Hemingway’s Friendly Valpolicella

“Taking a glass of Valpolicella, the Colonel … drank a little of the light, dry, red wine which was as friendly as the house of your brother, if you and your brother are good friends.”

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That is the voice of Ernest Hemingway, speaking fondly of the tart, fresh red wine from the green hills of Valpolicella in the Veneto, not far from Lake Garda and a quick half-hour’s drive northwest of Verona.

Hemingway loved Valpolicella, and he celebrated the wine in the words of his lightly autobiographical protagonist, the cranky Colonel Cantwell, in “Over the River and into the Trees,” the 1950 novel that was one of his few to receive less than critical acclaim.

I love Valpolicella too, although like Hemingway’s novel only more so, its critical acclaim is sadly limited. It’s a light, fruity red that for many years was best known in the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s via mass-produced labels like Bolla, which positioned it as a simple, affordable, and honestly not so interesting quaff.

A beautiful panorama of Allegrini's Valpoliccella vineyards, with the Lessini mountains and Lake Garda in the distance. (<a href="https://website.allegrini.it/en/valpolicella_territorio.php" target="_new">Photo from the Allegrini website.</a>)

A beautiful panorama of Allegrini’s Valpoliccella vineyards, with the Lessini mountains and Lake Garda in the distance. (Photo from the Allegrini website.)

In modern times, everyday Valpolicella production is limited by the demand for grapes needed by its more sought-after and pricey siblings: Amarone and its sweet sidekick Recioto, which turbocharge the wine by a traditional process of air-drying the grapes until they are as concentrated as raisins before slow fermentation and aging; and Ripasso, which “re-passes” Valpolicella over the grapeskins left over from the Amarone process. Those procedures take time and effort, and it is reflected in dark, powerful, and aromatic wines that earn an inflated price.

But if you, like Hemingway and me, too, don’t always want a big, powerful and teeth-staining red, the basic, everyday Valpolicella is well worth the search.

This week’s featured wine, Allegrini Valpolicella, is an excellent example, a traditional combination of Valpolicella’s indigenous-grape blend: Corvina Veronese, primarily, with Rondinella and a splash of Oseleta. It’s floral and fresh, with scents of wild roses, violets, and red berries, and its tart acidic structure makes it a natural at the dinner table. It should be widely available, and I think you’ll like it.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Allegrini 2019 Valpolicella ($14.99)

Allegrini Valpolicella

Allegrini Valpolicella

Allegrini Valpolicella offers an excellent representation of the region’s red wines. It’s a clear, attractive garnet color, not too dark, and lifts up appealing floral scents of wild roses and the violets. The initial floral impression gives way to red-berry and dried-fruit aromas, leading into a fresh, bright mixed-berry flavor shaped by sharp, food-friendly acidity with a lightly velvety mouthfeel to give it texture. 13% alcohol. U.S. importer: Allegrini Wines USA, Healdsburg, Calif. (Oct. 16, 2021)

FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests enjoying it with roasted meats, particularly guinea fowl, pork, goat and lamb, which all make sense with this fresh, acidic red. The winery also suggests mushroom-based dishes and medium-aged cheeses. It paired wonderfully for us with a Northern Italian-style polenta with a hearty mushroom ragù.

WHEN TO DRINK: Valpolicella is meant more for quick consumption than cellaring, but this wine’s flavor and balance don’t raise concerns about it fading quickly. I’d enjoy it over the next year or two, then watch for fresher vintages.

Wine-Searcher.com shows a $16 average U.S. retail price, with some local prices as low as $14. It’s an excellent value on to the upper teens, but if your vendor is seeking $18 or more, you can probably find it for a better price elsewhere.

Read a detailed English-language fact sheet from the winery about the similar 2018 Valpolicella Superiore at this link.

Check prices and find vendors for Allegrini Valpolicella on Wine-Searcher.com.

Read more about Allegrini and browse vendors and prices at this Wine-Searcher link.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of wines of Valpolicella and vendors who offer them.

Curious about Amarone? Learn more about this powerful red from Valpolicella and check out top wines and vendors at this Wine-Searcher link.


Wine Focus: Wine 402 – Bordeaux Style Blending

The end of the year is in sight, as is the 2021 Wine Focus series. For November we turn to the classic blending of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. We will even allow a little Malbec and Petit Verdot! Grab a bottle of Bordeaux, a Bordeaux-style blend, or if you want, a single-variety bottling of one of the three (or five) grapes. Here’s your link to share your notes and your questions: Wine 402 – Bordeaux Style Blending


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Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

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