valpolicella is a land of ancient enological traditions that date to pre-Roman days. Its climate and temperature are mild. The grape varieties used in the production of its wine are Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, Molinara and other local red varieties.
There are nineteen sections whose wines have the right to Valpolicella appellation. However, only five communes have the right to the “classico” (the original or historic growing zone) designation. These zones lie in the “heart” of the original historic growing area.
Superiore on the label means that the wine has been aged at least one year and that its alcohol content is not less than 12%.
Valpolicella is also the birthplace of two other wines, Amarone della Valpolicella (which formerly was known as Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone) and Recioto della Valpolicella. To produce these nectarous wines, wholesome, perfectly ripe bunches of grapes are handpicked at harvest time and placed in special slatted, wooden boxes. The boxes are kept in well-aerated, cool quarters. Electric fans are turned on if the weather is too warm or humid. 15 to 30 days later the clusters are turned in order to prevent the build-up of moisture which would favor the formation of mold. A once popular method, still used by a few very small producers, is to hang the bunches from the ceiling.
The grapes are left to dry until about the 15th of January or even longer, by which time the grapes have lost anywhere from 25% to 60% of their water through evaporation. Then they are pressed. Long, cool fermentation then takes place, extending to March, April or even May. All the sugar in the grapes is converted into alcohol giving Amarone an alcohol content of over 14%. Amarone (which means bitter to distinguish it from the sweet Recioto) is a dry, round, velvety wine with a characteristic perfume of dried fruit.
When fermentation is stopped, by dropping the temperature of the fermenting must before all the sugar is developed into alcohol, this wine (which still contains residual sugar as well as natural carbonation) is called Recioto. It is a sweet, still or sparkling wine usually drunk in the spring right after bottling.
Recioto is taken from a dialect word “recie” which means ears. Originally, it is said vineyard workers would pick only the best or the “ear-like” protrusions found at the top of each bunch of grapes for use in the making of Amarone and Recioto.
“Ripasso” is a traditional production technique, which subjects Valpolicella to a second fermentation on the lees drawn from Amarone, for fortification purposes. Some producers such as Sartori with its Regolo, achieve even richer results by partially drying their grapes. The word “ripasso” means “passing over”. The resulting wine has more depth, richness and roundness than an everyday Valpolicella, but is not as rich as its Amarone cousin. Bardolino is made from the same grapes as Valpolicella but grown around the town of Bardolino along the shores of Lake Garda. This area is one of the most attractive of the Veronese district. It is surrounded by sunny hills planted with vines, olive trees, cypresses and cherry trees interspersed with medieval castles all with a relaxing view of Lake Garda. If Bardolino is vinified as a rose’, it is marketed as a Chiaretto.
Soave, perhaps, takes its name from the “Suavi” people who inhabited the area or, if you prefer to believe tradition, was the name given by Dante to the town because of the “suavity of its wines” ….. or it has even been attributed to Romeo! Whatever the case, Soave is a delightful white based on the indigenous Garganega varietal. It is one of the best known of Italian wines.
A very limited quantity of Recioto di Soave (which has also attained DOCG status), made the same way as Recioto della Valpolicella, is available on rare occasions. Most of it is reserved by the producers for their own use.
Bianco di Custoza and Lugana are delicate, light whites based on the Trebbiano grape, while rich-tasting dry or sweet Gambellara is produced with Garganega (locally known as Gambellara). Prosecco, also a delightful dry or sweet, still or sparkling wine, is made with the ancient Glera (aka Prosecco) grape.
THE DOCGs of the VENETO
RECIOTO di SOAVE
A luscious white wine made with partially dried grapes, grown in and around the town of the same name. Garganega is the predominant varietal (70%-100%) with up to 30% Chardonnay and/or Trebbiano di Soave and/or other varieties of Trebbiano permitted in the province and a maximum of 5% of other non-aromatic grapes from the area, as part of the blend.
The wine is bright golden yellow in color with an intense fruity nose and sweet (but not cloying) velvety, harmonious taste. It may be produced in still or sparkling versions and may be designated “Classico” if the grapes are born in the historic growing area.
The vine has been cultivated in the Bardolino production zone since the Bronze Age, as has been established by the discovery of fossilized grape seeds in the remains of nearby Lake Garda dwellings.
The name which is clearly of Germanic origin could be derived as legend has it from Bardala, granddaughter of Mantus, the founder of Mantua.
Bardolino, a brilliant light-bodied red is produced with 35%-65% Corvina (no more than 10% Corvinone may be substituted for the Corvina), 10%-40% Rondinella with Molinara, and/or Rossignola and/or Barbera, and/or Sangiovese and/or Marzemino, and/or Cabernet, and/or Merlot, to a maximum of 20% with no one of the last listed varietals accounting for more than 10%.
The wine is light ruby in color with garnet reflections when aged. The perfume is delicate and hints of cherries. The taste is dry, lightly bitter but harmonious.
The wine must age for one year beginning November 1st following the harvest. Grapes born in the delimited zone of Bardolino, Garda, Lazise, Affi, Costermano and Cavaion are entitled to the designation “Classico” on their labels.
Soave is one of the most attractive names imaginable for a wine. The origin of the name of the wine is uncertain. Two legends persist. Some suggest Dante named the wine for its soft taste. Still another insists that Romeo, tasting the wine after a tryst with Juliet, was overhead to say “Soave”. The servant was unsure as to whether Romeo was referring to Juliet’s kisses or the suavity of the wine.
The wine is produced with a preponderance of Garganega with the addition of Trebbiano di Soave, and/or Chardonnay, and/or Pinot Bianco, up to 30%, with a maximum of 5%, other non-aromatic whites of the zone.
The wine is produced in still or sparkling versions. If the grapes come from the historic area, the wine is entitled to the designation Classico. Soave Superiore and Soave Classico Superiore must be refined in the bottle and cannot be released until September 1st of the year following the harvest. Soave Superiore may be designated “Riserva” if aged for two years (at least three months in the bottle.) This aging begins November 1st following the harvest.
RECIOTO di GAMBELLARA CLASSICO
A white wine obtained with predominately the Garganega grape variety, though other whites of the area are allowed up to a maximum of 20% grown in and around the town of Gambellara. The wine is produced in small quantities in the province of Vicenza which borders Verona, also in the historic zone.
Recioto is produced with grapes harvested by hand in early September and partially dried till December for the Recioto Spumante “sparkling”, and until January or February for the still. The color is intense golden yellow, fruity aroma, flavor intense and persistent. The wine may not be sold until at least September 1st of the year following the harvest.
CONEGLIANO – VALDOBIADDENE PROSECCO
Is produced with minimum of 85% Glera (Prosecco) with a maximum of 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera and Glera Lunga, solely or together for the Prosecco.
The Spumante and Superiore di Cartizze versions may also include a maximum of 15% Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, solely or together with Verdiso, Bianchetta, Trevigiana, Perera and Glera Lunga.
“Cartizze” may be used when all the grapes come from that subzone. If the vintage is used, then 85% of that vintage must be contained in the bottle.
ASOLO or COLLI ASOLANI PROSECCO
This wine is born with a minimum 85% Glera (aka Prosecco) with a maximum of 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta, Trevignana, Perera, Glera Lunga. Secco or Amabile may be produced.
AMARONE della VALPOLICELLA
Amarone della Valpolicella is produced with Corvina (Cruina) from 45%-95%, with no more than 50% of Corvinone if substituted for Corvina, and the addition of Rondinella from 5%-30%, with a maximum of other red grapes of 15% of the total (no single grape can be more than 10%). If the grapes are grown in the classico zone or in Valpantena, they may use the respective designation as well. The grapes for Amarone are required to dry till December 1st of the harvest year. The wine must age for a minimum of two years beginning January 1st of the year following harvest. To be labeled Riserva the wine must age for a minimum of four years beginning November 1st of the year of harvest. The wine must achieve a natural alcohol of at least 14%
RECIOTO della VALPOLICELLA
Recioto della Valpolicella is produced with Corvina (Cruina) from 45%-95%, with no more than 50% of Corvinone if substituted for Corvina, and the addition of Rondinella from 5%-30%, with a maximum of other red grapes of 15% of the total (no single grape can be more than 10%). If the grapes are grown in the classico zone or in Valpantena, they may use the respective designation as well.
The grapes for Recioto are required to dry until December 1st of the harvest year. A sparkling version may also be produced.
COLLI EUGANEI FIOR d’ARANCIO
Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio is a delightful white produced with a minimum of 95% Moscato Giallo and a maximum of 5% other aromatic white varietals. The wine may be produced in still, sparkling and passito versions. The wine is fragrant and delightfully fresh and fruity.
Is a bright ruby red wine produced with a minimum of 85% Tai (formerly Tocai Rosso) and must age at least until March 1st of the year following the harvest. The wine is bright ruby with a fresh and harmonious taste.
A bright ruby red wine that is produced with a minimum of 70% Raboso Piave and a maximum of Raboso Veronese of 30%, up to 5% other local varietals are also allowed. The wine must age for a minumum of 36 months, at least 12 in wood.
COLLI di CONEGLIANO
Colli di Conegliano may be a Bianco, Rosso or Rosso Riserva and Refrontolo and Torchiato di Fregona. The Bianco is born of Manzoni Bianco (Incrocio 6.0.13) minimum of 30% with Pinot Bianco and/or Chardonnay, a minimum of 30% Sauvignon, and/or Riesling up to a maximum of 10%. The white may be consumed after aging for four months, beginning November 1st following the harvest.
The Rosso is produced with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marzemino and Merlot with a minimum of 10% of each varietal (with a maximum of 40% of Merlot). A maximum of 20% of Incrocio Manzoni 2.15 and/or Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso may be included. The Rosso must age a minimum of 24 months beginning November 1st following the harvest, at least six of those in wood. Rosso Riserva must age at least 36 months, 12 in wood.
Colli di Conegliano Refrontolo is a Rosso or Rosso Passito produced with a minimum of 95% of Marzemino and 5% of other non-aromatic local red varietals grown in and around the commune of Refrontolo. The grapes for the Passito are partially dried and the wine must be aged a minimum of four months beginning November 1st following the harvest. The Rosso is aged for a minimum of 24 months, at least 12 of which must be in wood.
Colli di Conegliano Torchiato di Fregona is a white from in and around the commune of Fregona produced with a minimum of 30% Glera, 20% Verdiso, 25% Boschera and a maximum of 15% other non-aromatic local white grapes. The grapes for this wine are partially dried a minimum of 150 days following the harvest. They may not be pressed until at least February 1st following the harvest. The wine must age a minimum of 24 months from November 1st following the harvest.
Montello Rosso is a red wine that is produced with 40%-70% Cabernet Sauvignon with the addition of 30%-60% Merlot, Cabernet Franc and/or Carmenere with a maximum of 15% other non-aromatic local red varieties. The wine must age for a minumum of 18 months beginning November 1st following the harvest, at least nine of those months in wood and six in the bottle. A Superiore must age a minimum of 24 months, at least 12 in wood and six in the bottle.
FRIULARO di BAGNOLI
Friularo di Bagnoli must be produced with 90% Raboso Piave and a maximum of 10% other local red varietals. The late harvest and Passito are produced with partially dried grapes. The wines must age a minimum of 12 months beginning November 1st following the harvest. The Classico/Classico Passito and Riserva must age a minimum of 2 years, at least one in wood.