This October, my wife, Barbara, and I are leading a group of wine-loving friends on an in-depth visit to two of Italy’s most productive and beautiful wine regions: Veneto to the northeast and Tuscany to the northwest.
While Tuscany is a more familiar destination for most Americans, a trip to Veneto can be very rewarding given its rich history, intriguing wines and cuisine, along with breathtaking landscapes.
We last visited Veneto on a day trip out of Venice in 2003, but this time we’ll spend several days exploring the region with the picturesque town of Verona as our home base. We are fortunate to have some long-standing friendships with Veneto locals who are also wine and travel professionals. And with their help, we’ve arranged for many personal, enjoyable and educational activities for our “band” of 15 travelers.
Veneto is composed of three main wine grapegrowing areas that were once part of the Venetian Empire and today are often referred to as Tre Venezie (three Venices). The varietals that best exemplify the region are not always household words but each wine and each area proudly portrays its own character, history and culture.
Verona (aka Veneto) is perhaps the most familiar of the three regions in our domestic market as it encompasses three of the most widely distributed wines of Veneto in the U.S. market. The reds of Valpolicella (produced from the corvina, veronese and molinara grapes), Soave Classico (from the garganega grape) and the very bold and prestigious Amarone.
Amarone is produced from the same varietals as Valpolicella, but by the Riposso method in which grapes are dried on mats for five to six months before pressing and fermentation to “strengthen” the wine and increase alcohol.
The insipid simple Soave of the valley should not be confused with the very elegant Soave Classico from the steep mountain vineyards surrounding the floor below.
Trentino Alto-Adige is in the east and borders Switzerland at the base of the Alps. Though geographically connected, Alto-Adige lies to the north where German is the common language, while residents of Trentino to the south speak Italian as would be expected.
Some red wines are produced primarily for the German, Swiss and Austrian markets, but the better known and more highly acclaimed whites are pinot grigio, pinot blanc and gewürztraminer with riesling, kerner and müller-thurgau expressing the area’s Germanic heritage.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is to the east and borders Slovenia. Again some reds are produced but the area is far better known and respected for an outstanding array of crisp and often complex whites. The more familiar pinot grigio and pinot bianco are complemented by two somewhat richer regional favorites of friulano (formally known as tocai friulano before the European Union asked to have the tocai dropped in deference to the wines of Hungary) and ribolla gialla that is now gaining some attention in the U.S.
And, of course, any discussion of Veneto cannot be complete without mention of Prosecco, one of Italy’s leading export wines and the No. 1 sparkling wine import in the U.S. It is produced in the Verona and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions by the Charmat Method (aka Metodo Italiano) as opposed to the Méthode Traditionelle of Champagne. The primary grape is glera (once known as prosecco) but other specific grapes may be used up to 15 percent of the blend.
During our visit to Veneto, we will travel throughout the Tre Venezie with our friend, wine exporter and Veneto aficionado Gianpaolo Giacobbo sampling the wines and meeting the people at various producers throughout the region. With our charming guide Marina Bergozza we have visits planned to the medieval cities of Marostica and Bassano highlighted with a private grappa tasting at the Nardini distillery and lunch at the Vignaioli Contrà Soarda winery. And we will enjoy traditional meals in several out-of-the-way local spots that are the favorites of our Veneto friends.
But unlike a similar trip to Burgundy a few years ago where we enjoyed some spectacular wines with many of the same friends accompanying us on this journey, most of the wines we will be discovering in Veneto are also available in our local markets. So we’ll have an opportunity to enjoy them again at home while reliving the experience of a great time in Italy’s northeast.
My April 15 column — “Discovering texture through music” — sparked several comments expressing similar thoughts.
Jon — Great column and metaphor. I’d never considered music as a descriptor but it makes so much sense. A musical piece is not a single note nor is wine a single element.
Carla —-Indeed, Chamber Music in Napa Valley and the wines from our Napa Valley vintners offer delightful sensory treasures. This may seem esoteric but to me your comparison of tasting wine and listening to magnificent music was articulated with great insight.