Veneto wine trip in two days
Once upon a time, there were two little girls in a small village somewhere in Central Finland. They were BFF’s as girls tend to be at that age; still kids enough to play, but maybe already talking about boys a bit. A few years later, high school and life, in general, separated them. Little did they know that one day one of them would be living in Norway and the other one in Germany, both would be obsessing about wine, and they would have a reunion in the form of a Veneto wine trip.
That girl in Norway was particularly fond of Ripasso, which is a rich red wine from northeastern Italy. As she was sipping Ripasso from her favourite producer Tommasi one evening, she started to wonder what was the story behind that bottle. How does it look like there where the grapes for this wine grow? Wouldn’t it be something to visit the winery where this amazing liquid was produced? But who would be interested in travelling with her there?
She had noticed on Facebook that the girl in Germany (me) was talking more and more about wine. Even though we hadn’t seen each other for a decade or so, she suggested: fancy a trip to Verona with me? My answer was an immediate YES!! Next thing I know, we had booked an Airbnb apartment in Verona and flights to Milan. The flights were cheaper than a train ticket inside Germany and the flight time from Hamburg was only 1,5 hours. Why hadn’t I done this before? We both were able to detach from our duties for only a couple of days but hey, 60 hours of Italy and wine is sometimes the best treat!
Two months later, we met each other at Milan airport. She still looked like that girl with whom I used to play all the time thirty years ago. It’s like the years between us had been just some days. Here we were, two friends from the past, reunited through the greatest thing in the world: wine.
Wines of Veneto
Ripasso and Amarone wines are made in Veneto, around the ancient town of Verona. Most people travel to Verona to see the balcony where Juliet stood while Romeo declared his love. But wine is just as good a reason to visit the region. Veneto streches from the Garda Lake in the west to the Adriatic Sea in the East. The eastern parts of the region near Venice are famous for the production of prosecco, whereas the most prestigious still wines come from a relatively compact area around Verona.
Whos’s afraid of Soave?
Veneto produces both white and red wines. White wines are made mostly of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes and the main appellation is called Soave. That name may have an ominous ring due to the mass production of low-quality stuff in the 80’s – but in Italy, Soave is considered among the country’s most noble white wines. Look for Soave Classico or Soave Superiore on the label; it means that the wine has been produced on the hillsides instead of the flat land used for bulk Soave. And if you happen to come across with a vintage Soave, go grab it right away. Soave tends to age beautifully. Check out also two other white wine appellations, Lugana and Bianco di Custoza. Both tend to be enjoyable everyday whites.
Valpolicella may mean many things
The majority of the red wine of Veneto is classified as Valpolicella Classico. It is a light, juicy, high-acid, cherry-dominated blend of local grapes (Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella), not quite unlike a basic Pinot Noir. Valpolicella is an easygoing, everyday wine. If the bottle states Valpolicella Superiore, it is slightly more concentrated and more serious stuff but still an enjoyable, simple wine to accompany most meals.
The crown-jewel of Veneto is Amarone della Valpolicella. It gained the highest appellation (DOCG) only in 2010 but the style of wine is much older. Amarone is made out of grapes that have been dried on a straw mat for 100 days. As the water evaporates, the sugar level on the grapes rises and the aromas concentrate. Out of the dried grapes, you can make either sweet Recioto wine or a high-alcohol (even 16% ABV!) dry red wine called Amarone that has firm tannins and very intense aromas of dried fruits. It is a wine that divides opinions: other find it too overpowering whereas others are immediately addicted. Amarone must be matured at least two years before release but many producers keep them much longer. Due to the particular production method and the time the winemaker must invest in making Amarone, it tends to be expensive.
Valpolicella Supreriore Ripasso stands between Valpolicella Superiore and Amarone della Valpolicella. It starts as a Valpolicella red wine but gains the extra oomph by being soaked in the leftover grape skins of Amarone. This causes a second fermentation aka re-pass: ripasso. The result has higher alcohol content, fuller body, and more intensity than Valpolicella wines but it is not quite as bold as Amarone. In fact, Ripasso offers unbeatable value for money in Veneto.
Visiting wineries in Veneto
The easiest way to visit wineries around Verona is to book a tour. There are dozens of agencies offering various wine tours. We chose Pagus Wine Tours based on the great reviews online. They had many different tours to choose from and we ended up taking a half-day group Amarone tour which contained a visit to two Amarone wineries. Since my friend has such an obsession with Tommasi, we kindly requested whether one of the two wineries could be that one. Another plus point to Pagus Tours for their flexibility: it was possible. During the tour, we heard that this company had never before made a tour in Tommasi but the guide liked it so much they decided to take it into their program. Our guide was a knowledgeable sommelier, born and raised in the region. She drove us around and explained useful background information about Veneto and its wines. In Tommasi, we had a guided tour around the facilities and the cellar after which we tasted almost the whole range of their wines. The second destination was a small-scale winery called Le Marognole which produces only 25 000 bottles a year. The quality of their wines was outstanding. Once again I was happy that we booked a tour; I would have never discovered this gem by myself.
The best tips for wine time in Verona
During the two days in Verona, we only had delicious meals. I was particularly impressed by the stuffed zucchini flowers and the tortellini in butter-sage sauce at Osteria Casa Vino (Vicolo Morette 8a), a small lunch place on a side street. Antica Trattoria al Bersagliere (Via dietro Pallone 1), on the other hand, delighted us by their reasonable prices and the huge wine list. There was even a whole page of half-bottles of Amarone which was just a perfect option for someone who already had five Amarones earlier that day.
Antica Bottega del Vino is the most traditional and the most renowned wine bar in Verona and always crowded. We managed to squeeze ourselves by the bar for a quick drink. After a full day of tasting Amarones, I was happy to have a glass of a 15-year-old Brunello di Montalcino. I simply loved to look at people around me and suck in the lively atmosphere in that charming little bar. This place is an absolute must in Verona!
Don’t bother carrying home bottles you purchased in the wine stores of Verona. Unless you come across a super-duper rarity you want to have, no matter the price. In other cases, either order directly from the winery or buy from your local wine shop after your return. Most likely you’ll have a better deal at home than in the overpriced Veronese places. It’s worth popping in to them, though, for a glass and a quick bite. Verona as a whole definitely is worth exploring. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the scent of the blossoming linden trees that were everywhere in the town. Every time I smell linden, it will carry me back to those special two days that reunited two friends at the heartland of Amarone.