Valpolicella makes four very different wines; a high acid white, lighter and heavier red wines, and delicious dessert wine.
Amarone della Valpolicella is a full bodied, very ripe, high alcohol, dry red wine. This is the most potent form of Valpolicella, with the alcohol often exceeding 15%. It has port-like flavors of raisin, prune, fig, earth and chocolate. Amarone is also very age-worthy, with the best wines lasting twenty years or more. Corvina is the highest quality grape used, but rondinella and molinara may be in the blend. They are the last vines to be harvested, then made using the passito process - fruit dried for three to four months on timber racks to concentrate it. It is then pressed in January, then aged in large older barrels for years.
Wine just labeled Valpolicella is typically light-bodied, fragrant, fruity, and best drunk young. Like Beaujolais, it is released only a few weeks after pressing. The grape is Corvina, grown on limestone and granite soils, but there are smaller amounts of Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara often blended in. They usually have 11% alcohol and go well with picnic foods. Recently, some producers have re-fermented basic Valpolicella a second time on the skins, giving it more power and alcohol. This process is called Ripasso, and has created a new category of wine this region produces.
Recioto della Valpolicella is a high alcohol sweet red wine. The name comes from "recie" or ears. This was the name given to the two lobes at the top of the cluster which stick out. These receive the most sun, so were traditionally picked separately for the production of sweet wine. Today, Recioto is made using the passito process, where the whole cluster is dried for months to concentrate flavors. Recioto was what this region was historically known for.
Soave is a high acid white wine produced north of Verona. This is a high output area, and much is taken to co-op's for production. However, the best producers are restricting their yields, and a hierarchy of cru's and single vineyard wines exist. These are high acid, fragrant wines with lemon and signature almond aromas. There must be a minimum of 70% Garganega in the blend, with the balance Verdicchio, Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco.
Image Credit: Daniel Vogel