Allegrini 2018

Not only Amarone: focusing on Valpolicella Superiore to valorize a complex territory

Drying and price are the main issues to differentiate method and terroir wines of the appellation, according to data and glasses

Valpolicella? Amarone. The association is automatic (and sacrosanct) at a planetary level, but over the years there has been a risk of losing the complexity that the valley of Verona's reds can offer. Recioto, Ripasso and Amarone are method wines closely linked to Valpolicella and its centuries-old winemaking tradition, but at the same time they are wines that tend to lose contact with the vintage; structured wines, for meals (or meditation) which are not able to fully represent the different facets of soil, exposure, temperature that the many local grapes could express, without being subjected to drying or refermentation. And these are exactly the capacities of Valpolicella and Valpolicella Superiore, that the Consorzio di tutela dei Vini Valpolicella has decided to enhance in order to give back centrality to a more straightforward and immediate interpretation of the definition of “terroir”, a centrality that also the market has been asking for some years now, with wines more readable in terms of grape variety, climate, soil and producer. The idea of the session “Valpolicella Superiore - A Territory Opportunity” was born from this, an opportunity to present the first Valpolicella Annual Report complete with production history and trends, market and climate trends; the results of the survey dedicated to Valpolicella Superiore and finally a tasting of 8 samples of the same type to trace the stylistic, organoleptic and market profile in the future.
The Valpolicella Annual Report - the first issue of a dossier that will take stock of the denomination on an annual basis - aims to provide an overview of the characteristics and trends of one of the main Italian red denominations and the first in the Veneto region, with 2,271 vintners, 6 cooperative wineries, 322 bottlers and an annual turnover of more than 600 million euros, largely generated (70%) by exports to 87 countries around the world. Having the numbers of an appellation gives the possibility to make choices with greater awareness, such as the recent policies of production containment - proposed by the Consortium and shared by the companies - which have contributed on the one hand to increase the average quality, on the other hand, to generate a greater balance on the markets, with an increase in the price of Amarone in bulk from 6% to 13% in the last two years depending on the vintage, as a result of a production of grapes decreased in the last two years of 12% on the previous two years, compared to a growth of the vineyard in the same period of 5%. Substantial variations in the choice of types by the wineries: for the medium-small wineries, the bottled wine basket is made up of Ripasso (44.6%), Valpolicella (30.7%), then Amarone/Recioto (24.7%); for the medium-large wineries, Ripasso rises to 57.8% of volumes, with Amarone/Recioto at 24.7% and Valpolicella at 17.6% of production.
From the discussion between Giulio Somma (director of Corriere Vinicolo) and the president of the Consortium Christian Marchesini, some strengths and some weaknesses emerge. Among the strengths, there is certainly the growth of the valley’s vineyards (from 4,600 hectares in 1972 to the current 8,398, with a 60% increase in the last 20 years) not accompanied by an excessive increase in grape production - and consequent devaluation of the product. A further strong point is the consolidation of the main markets Valpolicella addresses - Canada, United States, Northern Europe and Germany. In fact, the post-pandemic recovery has had unhoped-for results: 30 million bottles produced which result in +18% over 2020 and even +14% over pre-pandemic 2019. Despite this, there is ample room for improvement in the U.S. and new opportunities in the Asian market, with China driving early 2021. The Covid-19 year has also pushed companies to consider Gdo as a sales outlet, a track that is unlikely to disappear with normalization of consumption and an opportunity to find new balances with specialized channels.
On the environmental side, the certification of the Three R’s - Riduci, Risparmia, Rispetta (Reduce, Save, Respect) - started by the Consortium itself in 2011 involves now 1.210 hectares of vineyards and is a driving force for the increase of the adhesion to the organic certification (today 12% of the total vineyards). A project born at the beginning in order to solve disputes between producers and inhabitants of the valley, has helped the awareness of winegrowers about their environmental impact and has hooked the increase of tourist requests towards a kind of vacation more in contact with nature, tickling the willingness of producers to invest in hospitality (70%). The vast tourist area of Verona and Lake Garda is also a great help, because culture goes well with wine (and the recent edition of Opera Wine 2021 associated with the premiere of the Arena is a successful example). The inclusion of Valpolicella in the Register of Traditional Historic Landscapes of the Ministry of Agriculture is a further element which will increase the attractiveness of the area.
Well, all these strengths have, however, a weak counterpart, which lies in the very richness of Valpolicella: a Consortium representing and protecting 4 denominations can only create a complex structure of rules, which risks, however, to confuse the consumer and the producer with stylistic and commercial overlaps. Over time, the need has arisen, in particular, to clearly separate the oenological concept behind the production of Ripasso and Valpolicella Superiore (which often resemble each other and compete with each other in the reference markets), arriving at a clear separation between the method wines and the territorial wines of the denomination. A survey launched by the Consortium to producers has therefore understood the need of clarifying the boundaries between these types of wines, finding a sort of outline that will be better defined in the next years. The main issues are about the opportunity or not to use appassimento for Valpolicella Superiore and about the price range to be aimed at, which together with the wine making and aging techniques and geo-climatic issues will be gradually discussed with producers.
From an organoleptic point of view, the three experts, journalists and wine educators JC Viens, Filippo Bartolotta and the Master of Wine Gabriele Gorelli, basically agree. The complexity of Valpolicella (in terms of vines, altitude, exposure, geology and climate) deserves an interpretation more adherent to the territory, which is capable of expressing all those facets without the interference of appassimento. Drying out, which no one wants to demonize, but which must be contextualized with respect to its origins (a method found to resolve a certain inability of the grapes to reach maturity, today overcome - unfortunately - by climate change) and give space to wines that have more gustatory tension. In front of 8 samples of Valpolicella Superiore tasted, up to 4 of them - according to Gorelli, Bartolotta and Viens - go in the right direction, keeping the aromatic characteristics typical of Corvina, Corvinone, Molinara, Rondinella (and of another ten native grapes) - such as strawberry, currant, mint, white pepper - and their juiciness, to which are added sapidity, velvety dynamism and structure, with slight tertiary and spicy notes depending on a slight presence of withering, which however must never become characterizing, overpowering the smoothness.
It seems complicated, but according to Gorelli, the territory has behind it a sufficiently deep technical experience to find for Valpolicella Superiore a recognizable identity of “small daily luxury”, leaving behind the unfulfilled promise of many bottles that look too much like a Ripasso for their alcohol content and notes of dehydrated fruit. Bartolotta’s provocation goes beyond enological issues and launches to producers the possibility of evaluating a shared release of the vintage (as it already happens for the most important wine territories, from Barolo to Brunello, from Bordeaux to Burgundy). According to Viens, to focus on Valpolicella Superiore in a clear and united way means to give substantial economic support to the small producers who live in the denomination and who bottle Valpolicella for 37% of their production (as opposed to the big companies which invest only 17%). In any case, the Consortium’s survey (to which 1/3 of the members responded), showed that producers are willing to start a new path that can strengthen the denomination as a whole.

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