Just north of Verona and rising up towards the Lessini Mountains lies a stunning valley, once known to the ancient Greeks as “The Valley of Gods.” Today the name Valpantena has adopted the meaning of “Valley of Wines” in the Veronese tradition.
Valpantena may not be a hugely recognized region but it has been known to produce some excellent red wines for those who know where to look. The region is known more specifically for it’s Valpolicella, Amarone and Recioto among others.
Upon arriving in Italy and even before departure, one thing was clear: Wine is a huge part of Italian culture.
In supermarkets full of wines that can be bought for less than two euro a bottle, with minimal labeling that doesn’t coddle the consumer, choosing a wine in Italy can be a daunting task.
When I first found myself in this environment my initial instinct was to grab the prettiest, moderately priced bottle that caught my eye. I quickly graduated from this technique and began choosing my wines, by extracting recommendations through eavesdropping on older vacationing couples that frequented the wine isle and seemed to have a basic knowledge of Italian wines.
I even picked up a few tips on wine just by observing Italians. I noticed that some families always leave red wine out in a decanter on the kitchen table, which is okay because you will be drinking it multiple times a day in Italy.
Italy is where I was finally forced to learn how to uncork a bottle, after first failing miserably.
It is also where I first found myself in a wine cellar filled with giant oak barrels that held a variety of Italian red wines, that I would later be allowed to taste.
My deepest indulgence into Italy’s wine culture happened in the heart of Valpantena.
Set in a insurmountably green valley littered with old Veronese villas and surrounded by towering mountains just outside the city of Verona, a small winery offered me a taste of the region.
What you get when you taste a wine isn’t just the flavors of fermented grape juice, but the history, the land and culture of a region condensed into a liquid, which has been revered by almost every culture and civilization since ancient times.
Anytime I think about wine, everything that goes into making it from the soil that the vines are rooted in to soak up the sun by day to the air that cools them by night, the hands that harvest the bunches of ripened grapes and craft the oak barrels that age it, I shudder in remembrance of my former habit of indiscriminately consuming wines, without taking more than a second to taste them.
Corte Figaretto was a very small family run winery. What it lacked in size and quantity it made up for with culture, history and heart; if Italian wine is anything more than fermented grapes, it’s that.
The small tour, a group of about eight, started outside in one of their vineyards. This is where one of the winery’s favorite sayings was introduced.
“Il vino si fa in vigneto,” ” Wine is made in the vineyard.”
It is here that we were told most of the grapes are cut loose to function as fertilizer, as only a select percent of the Corvina Veronese yield will make it to harvest and to wine production. In the vineyards the grapes are protected by nets and are not touched by pesticides. The vines are constantly monitored up until the fruit is harvested, strictly by hand and taken to the cellar to rest.
The region enjoys a mediterranean climate, in which evening breezes from the Lessino mountains cool the vines, which grow on southern facing slopes in clay-like soil that is rich with minerals.
After a tour of the winery itself, we were taken into the tasting room, which was decorated as if it were their own dining room, which it very well may have been. We were able to taste a few of their wines, and in the end I took home a twelve euro bottle of the Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Valpantena 2014, modeslty priced but a very good value.
What I hadn’t known at the time was basically everything about this particular wine. Being so submersed in a new culture and surrounded by what is still a very foreign language, you get caught up in the moment and much is lost in translation.
After further research on the region I was able to understand just what went into this little twelve euro bottle of wine.
Valpolicella as it turns out is actually a pretty popular wine which is made from the grape varieties, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Valpolicella Valpantena, which is Valpolicella from this region tends to be of higher value than generic Valpolicella due to the regions superior drainage, bountiful sun and tighter production restrictions. All of this leads to healthier, riper grapes with more complex tannic and phenolic profiles.
Taking it one step further is the title of Superiore which is achieved if the wine achieves a minimum of 11% alcohol and is aged for one year prior to release.
Finally, on top of all of this “Ripasso” is a newer technique and style from the late twentieth century. Here the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from the fermentation of Amarone and Recioto (other wines the region is known for) are added to the batch of Valpolicella for a period of extended maceration. This aids in boosting the alcohol level and body of the wine, while adding to the tannins, glycerine and phenolic compounds, which in turn enhances the wines complexity and color.
All that for a bottle of Valpolicella.
The winery also produced other regional favorites such as Recioto, a sweeter red wine, and Amorone which is made from grapes which are left to dry for approximately 120 days, leaving nothing but the purest grape juice and pomace to be pressed into a rich red wine.
Even though I was encouraged to let my bottle age further I opened it the very week I returned to the states. I enjoyed it with a pasta dinner.
As someone who is fairly new to wine, It was a red wine unlike any I had tasted before.
In a glass of Valpolicella you will find a Dark ruby red wine with violet reflections. Aromas of cherry, plum, blackberry and a prominent violet nose, which is known to be a typical characteristic of Valpantena production. You will find that it is very dry and is quite persistent on the palate.
Other more well known varieties were produced here, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although I wasn’t able to try them during this visit.
The wines of Corte Figaretto were a final and fleeting taste of Italy’s wine before I was forced to pack up and return to The States with a single bottle stuffed in my suitcase.
As I left the gorgeous hills and valleys of the Veronese countryside I left with two regrets. One was not buying more than one bottle of wine and the other was not taking enough pictures of the land that had crafted it.
With surroundings like this it’s no wonder Italians were so inspired as artists, whether it be sculptor,
architect or winemaker.
As Adriano Grandi described the view in his 1617, The Beauties of Verona,
“If we turn our slow stride to the right we find the walls are open there, disclosing the most eminent plains and mountains: Valpantena seems crafted by an artist…”
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What is your favorite Italian wine region or favorite Italian wine?
I really enjoyed my visit to Corte Figaretto, if you’d like to learn more about them you can do so here.