Valpolicella. It’s a name you know, and that’s why some bottle with a pretty label in a big display or with a few effusive words on a card and a number starting with a 9 in one corner can move a few bottles into your basket, and you’d drink them down, and probably enjoy them, but never giving them a second thought. Valpo’s fundamentally cool and smooth nature, with a goose here and bump there, can turn a pretty pedestrian wine into a real box shifter…
This potentially great red from Italy’s Veneto region is tyically made with a triumverate of grapes: Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella, though other local varieties can step in and add to or supplant the other varieties, except for the Corvina which is Valpo’s core, and must make up at least 45% (and up to 95%) , though for some reason, most Valploicellas will not specify their grape break down. Tonight’s wine was labeled as “Valpolicella” which might lead you to reply “So what?” which is a perfectly legimate question because most folks are not that aware of Valpolicella Classico (from fruit sourced from a more limited traditional growing area), or Valpolicella Classico Superiore (from the delimited area, with a minimum of one year of age) or Valpolicella Valpantena (from a sub-zone within Classico, and with some rules peculiar to this zone as well), which can leave them either confused or even potentially duped.
So is there any sure-fire guide to good Valpo? In a word, no. It’s a BIG region with lots of industrialized production. A Classico Superiore or a Valpantena from a sketchy producer could be pretty crappy, despite the extra designations. So as I said in the title, it’s all in the name – the producer’s name. This wine was pretty damned good, and it was just a simple “Valpolicella”, but it’s from a top producer, so its simpler designation is trumped by its fundamental quality (and a good vintage). But… if you can keep all of these elements on recall inside the old cranium, and maybe a top vintage or two as well, Valpolicella can be a world class and unique wine.
Good Valpolicella is always warm and friendly but with a real elegant complexity to balance it all, so with this in mind I made an appetizer of bread rounds smeared with a pate`of mushrooms, garlic, parsley, onion, lemon zest, butter, etc. and topped with a hard-boiled egg slice, and then a pan-fried and smothered pork tenderloin stuffed with a hash of minced dried cherries, thyme, sage, chives, etc. and green beans.
Brigaldara Valpolicella 2010
Just transparent dusty, slightly brownish garnet color. Easy, layered nose of cranberry, intense watermelon, strawberry preserves, and blood orange fruit, gingerbread, minerals, melted dark chocolate, and a touch of black truffle. In the mouth the wine is elegant, velvety, and balanced, medium bodied, delicate, yet stiff-backed with very fine tannins, and very good depth, with flavors of boiled fennel, tart, sweet and sour berry fruit, and a moderately long finish with notes of pepper and dried flowers.