I recall enjoying a Valpolicella at a northern Italian style restaurant several years ago. What is northern Italian style food, you may ask? Whether you are speaking of the cuisine of the Veneto where Valpolicella is produced, or you are speaking of the cuisine of the Piemonte, or the Val d’Aosta; whichever region: you will find a broad mix of locally produced agricultural products, cheeses and wines included.
The “king” of Italian wine varietals is Nebbiolo, the noble grape whose juice goes into the production of Barolos and Barbarescos. This “king” status for Nebbiolo (Barolo in particular) makes these wines a little pricey. For a more “every-day red,” the more affordable Chianti Classico (made from Sangiovese) makes for a familiar style of red wine – nice, though technically not “northern” Italian. Somehow I knew that the Valpolicella would make a more suitable wine for the delicious food we selected; or was that the waiter’s suggestion?
The first sip of Valpolicella may catch you off guard, especially if it is a little aged. The more aged ones such as Ripasso della Valpolicella offer more depth than the “nouveau” styles, though they are not nearly as massive as the Amarones. The lighter Valpolicelli are easy-drinking and are relatively low in alcohol. In the production of Ripasso the wine maker adds the leftover grape skins and seeds for extra maceration. This makes for a “bigger” wine, a type that can hold up to many of the more assertive cheeses.
A large part of the success of Valpolicella must be credited to the winemakers, whose blends of the grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) shape the flavors of their wines. The blended wines often succeed as partners for cheeses, more often than the 100% varietal wines. Kind of like the “best-of-both-worlds” in cheese making: cheeses crafted from mixed milks are usually successful with a broader variety of wine types.
We found several lovely matches for a Valpolicella Ripasso recently: Formaggio Capra, Pecorino Sardo D.O.P., Fontina Val d’Aosta, Capra Ubriaco al Traminer, Ubriaco Prosecco, Piave, and Gorgonzola Piccante.