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Cozy Up With These Italian Wines

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

Quick, what is the most productive wine region in Italy? Many would guess Tuscany where chianti leads the parade. But it’s not. Piedmont, the home of the famed barolo and barbaresco? Nope, it’s the Veneto. The home of the reds of Valpolicella and whites of Soave produces 18 percent of all Italian wine. Tuscany comes in 6th place and Piedmont ranks 7th.

Hemingway was an ardent valpolicella enthusiast. After enduring two significant plane crashes in Africa, he claimed valpolicella as an integral element in his recovery. Valpolicella is also featured by Hemingway in one of his more obscure books, “Across the River and Into the Trees,” published in 1950. The novel featured valpolicella as the main character’s ample tipple of choice.

The Veneto, near the town of Fossalta Di Piave, is also where in 1918 the teenage Hemingway was injured by an Austrian mortar shell while serving as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Italian army. Hemingway’s wartime Veneto experience is thought to form the basis for his breakout novel “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929.

Valpolicella is primarily made from three red gapes: corvina, rondinella and molinara. Four styles of valpolicella range from age-worthy amarone and recioto, a sweet dessert wine, to regular valpolicella and ripasso, which are generally meant for current consumption. The introductory valpolicellas provide a pleasant, uncomplicated experience and is generally priced less than $20.

Priced a bit higher, ripasso is valpolicella that is mixed with the spent skins and seeds from amarone production to create a bolder, more complex wine. For amarone, the fully mature grapes are harvested and air-dried for up to three months, shriveling the grapes and concentrating the grape liquids. The resulting wine is concentrated and complex with higher alcohol.

Recioto is also made from air-dried grapes but with the fermentation process halted before all of the grape sugars are consumed by the yeast. It is thus a sweet dessert wine.

We recently tasted a selection of wines of the Veneto from Famiglia Pasqua, a three-generation family owned and operated winery. We sampled a valpolicella and amarone from them as well as two excellent IGT selections that skirted the traditional Valpolicella DOC rules but implemented some of their traditional techniques.

The Famiglia Pasqua Passionsentimento Bianco Veneto IGT 2019 ($18) is a fantastic wine and a good value. Crafted from lightly dried garganega grapes, which are traditionally used to make soave, this example presents citrus with intense pear and peach notes that present a very round experience and a very long finish.

The Passionsentimento Rosso Veneto IGT 2019 ($19) also uses desiccated grapes after they lose 30 percent of their water, which concentrates the sugars in the remaining grape must. Corvina, croatina and merlot make up the blend, which reminds one of a well-made ripasso at a fraction of the price. Fresh cherry and dried cherry notes dominate.

We also tasted the Pasqua “Mai Dire Mai” (which means “never say never”) Valpolicella Superiore DOC 2013 ($50). Pasqua has wisely aged this wine so that it is in a beautiful spot right now. This valpolicella presented baked plum and cherry notes with hints of cedar in the finish. Very full, rich and mature with a flavor profile similar to a well-made Rioja reserva. The grapes for the Pasqua Famiglia Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella 2016 DOCG ($50) were air-dried for three months before pressing. The finished wine featured sweet cherry notes with a hint of roses. Very fresh smooth and long lasting in the mouth.

Flat Top

We recently tasted several wines from Flat Top Hills being made by “G4,” the fourth generation of the pioneering C. Mondavi family. Consulting winemaker Angelina Mondavi has teamed up with head winemaker Randy Herron to make reasonably priced wines under the broad California appellation. The primary growing region is in the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County. Their fruit-forward style makes them easy to drink and versatile with simple foods.

  • Flat Top Hills California Chardonnay 2020 ($14). Medium body with fresh tropical fruit aromas and apple flavors with a touch of lemon curd and vanilla. Simple but elegant for the price.

  • Flat Top Hills California Red Blend ($16). Medium bodied with perceptive spice notes and black cherry, raspberry flavors. It’s an easy drink that matches well a variety of fare or it can be enjoyed by itself.

  • Flat Tops Hills California Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($16). Medium body with rich black cherry, some plum flavors and a dash of cocoa powder. Smooth mouthfeel.

Italian wine picks

  • La Valentina Pecorino 2019 ($18). Pecorino is the grape variety often forgotten in the Abruzzo region of Italy yet here it excels. It is aged on the lees to add some weight and complexity. Pear and tropical fruit notes.

  • Enrico Serafino “Grifo del Quartaro” Gavi di Gavi 2020 ($17). Simple yet fresh with balanced acidity. Made from the local cortese grapes, it has citrus and peach notes.

  • Inama Carbonare Soave Classico DOC 2019 ($28). Using the native garganega grapes grown from a 50-year-old vineyard, this soave has good body and palate length. It sees no oak so the fruit is pure and fresh with citrus notes and brisk acidity.

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