What do you have on your bucket list? You know you’re a wine lover when one on yours is an annual convention called Vinitaly held in Verona around this time. With every corner of this peninsular nation shedding any remaining collective jug wine production habits of the mid-20th century, this gathering features some truly incredible bottles from Italy as well as the rest of Europe, and yet the area around the host city itself already has more than enough to flaunt.
In past articles I’ve highlighted the two most prestigious growing regions in the country – the Piedmont and Tuscany with Barolo and the Super Tuscans respectively representing the best of the best for both – and now is the right moment to focus on the ostensible ‘third place’ of Veneto, which covers a wide swath from the Adriatic Coast around Venice in the northeast to the foothills of Alps and even to the Austrian border.
While some will likely take umbrage with my tertiary ranking of this region – as everyone has his or her own personal favorites – know that it is based off of each territory’s current prestige and, to a lesser extent, the bottle prices of top local wineries. While Piedmont and Tuscany are in a perpetual battle to be the best that Italy has to offer, what firmly puts Veneto in third and ahead of the other 17 regions in Italy is Amarone.
Made from partially dried grapes left out for months on straw mats and where a bit of noble rot is allowed to accumulate and thus lend its glycerol flavor to the final product, a bottle of ‘big bitter’ offers customers a distinctively crisp flavor that also has a high alcohol content. A worthy upper-snack-bracket addition to any wine list, Amarone has a great taste that pairs well with everything from creamy pastas to fish, chicken, pork or practically any other protein. Moreover, the ‘appassimento’ or drying process gives this wine a good story for your servers to convey in order to enrich the meal experience.
Beyond this Venetian hallmark, lest we forget that although Veneto is third overall in total vineyard area, it is first in total production. The area’s more quotidian fare from Valpolicella is on par with the chianti and nebbiolo made in the two leading growing regions in the country, both in terms of production scale as well as quality. Literally meaning ‘valley of cellars’, the quintessential namesake red blend is light, dry and easy drinking.
Then there is an only recently popular Ripasso style, which involves adding the pomace from other production lines – for instance, the leftover solid waste from making Amarone – back into the fermentation pot with the rest of the slowly macerating grapes to bestow the resultant wine with more tannins and complexity.
If you are looking for a white to accompany these noteworthy reds, Veneto has plenty to offer with almost two-thirds of the region devoted to white wine production. Soave should be first on your list, though, with a semi-aromatic flavor profile designed to complement any locally produced cheeses (Asiago and Gran Padano both made nearby) or charcuterie. Last, prosecco also hails from Veneto if you are looking to round out your menu with a sparkler, particularly now that this wine is a common ingredient in numerous boozy brunch accompaniments.
While Veneto surely has a lot to offer, the overarching lesson is that you must start to think about infusing more specific geographic references and themes to your F&B operations. It was more than enough two decades ago to be the proprietor of an Italian restaurant, but nowadays that blanket national identifier isn’t enough to differentiate your product. Instead, you might describe one of your food outlets as Roman, Tuscan, Piedmontese, Milanese or Venetian. The more specific you get with your theme and culinary offerings, the greater the narrative, memorability and overall meal satisfaction.
And, of course, if you are looking for an oenophilic education-vacation, look no further than Verona in April for Vinitaly!