Tuscany and Piedmont may earn the most attention from connoisseurs, but Veneto is in some ways the engine of the Italian fine-wine industry. The northeastern region is home not only to the glory of Venice but to another Shakespearean backdrop, Verona. Each year in April, that city hosts the sprawling Vinitaly trade show, the Woodstock of vino. Veneto also produces more quality wine than any other province in Italy, the controlled-appellation stuff as opposed to bulk wine.
Veneto is very much on-trend. It's the home of pinot grigio and prosecco, two wines that have exploded in popularity. Soave, the once-humble white based on the garganega grape, is generally better than it used to be thanks to such devoted, quality-minded producers as Pieropan and Pra. And half of New York seems to be gaga for a host of crisp whites from northeast Italy, including friulano and verduzzo, both grown in Veneto as well as it neighbouring province of Friuli.
This past week's Vintages release in Ontario features a collection of Venetian wines. And if you like prosecco, the dry sparkling wine made from the grape of the same name, you might want to check out Bellenda San Fermo Brut Prosecco 2008 ($17.95, product No. 82347). It comes from the prime prosecco region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and is better than most of the pedestrian proseccos out there.
It starts almost sweet, with its core of ripe pear, but it quickly turns crisp and tangy, with notes green apple and citrus. And there's a champagne-like note of fresh bread. It would make a terrific aperitif.
The soave renaissance is evident in another wine released this week through Vintages, Suavia Soave Classico 2008 ($19.95, No. 165654). It's lean and crisp like the old soaves you may recall from the 1970s, but with a silky, more opulent texture and a nuance of mineral carried through on the relatively long finish. Perfect for warm-weather sipping.
The garganega grape is used in other wines, such as Monte del Fra Cà del Magro 2008 ($14.95, No. 165670), another light but richly textured white. Tangy peach flavour leads the way in this crowd-pleasingly ripe offering.
I also liked the perfumed quality of La Braghina Pinot Grigio 2008 ($15.95, No. 161687), another lean wine perfect for summer days.
The best-value red of this week's Vintages Veneto offerings is Fumanelli Valpolicella 2008 ($12.95, No. 687186). Light to medium-bodied, it's very dry, with a hint of dark cherry and light, fine-grained tannins. Great for pizza or red-sauced pasta.
In a fuller-bodied style is Farina Le Pezze Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2006 ($14.95, No. 134684), smooth and cherry-like, with a satisfyingly bitter edge. Good for cheese or earthy mushroom-based dishes.
Corvina, one of the three main red grapes in valpolicella, plays a solo role in Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Rosso 2008 ($13.95, No. 165688). Ripe cherry and raspberry get support from an herbal-floral flavour and kick of spice. Another good pizza or pasta partner.
My Canadian pick this week is Quails' Gate Pinot Noir 2008, available in the West ($24.99 through www.quailsgate.com). Medium-bodied and velvety, it's opulent with jammy berry fruit and a hint of vanilla. Great for salmon, pork or duck breast.
Picks of the week
Fumanelli Valpolicella 2008 ($12.95, product No. 687186) is light to medium-bodied with a hint of dark cherry and light, fine-grained tannins.
Bellenda San Fermo Brut Prosecco 2008 ($17.95, No. 82347) starts almost sweet, with its core of ripe pear, but turns crisp and tangy, with notes green apple and citrus.
Quails' Gate Pinot Noir 2008($24.99 through www.quailsgate.com) is medium-bodied and velvety, it's opulent with jammy berry fruit and a hint of vanilla.