The Valpolicella wine region just outside of Verona, Italy in the Veneto region is one of the lesser known wine regions in Italy. But, the wines are excellent, the scenery is stunning and the food is delicious.
There are several small towns to base yourself – San Pietro in Cariano, Sant’ Ambrogio di Valpolicella, San Giorgio, Gargagnano and Fumane. On my visit to this alluring region I chose to stay in Fumane – a delightful, dot of a village. It had what I needed: the lovely La Meridiana B&B, inexpensive with good-sized rooms; the must-eat-at Enoteca della Valpolicella, just a couple of doors down from the B&B; and enchanting vineyards surrounding the town. What could be better?
A car is helpful in this area. While there is public transportation, a car will give you more flexibility. Many of the vineyards are family-owned and the wine tourism in this area is not as developed as in the States. Many of the vineyards require calling ahead to make appointments for a visit (this is far more common in Europe than in the States). Others will have signs posted letting you know if you can simply drop by. My recommendation is to do a mix of both: make an appointment or 2, but be spontaneous and simply drop in on one of the wineries that is okay with this.
The Valpolicella wines are typically, though not always, made from three grape varietals: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Corvina is the main grape of this region. There are different styles of the Valpolicella. The Valpolicella Classico is a light, fruity red wine drunk at a young age. It makes a great everyday wine and can even be drunk slightly chilled. Valpolicella Superiore is a little “more” than the Classico, having a darker color and slightly richer taste. The Valpolicella Ripasso is aged at least one year and fermented twice, thus making it more full-bodied than the Valpolicella. Amarone is robust, full-bodied – a meal in a glass – as I like to say. The grapes for this wine are picked at their ripest possible, then dried in special drying rooms for 3-4 months, turning them into raisins. The wine is then aged for a few years with the premium wines being aged for 5 years. This wine does spend time in oak barrels, usually Slovenian or French. The result is a very high alcohol content and a very rich wine. The other wine produced here is the Recioto dessert wine which is made in much the same way as Amarone. It is just not allowed to ferment. The wines are all excellent. Some vineyards we recommend are: Corte Aleardi, Boscaini Carlo, Serego Alighieri, and Allegrini wineries. There are more, of course. See the links below for more information.
Besides the wonderful wine, the gorgeous scenery, and the scrumptious food, one of the best things about the Valpollicella region is that it feels real, authentic. There aren’t hoards of tourists as you might find in nearby Venice or Milan. There’s the feeling that you are witnessing true Italian life in a rural area. Brush up on your Italian. You will find that English, though spoken at all the wineries by at least one or 2 persons, is not as widely used. But, you can still get by. It is Italy after all, so speaking with your hands is quite common!
We recommend at least 3 nights, especially if you want to visit a few vineyards. Take your time to enjoy the views, wander around the small towns and eat some local food with the fabulous local wine. To rush through this region would be foolish. This is such a great place to catch your breath and relax. The tranquility is bliss.
One of the best places to eat is the aforementioned Enoteca della Valpolicella. The menu changes season to season and the wine list is superb. The enoteca also serves as the breakfast place for La Meridiana B&B. Other restaurants to try for lunch or dinner include Osteria Numero Uno and the new Locanda al Confin (formerly Antica Osteria Le Piere).
I would personally like to share a few stories of my time here as I believe these stories give even more insight to this captivating area of northern Italy.
The first story revolves around meeting other travelers. I was fortunate to meet a lovely, young Aussie couple who were also staying at La Meridiana. They did not have a car so were using public transportation. We met that first day in the courtyard of the B&B. After chatting a bit, we took a nice long walk up the road through the vineyards as the sun went down. Knowing they didn’t have a car, I invited them to join me the next day as I had one appointment booked for a winery visit. What started as dropping by one winery ended with us spending an entire day and evening together – trying wines, lunching at a trattoria we found along the way, and having a wonderful dinner at Enoteca della Valpolicella. I keep in touch with them to this day. The joys of making new friends as you travel!
The second story involves one of my all time favorite things to do when I travel – run. I love to run in new places. It helps me get the lay of the land and work off all the food and drink. Seriously, it is awesome to run while traveling. Here, in the vineyards and olive groves of this spectacular region of northern Italy, running was heavenly. Even when I was trudging up those hills, I had a smile on my face. Watching the warm morning sun hit the leaves of the grapevines was divine!
The last story is one that truly unfolded when I returned to the States. I had visited the Serego Alighieri vineyard. In fact, it was the first vineyard I visited. I was driving around the first day and I saw the sign saying it was open. So, I stopped in. I tasted some very nice wines (and they do a wonderful honey as well). Many of their wines they make in cooperation with Masi. A young woman, the daughter of the man who owns the winery and estate, took me on a tour of the grounds, showing me where they dry the grapes and teaching more about how they make their wines. She told me her name was Massimilla. A couple of days later, I was photographing the Alighieri vineyards and Massiimilla drove by as she remembered me. She handed me her card which I took, reading her name again. But, nothing was connecting yet. When I returned to the States, I began going through my images. Part of this process for me is captioning and key wording each image. I wanted to be sure of the vineyard name so I found Massimilla’s card and googled the winery name. It was then that I realized who she was, or is, more accurately. Massimilla Alighieri – a direct descendant of Dante Alighieri. You know, the guy who wrote the Divine Comedy, the man who basically founded the Italian language. To this day I feel pretty stupid about that whole escapade. As I say, you never know who you will meet when you travel.
The Valpolicella region is definitely an enchanting destination. While Tuscany has it’s romance and Piedmont has its “king” of wines, the Valpolicella area of the Veneto region has its authenticity…and a charm all its own.
For more information:
Vineyards and Wineries