IMBIBE: Veneration for Veneto

By on August 31, 2016

Discovering one of Italy’s most prolific wine regions.

160831Imbibe_origJACKSON HOLE, WY – There was once a time when I wouldn’t have bothered discussing Italy’s Veneto wine region.

During most of the 1960s and 1970s, the bulk of wines coming out of the Veneto were less than forgettable. Mass produced, easy-drinking Valpolicella, Bardolino and Soave were made in staggering quantities, aimed at unfussy American and British wine consumers. Remember, this was the era of Boone’s Farm and Annie Green Springs wines. They sold faster than a Trump supporter can say, “Build that wall!”

Thankfully, in the past couple of decades, winemakers here have stepped up their game. Sure, you can still find insipid, unexciting versions of the Veneto’s Soave, Valpolicella and especially Bardolino, but there are also great wines from the region, including some really good examples of prosecco, pinot grigio, merlot and bianco di custoza. Here are some wines of the Veneto that are worth taking the time to track down.

Years ago, the chef/restaurateur/celebrity Mario Batali turned me on to one of his favorite Italian wines. Maculan Pinot & Toi ($11.99) is a blend of pinot bianco, pinot grigio and tocai fruilano—now referred to in the Veneto as tai—that makes for a terrific aperitif. It’s intensely perfumed, but dry and well-rounded on the palate. Try it with pasta and white clam sauce.

Acinum is an Italian wine producer imported in the U.S. by Italian wine expert Fabrizio Pedrolli. I’m a big fan of both Acinum Valpolicella Ripasso DOP ($23) and Acinum Soave Classico DOP ($11) from Veneto. The Valpolicella is luxurious and velvety on the tongue, with cherry and spice flavors that pair well with aged cheeses. As for the soave, it’s quite dry with honeyed almond notes—a good partner for milder fish dishes.

Tommasi Rafael Valpolicella ($25) is a delicious blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, aged for 15 months in Slavonian oak casks. It’s crisply acidic with a full body and luscious cherry and strawberry flavors.

Another of my favorite producers from the Veneto is Tenuta Sant’Antonio. Their Scaia Rosato ($12.99) is a killer Italian rosé made from gentle pressings of the Rondinella grape, with rose and cranberry aromas—an excellent addition to your final flings of summer.

Meanwhile, Scaia Corvina Rosso, priced at a mere $12.99, is one of the most notable Italian red wine bargains on the planet. This is an extremely versatile wine—medium bodied and easy-drinking—that pairs well with pizzas, pastas, roasted vegetables, charcuterie, salty cheeses and about a thousand other foods.

An especially good value from the Veneto is Italy’s sparkling wine: prosecco. I like the elegant, refined appeal of Zardetto Prosecco Brut ($16.99) when I’m serving a light aperitif, or for an inexpensive bottle of celebratory bubbles. It also makes for a bodacious Bellini.

Anyone with even a waning interest in Italian wines should chase down those of the Veneto winemaker Mariano Buglioni. He’s known for making wines with passion. Buglioni Valpolicella wines range from Valpolicella Classico ($17), which is a simple, everyday red made from a proprietary blend of grapes—something to enjoy with pasta and red gravy or pizza—to his L’Amarone ($55), a blend of 65 percent corvina, 20 percent corvinone, 10 percent rondinella and 5 percent molinara. The Amarone spends 30 months in small French barrels and is brimming with dark cherry, blackberry and cassis flavors. It’s a stunning, complex wine that I’d be tempted to pair with any dish incorporating black truffles. PJH

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