There is no better way to appreciate the terroir of a wine than to walk through it. On our private walking tours in Italy we typically plan a day to do just this – choosing a route that brings us through the countryside and vineyards to a winery where we learn how they create amazing wines from their picturesque surroundings – the soil, the vines, the climate, the grapes. This season we spent a day walking up in the hills of Fumane, part of the Valpolicella Classico zone, to award winning wine producer Accordini.
Gaetano Accordini, helped by his wife Giuseppina Bertani, opened the winery in the early 1900s when he purchased 5 acres of land in the town of Negar. HIs son Stefano continued the business, producing Valpolicella wine for the local market. Stefano’s sons Tiziano and Daniele continued the business through the 1970s, when lower quality Valpolicella wines flooded the market, and the business struggled to remain profitable. Daniele remained committed to producing quality wines, planting new installations of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara, decreased yields per hectare, and modernizing the cellar and wine production process. Today the fourth generation is carrying on the family tradition, with Giacomo overseeing viticulture, Paolo caring for all stages of vinification, aging and bottling, and Marco currently a student of Agronomy and Enology.
In 1999, the family purchased an additional 10 acres in the hills of Fumane, in the village of Cavalo. The most favorably situated vineyards in the classico zone are located in the Monti Lessini foothills, where the grapes ripen at altitudes between 150–460 meters. The vineyards of Accordini are located between 500 and 600m, making them the highest vineyards in the area. The higher elevation means lower temperatures, concentrated sun exposure, and a large temperature differential between night and day.
Strong sun exposure in high elevation vineyards causes grapes to develop a deeper color, strong tannins, and a thicker, tougher skin – all great qualities to develop for age-worthy appassimento style wines. The large temperature differential means this same grapes ripen more slowly than the counterparts growing in the valley, producing more sugar and more complex flavors.
After a lovely walk up through the vineyards to the winery above Fumane, we enjoyed a private tour of the cellars. Alessandra warmly greeted us, then introduced us to the unique terroir of the region, showing samples of the various soil types, from morainic gravel near Lake Garda to more dolomite residual gravel with alluvial deposits. Alessandra tells us how many areas have tried to cultivate Valpolicella’s most important grape, Corvina, but the results have not lived up to the quality achieved here.
Then we moved to the drying loft, our late September tour the perfect time to visit as it is during harvest and we see how the grapes are layed out on pallets and stacked to dry. The grapes destined to become Amarone dry for 3 months, for Recioto, 4. DOC regulations dictate what percentage of grapes can go into Amarone, typically 50% in a good year, like 2015. In 2014, a bad year with too much rain, only 35% of grapes could be used. During the drying process, the grapes loose 35 to 40 percent weight. One bottle of Amarone requires 5 kilos of grapes, over 10 pounds!
Off to the cellar, where we learned the different processes for each wine. The ‘basic’ Valpolicella is produced in typical red wine fashion – harvested grapes are pressed, yeast is usually added, and the juice and skins/pulp sit and ferment. Fermentation continues until the sugar in the grapes is converted into alcohol and CO2, the skins/pulp (called lees) is removed, and the wine is placed in either stainless steel tanks or wood barrels – or both – to age. For the Valpolicella Classico, a fresh wine meant to be enjoyed young, it is aged in stainless steel tanks, with an additional two months in the bottle.
For Amarone, the best grapes are picked, then dried in the loft for 3 months, which concentrates the sugars. The grapes are pressed, yeast is added, and fermentation occurs. The higher sugar content means more alcohol is produced, and a special strain of yeast must be used, to withstand the higher alcohol content. After this maceration, which lasts about 35 days, the juice is the filtered off from the lees, then off to the aging rooms. The Amarone is refined in new French oak barriques for 24 months, then in bottles for a additional 8 months.
The lees from the Amarone are not disposed of quite yet. Instead, they are put to use in yet a third style of dry red wine made in this region, a Valpolicella Ripasso. Some of the Valpolicella wine mentioned previously is pulled off, placed on the leftover lees from the Amarone for about 10 days, allowing a second fermentation occurs. The Ripasso is aged in barriques of French Oak for 12 months, then six other months in bottle. The resulting wine offers a bit more structure and complexity than the Valpolicella.
Finally, the Recioto dessert wine – this is produced using the same method as the Amarone, but the fermentation Is halted earlier, after only about 20 days, when some residual sugar still remains. The Recioto is refined in barriques for 4 months, then in bottles for 3 months.
Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for – the tasting! We tasted all four of the aforementioned wines, three from their Acinatico line. Acinatico is ancient Roman name for wines of this area. The first reference to this wine goes back to the 5th century A.D. in a letter of Cassiodoro, minister of king Theodoric, who was looking for red “Acinatico” for the royal meals. This was a red wine made during the winter months with wilted grapes; it was very difficult to get, at least in large quantities and was produced in the hills around Verona.
Valpolicella Classico D.O.C.
Bright ruby red with hints of violet. Very fresh and fruity, cherries and berries. Medium body, it should be enjoyed while young to appreciate it at its best. A versitile food wine, it is recommended with first courses and soups.
Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Acinatico D.O.C.
Corvina Veronese (60%), Corvinone (15%), Rondinella (20%), Molinara (5%).
Intense ruby red, with aromas of vanilla and spice. Flavors of ripe cherries, dried fruit and tobacco. Warm and full-bodied, it pairs well with roast meats, stews, braises and aged cheeses.
Amarone Classico della Valpolicella Acinatico D.O.C.G.
Corvina Veronese (75%), Rondinella (20%), Molinara (5%)
A dense, deep garnet red, with rich aromas of vanilla and dried fruit. Great structure, complex, creamy and elegant, with flavors of dried cherries and berries, tobacco, and nuts. This wine is traditionally served with game, grilled meat, braises and aged cheeses. It is also served between meals, a “wine for meditation” as they say in Italy.
Recioto Classico della Valpolicella Acinatico D.O.C.G.
Corvina Veronese 75%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 5%
A deep purple ruby red. Aromas of dried fruit, with floral notes. Smooth, elegant, with flavors of dried fruit, and some acidity to balance the sweetness. Enjoy with dry cakes, pastry and desserts of the Veronese tradition, such as Pandoro, sbrisolona, Torta Russia and, of course, dark chocolate.