The Veneto is a fascinating wine region, mainly because it encompasses, almost every style of wine that Italy produces, including some of the most famous names – from the light, sparkly Prosecco, to 15.5% alcohol Amarone; from the Uk’s favourite Pinot Grigio to the well established names of Valpolicella, Soave and Bardolino. It now produces over 10% of the total wine production of Italy.
The Veneto area, lies in north east Italy, with Venice close by, and the beautiful city of Verona, at its centre. Whilst it’s a smaller region that some of the other best known wine regions in Italy, such as Tuscany, Piemonte and Puglia, it produces more wine than these other areas. Sales of wine from the Veneto have increased dramatically over the past 5 years, as the craze for Pinot Grigio has swept the Uk, closely followed by the new darling of the sparkling world, Prosecco.
The region splits naturally into 3 sub-regions; to the north west, close to the glittering waters of lake Garda, and just west of Verona, lie the long established regions of Soave, Valpolicella and the lightly fruity Bardolino.
In the centre, near Vicenza and Padua, is an area which is now producing great quality varietal wines, from the region’s sweetheart Pinot Grigio, to Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Nero and Cabernet Sauvignon.
To the east, close to the Piave river, is the undisputed home of Prosecco, which is the newest star in Italy’s firmament.
The Veneto region is perfect for the production of white and lighter styles of red, as well as the powerful Amarone, in terms of climate. Winters are cold, and frosts are frequent, as this area, lies in the shadow of the Alps. But in summer the sun and the heat is fierce, yet nights are cool. This permits cooler maturation periods for the white wines, yet, at the same time, during the heat of the early Autumn, the grapes left out to dry for Recioto and Amarone styles, are baked in the hot sun.
Styles of Wine Produced In Veneto
The Veneto probably has a broader breadth of wine styles than any other region in Italy, with internationally famous superstars, and shy, yet outstanding wines that linger in the shadows.
Because of the northerly climate, the wines are generally lighter, and fresher in style than many, with delicate, yet fruit-filled whites, and juicy, lower alcohol reds, although that theory is destroyed when you reach the sun-dried Ripasso and Amarone styles of Valpolicella.
The area produces both regional styles, labelled as DOC, and numerous varietals:
Prosecco – lightly fresh, sherbet, zippy sparkling dry white, made from the Prosecco grape, in the north east of the region.
In the last decade Soave and Valpolicella’s images have suffered considerably, with an influx of poorer quality wines, about 10 years ago. However, the focus of the entire region is to re establish its quality reputation, and there are some fantastic wines coming out of both areas.
Soave and Bianco di Custoza – 2 well known wine regions, close to the cooling breezes that waft off Lake Garda; fresh, fruity whites, with a delicate creamy edge, and a million miles away from the dire Soaves of old. The richer Soave Classico have some unique, rich and complex characteristics. Lugana is another sub-area for the production of excellent quality dry whites, nestling on the shores of the lake.
Valpolicella – the largest producer and one of the most famous in the area. Light, juicy, and reeking of fresh black cherries and almonds, at its best, this is a delightfully vibrant, juicy red, which has been much maligned in recent years. Vibrant, fruity and a great food wine.
However, Valpolicella is maybe more famous for its top end, unique, traditional wines, Amarone and Recioto di Valpolicella, where the grapes are left out in the sun to ripen and dry, thus concentrating the sugars, flavours and acids, which result in some of the most unique wines in the world.
Bardolino – a highly popular wine 15 years ago, but less so now, as more modern styles have taken over the mantle of the light, juicy, low tannin style of red. Nestled on the shores of Lake Garda, at its best Bardolino produces absolutely delicious, intensely fruity, joyous bright young reds, with a cherry red colour and cherry fruit.
Varietal wines – Veneto is the heartland for many wines, which are sold by grape variety, rather than region, and is most suited to fresh , delicate, unoaked whites, including Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon in terms of whites, and juicy, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Nero in reds. The cooler, continental climate of this area is best suited to young, fruity, unoaked, and fresh tasting wines.
Grapes, Wine Styles & Food Matching
Prosecco - is made from the Prosecco grape variety of the same name; fresh, delicate and sherbet, it’s simply a delicious aperitif, or great with snacks and nibbles.
Soave – made from a blend of local grapes Garganega and Trebbiano, the young wines are fresh and creamy, perfect with seafood and salads; Soave Classico wines are richer, and work well with soft cheese, chicken and richer fish.
Bardolino – the Italian equivalent to Beaujolais! Produced from a blend of local grapes Corvina, Rondinella and a touch of Molinara, it’s a juicy, fruity, wild cherry light red, with a touch of almonds. Perfect chilled with salads dressed in balsamic vinegar, gentle pasta dishes, and also juicy, spiced up chicken and some Asian dishes. Also absolutely spot on for Italian style salami and cured meats.
Valpolicella – made from the same grapes as Bardolino, but fuller , yet still relatively light, with low tannins, vibrant red berry and almond infused fruits and a peppery edge, it’s a surprisingly good match with fish, as well as being a natural with meat and tomato based pasta dishes, and the traditional Italian cured meats and salamis. However, the richer styles of Valpolicella Classico are more suited to lamb shanks, and rich risottos, whilst the Amarones demand strong cheese, or a superlative cut of meat.
As well as these traditional names, the Veneto is producing a host of fruity, fragranced, lighter style varietal wines, of which some of these are the best:
Pinot Grigio – the Uk’s favourite! At its best, it’s delicate, perfumed, and gently fruity, with a soft peachy fruit, and flaked almond character – perfect with seafood pasta, pan-fried fish and party food.
Chardonnay – from this area, it’s generally unoaked, with a lively,yet gentle, citrus flavour, and a creamy edge; great with grilled salmon, vegetable risotto, a medley of seafood, and baked chicken breasts with prosciutto and sage. Also good with soft cheeses.
Merlot – fresh, juicy, plummy , fruity, exuberant – this is lively, young, uncomplicated merlot, totally unlike the more traditional styles, which is great with pasta dishes, steak pie, and charcuterie.
Cabernet Sauvignon – grown in northern Italy, this is less forward and intense than in its classic areas, yet displays an exuberant, intensity of currant fruit and fresh mint character, tinged with a hint of almonds. Another great wine for everyday suppers, cottage pie, gammon, meatballs and spaghetti Bolognese.