There's just something about the month of September that makes us long for new things. As much as we adore the abundant sunshine and steady, radiant heat of summertime, all of a sudden we're ready for new clothes, tailgate parties, and afternoons spent raking leaves. As the cooler temperatures arrive, our tastebuds crave cozier wines.
But choosing the perfect summer-to-fall transition wine can be daunting: a wine that's too light is bound to seem insipid and unsatisfying; anything too robust will seem premature. Pinot noirs might seem the perfect fit, but why not stretch yourself just a smidge? Valpolicellas are equally up to the task as your early-fall-season-wine-of-choice, but with their low-profile status among everyday wine drinkers, simply may not have popped up on your radar. Like pinots, they can be light-to-medium-to-full in body and dry enough to pair fantastically with food, while remaining fruity enough to sip all by their lonesome.
Here's everything you need to know about this imminently drinkable vino, plus the deets on a few particularly lovely bottles to get you started.
1. The basics: As is the case with the majority of old-world wines, Valpolicella wines are named for the DOC region of the same name located in the Veneto district of northeastern Italy (rather than the grapes used to produce the wines). Speaking of grapes, there are three in particular that typically make up the blend: corvina, rondinella, and molinara. And if you think Valpolicellas are some hard-to-find, remote wines, think again: They rank second-highest in terms of Italy's red-wine production (we're betting you've probably heard of numero uno: Chianti). The wines are generally ruby-hued in color and offer a delightful nose of crushed red berry fruit followed by similar flavors.
2. Valpolicella 2.0: Beyond the basic Valpolicella DOC wines, there are a few other specific styles of Valpolicellas to explore and fall in love with: classico, superiore, ripasso and amarone. The first, classico, denotes higher-quality Valpolicella wines produced within the interior region that features more steeply terraced (aka higher-quality) vines. Superiores have been aged a minimum of one year and are typically higher in alcohol (1 to 2 percent) by volume than their classico-style younger sisters. Should you see the term 'ripasso' on the label of a Valpolicella, be prepared for a bigger, juicier wine that comes as a result of having been aged on the lees (dead yeast cells) of a previous batch of the wine. The mack daddy of all these styles is the Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarones are made using grapes that have undergone a recioto process, which involves laying them out on mats and drying them for a period of up to four months. This process yields slightly shriveled grapes and offers higher amounts of residual sugar and jammy flavors (in non-technical terms, this is called a 'fruit bomb').
3. Why you should be drinking them?: Valpolicella's classico wines are ideal for any late-summer porch pounding or other casual consumption, due in large part to the fact that they're perfectly suited to being served slightly chilled. As your menu and/or drinking occasion increases in formality, reach for the progressively higher-quality wines referenced above. Need a medium-bodied red to transition between the white wine you started the night off with and the ballsy cab sauv you're planning to close with? Pour a rich, berry-licious Valpolicella Superiore or Ripasso. Due to the sweetness levels of the amarones, though, you might want to save these for the heartiest and richest of meat-based meals (think roast duckling, osso buco and the like) or even a chocolate-y/fruity dessert.
Here's a recommended short list of tasty Valpolicellas in every style and price range to savor from now until next spring:
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Folonari Valpolicella 2008 ($13)
Allegrini Valpolicella Classico 2008 ($16)
Villa Fulvia Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2005 ($18)
Giacomo Montresor Amarone Della Valpolicella ($35)