Valpolicella Wine Pyramid from Classico to Amarone
Amarone della Valpolicella is the most prestigious wine from the Valpolicella region in Veneto Italy. The reason Amarone is important these days is because it earned DOCG status in 2009; Italy’s official top-tier wine classification. This richly flavored dry red wine is truly one of Italy’s finest and age-worthy wines, but it’s not the only wine produced in Valpolicella!
There are 5 levels of Valpolicella wine, including styles like Valpolicella Ripasso, which offer a better value than Amarone. Check out the Valpolicella Wine Pyramid below so you can find more great value wines from this fantastic Italian appellation. Or try these other Great Value Italian Wine Regions.
Valpolicella Ripasso A great alternative to Amarone!
Valpolicella Ripasso wines are some of Italy’s best value wines. This style has its own DOC as of 2009, officially called Ripasso della Valpolicella, which means that it will become easier than ever to find. The secret to Ripasso’s rich flavors are in the way it’s produced.
After an Amarone wine is created, the leftover grape bits (aka pomace) are strained off and added to Valpolicella Classico. This enables the fermenting wine to have richer flavors and also produce a higher alcohol wine (a higher ABV adds more viscosity). Ripasso della Valpolicella can use the pomace of Recioto della Valpolicella, which is a dessert wine. As you can imagine this style of Ripasso is even more intense!
Valpolicella Wine Pyramid
Tier 1: Valpolicella Classico The everyday wine.
- DOC. Largest quantity produced.
- Spring/Summer – Try serving slightly chilled.
- Pizza, pasta, light meats, and veggies.
- $12 – $15
Tier 2: Valpolicella Superiore A great weekend treat.
- DOC. Minimum 12% ABV and 1 year in wood. More concentration and darker color than Valpolicella Classico.
- Burgers, roasted chicken, fresh cheese, charcuterie.
- $15 – $20
Tier 3: Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso One of Italy’s best values!
- DOC. One of Italy’s best values! Great transition for Napa Cabernet lovers who want to explore Italian wine. Also called Ripasso della Valpolicella which, as of 2009, officially has its own DOC. Made by macerating Amarone pomace (grape skins & solids) with fresh Valpolicella Classico. Medium – full body. Rich, soft, complex yet accessible.
- Steak, mushrooms, and dark umami flavors.
- $20 – $25
Tier 4: Amarone della Valpolicella Evening out on the town.
- DOCG. Made with Valpolicella grapes that are dried for 4-5 months to lose water and concentrate sugars. Sugars have all fermented to dryness, but the “illusion of sweetness” remains. Minimum 2 years aging prior to release. Many producers wait as long as 5 years before release. Can cellar 10+ years, some more than 20 years. Minimum ABV 14%. Usually 15-16%. Full bodied, dried fruit, firm tannins, high acid.
- Braised meats, aged cheese.
Tier 4.5: Single Vineyard Amarone della Valpolicella
- Same as Amarone della Valpolicella but vineyard-designate. Many Amarone producers will have both an “Amarone Classico” and a single vineyard flagship wine.
Tier 5: Recioto della Valpolicella Special occasions and other rare treats.
- DOCG. Dessert wine! Same grapes as Amarone, same process. But fermentation is
halted before completion to leave residual sugar in the wine. Extremely concentrated, spectacularly complex. Rich dried fruit, lots of tannin and bright acidity. 12% ABV. Can cellar for 20-30 years under proper conditions.
- Classic pairing for dark chocolate.
- $40+ (375ml bottle)
Aaron Epstein About The Author
Aaron Epstein is a wine writer, curator, and consultant who has been studying wine since before he could legally drink it. His love of the grape was born at a young age and has since taken him around the world to work in almost every aspect of the wine industry.
“Aaron came up with an amazing concept on how to visualize the wines of Valpolicella. With his expertise, we created something that anyone can use to help get a handle on the region. Salut!”
Madeline Puckette, Wine Folly
Aaron’s most recent move was from Brooklyn to sunny San Diego, where he now owns the consulting firm Uva Buena Fine Wines and manages the unprecedented wine subscription service Le Metro . On his blog Uva Buena he shares his adventures through the world of wine, and in his alter ego as The Winedad he explores the mysteries of fatherhood.
He and his lovely wife, Julia, are currently expecting the birth of their first child in September 2013. In the meantime, he is trying to learn how to surf.
What’s Your Favorite Amarone wine? My favorite Amarone is one made by Guisseppe Quintarelli, whose passing in January of 2012 was a loss to wine lovers around the globe.