The Veneto wine region covers a vast expanse of land across the north of Italy. From the Adriatic sea in the east, to the foothills of the Alps in the west.
Without a doubt, the Veneto wine region is a powerhouse of Italian wine. It is the leading producer of wine in the North, but in good years it leads all of Italy. This is in stark contrast to Piedmont which prioritises quality over yields.
As is so often the case, quantity does not equal quality and many of the wines of Veneto are resigned to be everyday table wine. But, don’t dismay. Great wine from the Veneto wine region is out there!
The Veneto Wine region is home to numerous prestigious regions, as well as great hidden gems which represent a wonderful value for money. So, if you’ve been stung by a £5 bottle of Soave at the supermarket, don’t write this great wine region off.
The Veneto wine region is so much more than the Prosecco that the UK guzzles down, or the unexciting mass-produced wines that we’ve mentioned. It has complex red, white and sweet wines.
Without further ado, let’s jump into this review of the vibrant Veneto wine region. We’ll look at the history of the region, as well as the terroir and the types of wines that you should seek out.
The History of The Veneto Wine Region
The Beginnings of Veneto
Both the Veneto wine region, and its primary city of Venice, take their name from the Veneti people. This was the tribe that settled in the area around 1000 BC, (MacNeil 349). Before long, the former marshland of Venezia had become a thriving region. During the medieval time, it was one of the primary ports and commercial centres of the world. It helped form a link between the far east, the Byzantine empire and western Europe.
Trade flowed through the canals. Spices, food and of course wine! Beyond this, great art, architecture and the famous glass of Murano all began to excel. Culture and wealth boomed in the area making it one of the great cities of not just Italy, but the world.
It’s unsurprising that this laid the groundwork for a successful wine industry. Even hundreds of years ago, the Venetian citizens had disposable income to treat themselves to a bottle of the good stuff.
Though, the Veneto wine region is more than just Venice. It is a sprawling region that goes beyond the metropolitan are. Flat farmlands occupy the gap between the coast and the mountains. The land is a cornucopia of great produce. The fertile lands are conducive to high-yields which helped establish the groundwork for the huge increase in the scale of production for viticulture.
However, as we know, high-yields doesn’t equal high-quality. Just look at Carignan in the Languedoc region, or the Gamay grape in Beaujolais. So, the Veneto wine region boomed in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, quality wasn’t always easy to find.
The Boom Of The Veneto Wine Region
This was without a doubt a boom period for the Veneto wine region. During the 1960s and 1970s, (MacNeil 349), savvy Italian winemakers saw an increased demand and desire for easy going and inexpensive Italian wines.
This demand largely came from the USA and the UK. The palates here just wanted something Italian that was nice and simple. Something to knock back with friends, rather than rich, complex and expensive offerings.
Indeed, this phenomenon wasn’t limited to the Veneto wine region. A similar demand for the simple was seen in Tuscany and many unremarkable Chianti wines were pumped out in straw encased bottles.
The wines which grew exponentially were Soave and Pinot Grigio, as well as the simple red wine of Valpolicella. All of them were produced on the flat, fertile plains. They are light, fruity and straight-forward wines.
This could lead some to dismiss the Veneto wine region as a whole, but it isn’t a simple thing. Soave can be found for £5 in most supermarkets and is often a thin and tame expression of this grape variety. However, extraordinary versions can be found through Veneto.
This dichotomy exists fairly consistently within this region. Flat, fertile plains produce high-volume branded wine, then the slightly less fertile and altitude driven wines which grow in the foothills of the Alps are known for great concentration of flavour and complexity.
Let’s take a closer look at the terroir of the Veneto wine region now and explore the key natural factors of Veneto.
The Terroir Of The Veneto Wine Region
Let’s look at the natural factors that inform the climate of the Veneto wine region.
Throughout the north and western portions of the Veneto wine region, you’ll find a clear Alpine influence as the region creeps into the foothills of this famous mountain range. Although, the Alpine influence is far less prominent than the neighbouring regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
There are also two prominent rivers. These are the Adige and Po Rivers. Both deposit into the Adriatic Sea, after flowing through the plains of the Veneto wine region. On their journey this way from the Alps, they have created vast areas of rich, sun-drench farmland which are ideal for abundance. Vegetables and fruits, (including grapes), grow in great numbers.
As we’ve touched upon, the best wines aren’t found here. Instead, winemakers looking to create more complex offerings will plant their vines in the foothills of the mountains and on slopes. Here you find well-drained volcanic soils which intermingle with sand, clay and gravel.
All this points to the fact that the Veneto wine region is not a monolith. It varies greatly and as such can be divided into a few broader geographical areas.
The first is home to the stunning Lake Garda, in the west of the Veneto wine region. You’ve also got the volcanic mountain range, (Monte Lessini). Here, you’ll find the traditional wines of Soave and Valpolicella, as well as the world-famous Amarone.
The areas which surround the city of Verona also form a hub of wine production. The city is a key player in the Veneto wine region and amongst other things hosts the VinItaly wine fair.
Then, you have the hills to the north. Here, you’ll find the Veneto wine region’s famous fizz. The DOC of Prosecco and then, the more prestigious Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG both sit in the mountainous areas above Treviso. Altitude can help keep wines fresh and acidic.
Lastly, in the centre of Veneto. This is the area between the urban areas of Venice and Vincenza. You’ll find a huge quantity of wine in this fertile basin. This can be the classic regional grapes. However, you’ll also find simple expressions of international grape varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Great sub-regions exist within here though and you can find some real bang for your buck. Look for the areas of Colli Berici and Euganei.
The Key Wines of the Veneto Wine Region
There are three wines which hold the most regard within Veneto, although they’re also wines which have the cheaper alternatives. We’ll take you through how these wines are made and what to look out for if you want the best of the Veneto wine region.
The Soave region is locate by the castle-topped hillside town of the same name, just to the east of Verona. Soave is the right name as the best examples of these wines are ‘smooth’.
These wines are traditionally a blend of two grapes. The first is Garganega. This is a dry, high-acid grape which is famous for a subtle note of almonds, as well as ripe citrus and stone fruits. The best examples are well-suited for bottle ageing. This is also blended with the Verdicchio Blanco grape variety, (known locally as Trebbiano di Soave), (MacNeil 353).
A key region to look out for is Soave Classico. These are wines from the original Soave zone, before it was expanded to meet demand. The vines are found in the steep hills above the towns of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. Beyond that, Soave Classico Superiore are particularly rarified examples of this wine, which aren’t released until a year after harvest.
Valpolicella & AMArone
The Valpolicella region is another key area in the Veneto wine region. There are five key styles to be aware of with classic Valpolicella and one extra special style. All are generally made from Corvina grapes. These grapes are relatively high in acid and low in tannin which make for great light red wine. However, Amarone della Valpolicella is different.
Amarone is one of the most desired wines in not just the Veneto wine region, but the whole of Italy. Traditionally, we associate the big, powerful red wines of the world with hot climates. However, Veneto have produced one through ingenuity, in spite of their cool climate.
This is thanks to the ‘Appassimento Method‘. In a usual harvest, 40% of the grapes are left in the vineyards. These grapes are allowed to achieve an extra level of ripeness. Then, whole bunches of these ripe grapes are left on shelves in cool lofts for over 3 months. The exact length of time beyond that is left to the producer.
As these grapes shrivel up further, the flavours and sugars concentrate. They also lose a third of their weight, which is primarily water. Finally, they’re fermented into a full-bodied and powerful wine with around 15-16% alcohol.
The Amarone will then be aged for a further two years, (or four years for Riserva wines). The whole process is incredibly labour-intensive and not without risks. Autumn rain can cause grapes to rot and you can even sometimes detect a certain damp/mouldy character in low quality Amarone.
However, the best are dark and complex, with a Port quality. You can expect earthy flavours, alongside notes of coffee and dark chocolate, as well as cooked red and black fruit.
Now, the classic Valpolicella. There are the simple, light wines. These are the standard Valpolicella wines that were shipped in great amounts during the Venetian boom. Then, there is Valpolicella Classico. This is similar to the Soave situation. Here, the original Valpolicella zone produces more complex and interesting offerings. Again, we also have the Classico Superiore zone which requires a year of ageing.
Now, we get to the other really unique offerings from Valpolicella. First up, Valpolicella Ripasso. Here, newly fermented Valpolicella wine is added to ‘Amarone Pomace’. Pomace being the pulp, as well as the mass of seeds and skins which are leftover after the Amarone has fermented. This adds colour, tannin, flavour and structure to standard Valpolicella. These wines often take a character that is similar to jammy Californian Zinfandel.
The last style of Valpolicella is ‘Recioto della Valpolicella’. These are made from the ripest grapes that have been dried. Recioto derives from the Italian word ‘recie’, which means ears, (MacNeil 350). This refers to the protruding elements on the bunches of grapes that resemble ears. The ears are the most exposed to the sun, so these grapes achieving the highest levels of ripening. With Recioto wines, the fermentation is halted before all the sugar has been eaten up. The end result is a wonderfully syrupy, sweet wine.
Last, but not least, the nation’s favourite fizz. The Veneto wine region is much more than Prosecco but it would be impossible to ignore one of the region’s most successful exports.
The wines are made principally from the Glera grape variety, which used to be called Prosecco in 2009. However, when the DOCG of Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Prosecco DOC regions were established, the grape was renamed to avoid any confusion.
The Glera grape variety itself is not native to Italy, it actually comes from the Istrian Peninsula, which is now part of Croatia, (MacNeil 352). It’s high in acid and deeply floral, with subtle fruity notes such as green apple and grape. This aromatic quality means that Prosecco needs to be produced via the ‘Charmat Method‘.
The Charmat Method means that secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel pressurised tanks, rather than a bottle which is the case with both Crémant and Champagne. If you’d like to learn more about these differences, be sure to check out our comparison of Cava and Prosecco here.
This preserves the fruity and floral aromas of the wine, as well as the delicate bitterness which adds complexity and means that it makes a great Bellini! Sparkling wine cocktails anyone?
That’s the long and short of the Veneto wine region. It is a great region to dive into further. Whether you want the cheap and cheerful, the wonderful value for money, or the complex and age-worthy.
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