Indigenous grapes of Veneto

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The region of Veneto is far more than the small island city of Venice—no matter how strong the culture and independence of the former republic remains. Yes, in the bars and bacaro you might be served exceptional local wines to enjoy with your cicchetti, but be honest. You’re too busy soaking up the atmosphere and the beauty to pay attention to what’s in your glass. Outside of the canals and ornate Gothic-Renaissance architecture there are worlds of grapes to discover. Pack a tramezzini and head out to the vineyards, where Veneto truly comes to life.

Of course, there is one grape in the Veneto region that’s overpowering the market all over the world, and that’s Glera, otherwise known as Prosecco. From a small, specialist sub-region making sparkling wine for the Veneto region (much like the Penedes region near Barcelona in Spain for Cava) Prosecco has become big business. This little, unassuming white grape has traditionally been grown in the regions of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, however huge demand for Prosecco has led to the region’s parameters being stretched and expanded to take in more of the land around its extremities. 

Glera is the most planted grape in the Veneto region, and it’s also super highly productive, meaning that the Global needs for Prosecco are fulfilled by grapes grown here alone—there are very few places outside of Veneto that grow Glera. It’s high in acidity, and has soft, stone fruit flavours and a touch of perceived sweetness, making it ideal for the production of sparkling wine.

If you’ve enjoyed a glass of Soave, you’ve enjoyed the Garganega grape. Brisk, golden-yellow on the vine and full of delicious citrus flavours, it’s got a lush, velvety texture without heavily coating the mouth thanks to its thick, juicy pulp. Garganega also boasts floral aromas of white jasmine and blossom, adding pretty layers to the fresh, bright acidity. 

It’s a dry white wine but with touches of elegant interest—excellent examples have a touch of almond nuttiness about them, and that citrus burst often translates into ripe satsuma and tangerine, especially when aged for a couple of years. It can also make deliciously fresh sparkling wines, which tend to have a touch of bitterness about them in their aftertaste. Very moreish.

Although it’s not indigenous to Veneto per se, Pinot Grigio has found a perfect home in the region thanks to its long hours of sunlight and hillsides that both protect the vines from damp and mist, and keep temperatures cooler during the sizzling summer months. As we all know, Pinot Grigio is an incredibly popular grape variety all over the world thanks to it’s neutrality and high acidity, but in great examples it presents ripe lemons and a touch of salinity—the perfect Italian atmosphere. Blends using Pinot Grigio and Garganega are popular in Veneto, offering a touch more complexity and a more rounded citrus profile.

The Tuscan grape Trebbiano is a big fan of Veneto’s climate, but the question is, which Trebbiano lives here? There are many long-lost family members of the Trebbiano familia, and in Veneto it’s likely that the most-planted variety is either Trebbiano di Soave or Trebbiano Lugana. These grapes are all very similar in nutty, fruity flavour and aroma, with their nearest likeness being fresh, limey Verdiccio. It’s not grown in bulk numbers in Veneto, but that’s perhaps a reason to seek it out—dry, easy-drinking Lugana is en route to becoming extinct.

Farra di Soligo PHOTO: Alberto Caliman

Used primarily in the making of Valpolicella wines, Corvina is one of Veneto’s top red grapes, grown in the beautiful surroundings of Lake Garda to the north of Verona. The grape itself has very few tannins despite its thick skin, bringing brightness and lightness to the wine it produces, ensuring flavours of sour cherries and red fruits shine through.

Corvina is often dried on straw mats in a traditional process called “appassimento”. Drying the grapes in this way concentrates flavour and sugar content, and is done before pressing to produce a fuller, richer wine. These wines, which you may have tried already, you lucky things, are Amarone della Valpolicella and its sweet cousin, Recioto della Valpolicella. Making these wines is extremely time consuming and requires a lot of effort on the winemaker’s part, and so the making of Ripasso wines makes sense. These wines, also indigenous to the Veneto region, are made using the lees (or used, pressed grapes and yeasts) from Amarone or Recioto. Blended with standard Valpolicella wine, the grapes undergo fermentation for a second time, producing a rich, bold red wine with a higher concentration of alcohol. 

Not to be confused with Corvina is Corvinone, a grape that’s often referred to as “Big Corvina”. It’s actually a grape variety all its own, with more depth of flavour—think tart, black cherries—and a bitter almond note too. It’s used primarily in blends with Corvina to boost flavour and character, and is a legitimate addition to Amarone and Recioto wines.

Despite losing some of its popularity in recent years, Molinara is still grown in Veneto, particularly in the Valpolicella region, as a winemaker’s helper. Molinara has a fairly neutral flavour as far as red grapes go, but its high acidity makes it super useful as a blending grape to lift wines that are suffering from too much sugar or a heavy, flabby character. It’s legally permitted to be used in the making of Valpolicella wines for this reason.

Yet another grape that makes up the complex characteristics of Valpolicella is Rondinella, a black grape that flourishes year on year thanks to its voracious growing and maturing speed and, probably, Italian zest for life. It doesn’t tend to make wines of exceptional quality on its own, however, which is why it’s most useful as a blending grape. Rondinella has a high sugar content which makes it a great choice for air drying in the appassimento method, and has light, herbal aromas and flavours such as thyme and bay leaf which add interest to its blends too.

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