The wine buff: The reds of Veneto
With a patchwork of vineyards, olive groves and a smattering of cylindrical cypress trees, playing a 'guess the country' game is easy. The only place you could possibly be is in Italy. And for me, on a recent wine trip, it was Veneto.
With the Dolomite Mountains to the north, the Adriatic Sea to the east and Lake Garda to the west, there is a lot more to this region than its famous canal-laced city.
Veneto is the biggest wine producing area in Italy, producing as much wine as Australia, and they are wines that will be familiar - Prosecco, Soave and Valpolicella.
The Valpolicella region is tucked into the western part of Veneto, about 15km west of Lake Garda. From the lake, you can see the Lessini Mountains to the north, and the combination of the warm wind from the lake and cool air blowing down from the mountains into the hills and valleys contributes to the ideal growing conditions. The soil types are diverse, ranging from volcanic rock to muddy clay and alluvial soils.
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One of the leading producers is Guerrieri Rizzardi, a company that dates back to 1913 and the marriage between two noble wine-producing families. The winery is run by two Rizzardi brothers: Giuseppe, a Bordeaux-trained winemaker, and Agostino, who heads the business end of things.
It was harvest time when I visited their five-hectare Calcarole vineyard in the heart of Negrar in the Valpolicella Classico region. It runs across the hill in maronge, traditional stepped terraces that are supported by 100-year-old dry stone walls made from hand-cut limestone. There is just 50-80cm of topsoil on each terrace, and the roots of the vines dig down into the crumbly rock.
The grape varietals here are mainly Corvina and Corvinone, but Molinara, Rondinella and Oseleta can also be used in the blend for making Valpolicella wine.
Vines love poor soil, and these were laden with beautiful tasting grapes. The whole bunches were being hand-picked and put into small white crates, which were then transported to the fruttai (purpose-built drying lodges), where breezes blow through the room. This process is called appassimento, and over the winter months, the grapes start to dry out, losing 30-50pc of their water content, and the flavours and sugars in the grapes concentrate.
This results in a wine that is rich and is often referred to as a meditation wine, something that should be sipped rather than consumed too eagerly.
For Giuseppe, it is important to allow the terroir to show through in his wines. To ensure this, he picks the grapes a little early and allows them to dry for three to three and a half months. This means that the wine remains elegant and doesn't become overblown with too much alcohol, raisined fruit and concentrated sugar.
I have two Amarones in today's line-up as well as a lighter Ripasso wine.
Kevin Judd, one of New Zealand's most highly acclaimed winemakers, will be visiting Adare Manor to host a wine dinner in The Carriage House on October 24. Kevin will talk through five of his low-intervention Greywacke wines as they are served with a four-course dinner, which includes canapés, a sea bass fish course, roast duck breast with butternut squash and lemon tart. Tickets €85, tel: 061 605 271.
Rizzardi Pojega Ripasso 2016
€16.95, reduced from €20.45, 14.5pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
Ripasso is made by pouring a Valpolicella wine over the pomace left behind after an Amarone has been made, which adds a bit of polish and concentration. This one has a fresh purity of fruit, with flavours of red cherry and a touch of herbs.
Rizzardi Villa Amarone 2011
€39.95, reduced from €44.95, 16pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
Made primarily from Corvina and Corvinone, this spends 36 months in oak barrels, letting the dark fruit flavours develop polish, complexity and spice while maintaining a lovely fresh acidity.
Tommasi Amarone 2013
€45, 15pc, from Fresh, Deveney's, Dollard & Co, Jus de Vin, Kelly's, Whelehan's, O'Neill's SCR, Joyces.
Aged for three years in large Slavonian oak casks, this is complex and dark with rich flavours of dark plum, black cherry, raisin and spice, with plush tannins.