Thursday, October 26, 2023

A Pair of Veneto Reds

Here's a multiple guess question: What two popular Italian red wines are made from the same four grapes? 

a. Barolo and Barbaresco

b. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

c.  Bardolino and Valpolicella

d.  None of the above

Give yourself points if you picked option C.  Both Bardolino and Valpolicella, produced not far from each other in Italy's northeast region of Veneto, are made from Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone and occasionally Molinara. 

The Negrara grape, once a common part of the blend, has mostly been replaced by international varieties like Merlot. The move has improved acidity, but old timers maintain it has changed the character of the wine. There was a time when adding a French grape to an Italian blend would be considered heresy.

A Veneto wine estate

Bardolino and Valpolicella are not the only noted Veneto wines. White Soave, red Amarone and sparkling Prosecco also claim Veneto as home.  And there is more. In fact, at least a dozen Veneto wines are made in an area that stretches from Lake Garda to the Alps and proudly claims Venice, with its miles of navigable canals, as arguably the world's most romantic city. Well, okay, maybe one of the most romantic, since Paris is a special place for romance.  

There are some basic differences between the two wines: location in Veneto, soils, vineyard practices, production and the choice of a rose (Chiaretto) wine. 


The Veneto region of Valpolicella is famous for wine and marble quarries. One possible translation of the name is, "valley of many cellars," referring to the Fumane, Marano and Negrar valleys.  

When DOC status was granted in 1968, the authorized area expanded, so that today, Valpolicella is much larger than Bardolino, which lies to the west.  At the heart of Valpolicella is Mount Lessini, northwest of Verona. Vineyard soils are calcareous and the climate in the hillside vineyards is cooler.

Valpolicella is made from the same mix of grapes as Bardolino, in a range of styles. 

* Valpolicella is light and fruity, simillar to Beaujolais. The more Corvina in the blend, the greater the body and structure. 

* Valpolicella Classico is an upgrade, made from at least 40% of the grapes grown in the original Valpolicella production zone.

* Valpolicella Superiore requirements call for an additional 1% finished alcohol not to exceed 12% and the wine must be aged in a cellar for at least 12 months.

* Valpolicella Recioto is a dried-grape wine, made from the ripest grapes, those in the lobes or ears (orecchio in Italian), in a cluster.  Mainly Corvina grapes are raisined in special drying rooms.

* Valpolicella Ripasso is made from the unpressed skins of Amarone or Recioto, after fermentation and the new wine has been racked off.  Often aged in new French oak, and finished with a hint of sweetness, ripasso is similar to Amarone.

Dessicated Corvina grapes

* Valpolicella Amarone is a recioto fermented to dryness and with a slightly bitter (amaro in Italian) finish. Amarone della Valpolicella, made mostly from Corvina or Corvinone and Rondinella, must be aged at least five years in neutral French or Slovenian oak and from grapes not affected with botrytis. 

Both Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella were elevated to DOCG in 2009.

The classic way to enjoy Amarone is with a chunk of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and freshly shelled walnuts. A bottle of Amarone will set you back $50 to $80, from Allegrini, Bolla, L'Arco, Masi, Musella and Zenato.


The vineyards of Bardolino are southeast of Lake Garda. Bardolino is made from the same grapes as Valpolicella, with Corvina making up 35% to 65% of the blend. Bardolino is smaller and not as well known in the U.S, as Valpolicella. 

Besides Corvina, there are eight varieties allowed in Bardolino, including the musically sounding grape, Rondinella (10% to  40%), and Rossignolla, a name that bears a resemblance to "Rossignoll," a well known ski manufacturer.  

The other grapes: Molinara, Barbera, Sangiovese, Marcemino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Up to 20% of any authorized grape is allowed, but Molinara is no longer required in Bardolino.

Bardolino Superiore, made from the same grapes, is allowed an extra 1% of alcohol and must be aged in a cellar for a minimum of 12 months. 


And, there is a Bardolino Chiaretto (rose), Chiaretto Spumante and Bardolino Novello, made in the style of Beaujolais Nouveau. These wines are exported but require a search to find in this country.

Bardolino sub zones further define the amount of flavor and body in the wine.   Sub zones, like La Rocca, require lower yields and chaptalization is forbidden. Unfortunately, sub zones are not always shown on Bardolino labels.

So, the best policy is to know your producer. Reliable Bardolino wineries include Folinari, Tomassi, Zeni, Leonetti, Zenato and Santi.

There's no question that Valpolicella and Bardolino are popular Italian wines. Expand your appreciation of them by moving up to Classico or Superiore. 

Next blog: Confessions of a Former Wine Judge (My Adventures in California Wine 7)

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