Way back in January I participated in the 3rd Annual Valpolicella Education Program. I spent an intense week in Verona, Italy, studying subject matters such as “Valpolicella Genetic and Environmental Resources,” “The Wines of Valpolicella: Winemaking Peculiarities and Compositional Characteristics,” “The Rules on the Names of Wines: Labels, Designations of Origin, Trademarks, Producer Associations and Production Regulations,” and of course tasting!
Why would the NYC Brand Ambassador for Lieb Cellars of the North Fork of Long Island, NY, invest her time and energy during her vacation time on this, you wonder? First, I’m pursuing my DipWSET (that’s a diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust) and have been attending classes at the International Wine Center for years. Second, I believe in the importance of not operating in a vacuum and the value of knowing how your wines stack up on a global scale. And third, the Valpolicella region produces wine in a unique style that is not made in the US and that fascinates me. Not to mention the food, art (I made time to take in a Giacometti/Chagall/Kandinsky exhibit), beautiful landscapes and architecture.
There was so much information thrown at me by the Italian professors. Allow me to give you the basics:
– Valpolicella = RED wine only
– There are 3 main grapes: Corvina is the key player in the blend. Corvinone is its permitted substitute and is appealing to producers for its ability to handle climate changes. Rondinella is the third. These grapes are not only unique in the world but are also mostly planted only in this particular region of Italy.
– These 3 grapes are used to make 4 main distinct styles: Valpolicella DOC (a light, youthful red), Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (which has increased body and extraction), Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG, and Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG (a rich dessert style made from dried grapes).
– Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG is the standout wine of the region. It is made by withering the 3 grapes on shelves with well-circulated air for several months in a large protected room called a fruttaio. During this period the grapes develop complex aromas and flavors and lose approximately 30% of their weight before finally being pressed and made into a robust red wine. Common aromas and flavor characteristics include balsamic, blood orange, dark fruits, dried figs and eucalyptus/mint/tea tree oil. I had one at the historical wine bar Antica Bottega del Vino (a place that serves 13 Amarone by the glass!) with a hen salad that contained slivers of blood orange rind, raisins, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. The pairing was divine.
A week of intense wine education, abundant beauty, honest and delicious food, and fostering new international friendships concluded with the Valpolicella Annual Conference and Anteprima Amarone 2016 (the unveiling of the newly released vintage.) Climate change was a subject frequently mentioned as well as sustainable vineyard practices. This area is reverting back to the pergola vine training system as opposed to the French classic Guyot. Using the pergola system trains the vines higher off from the ground and the leaves help protect the grapes from getting sunburnt.
My head was swirling with knowledge when I returned to the US. I was pleased to have intimately discovered the unique wines and people of Valpolicella. I also returned relieved that another part of the world shares in the commitment to sustainability that we have at Lieb. At the same time, I developed an appreciation for the levels of freedom that we have in the US when making certified sustainable wine. Unlike in Valpolicella, we are permitted to use alternative packaging and free to plant any varietals that we choose with no preordained recipes.
Finally, my trip reminded me of the keen sense of place and the intense local support that you find in Europe. In Bordeaux? You will mostly drink Bordeaux. In Valpolicella? Yes, you drink Valpolicella. Yet, I also believe that variety is the spice of life. For that reason, I feel extremely lucky live in New York City, where we have access to wines from all over the world.
I truly appreciate your continued support and thank you for repeatedly selecting our wines for your table as part of the many choices in your life.
Aimée Lasseigne New
NYC Brand Ambassador
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