The locomotive of the Italian wine train is the region of Veneto (pronounced VAY-neh-toh or VEH-neh-toh, but not veh-NEE-toh), which is responsible for nearly a quarter of all of Italy’s wine production. It is located in the northeast of the country, stretching from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. On Veneto’s Adriatic coast is its capital Venice, one of Italy’s top tourist destinations (right). Though rising sea levels imperil the island-city, Venice remains an icon, crisscrossed by canals and studded with structures built through the wealth generated by the first trading empire with a truly global reach.
Venice is rightly Veneto’s home base for tourists in general, but for wine tourists, Verona is the place. On the far western side of the region, Verona lies in the heart of some of Veneto’s best winegrowing areas. It is also the site of Vinitaly, an annual wine fair (open to wine trade only) that showcases thousands of Italian wine producers—and some from other countries—in more than a dozen airplane-hangar-size pavilions (below).
The wine production and reputation of Veneto largely rest on the shoulders of four grape varieties, three of which—Glera, Corvina, and Garganega—are unfamiliar to most people, even though many will have heard of the wines made from them: Prosecco, Valpolicella, and Soave, respectively. The fourth is Pinot Grigio, a variety that needs little introduction to most wine consumers.
Prosecco is the world’s most popular sparkling wine these days, and the great majority of it comes from Veneto (the rest comes from neighboring Friuli). Its origins are north of Venice in a ridge of steep-sided hills between the cities of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where Glera grapes were found to make excellent semi-sweet sparkling wines. In a short couple of decades, the wines of Prosecco caught on with audiences around the globe thanks to their excellent price-quality ratio overall, the wines tended drier, and the territory and its wine production expanded exponentially to meet demand. The top-quality versions of Prosecco still come from the historic hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG (that’s ko-neel-YAH-no vahl-doh-BYA-deh-nay pro-SEK-ko), while the values are from the surrounding Prosecco DOC.
Valpolicella (vahl-po-lee-CHEL-la) is an area northwest of Verona that is considered the source of Veneto’s best red wines, made from two or more of a set of native Valpolicella grape varieties. The largest component is Corvina or its stand-in Corvinone. Rondinella is also a required ingredient, while Molinara, Oseleta, and several other venerable varieties may make an appearance. From those raw materials, the Valpolicella area produces not one but four different styles of wine: medium-bodied (Valpolicella), full-bodied (Ripasso), very full-bodied (Amarone, ah-ma-RO-nay), and sweet (Recioto, ray-CHO-toh). Disappointed because you were looking for a light-bodied option? Don’t despair. Bardolino, from a lakeshore area a short distance west of Valpolicella, uses much the same blend of grapes, but makes lighter reds and rosato wines.
East of Verona is the Soave (SWAH-vay) wine area (right), Veneto’s premier white wine despite the market dominance of Pinot Grigio. Soave is made from an ancient grape variety, Garganega (gar-GAH-nay-ga). The best examples are generally those from the hilly part of the denomination and are labeled Soave Classico.
There are many more wine denominations in Veneto than the few described above—43 in all, several of them shared with one or more bordering regions. A few examples include:
Here is an illustrative list of some top producers of wines in Veneto, organized by areas of production. Their U.S. importer is listed where known (some producers may have other importers in different sections of the country).
Valpolicella producers (many of which also make Bardolino)
Lugana producers in Veneto