VIA Community Guest Blog: Valpolicella Blends by David Pinzolo

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VIA Community Guest Blog: Valpolicella Blends by David Pinzolo

So, Professor Scienza concludes, in past years it was common for grape growers and winemakers to look at non-local varietals to give that extra little help to their wines, today the trend is towards these same folks to focus on local indigenous varietals...

Professor Attilio Scienza

David Pinzolo is Founder and Co-Owner of Three Tier Partners, a consultancy advising foreign wineries on brand positioning and route to market strategies for the USA market, as well as an Italian Wine Ambassador. Here, he helps break down Professor Attilio Scienza's response to some questions from Franco Zhang regarding Valpolicella blends and regulations. Franco, of Changsha Vinopera Wine Trading Co., did lots of homework and went to various resources to try to get a satisfactory answer to these questions that had come up in his work. In addition to the Professor's answer, David went above and beyond to really try to get to the root of Franco's questions and he even did some additional research to help provide thorough answers.

Listen to the original recording of Professor Scienza's response to Franco's questions in Episode 279 of the Italian Wine Podcast (starting around minute 16:50).

Further Research by David Pinzolo:

Question 1: If a producer wanted to add Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to the blend of Valpolicella, could s/he do so and in what amount?

Answer (Pinzolo): Yes, you can add those varietals in the blend as long as the combined amount they contribute is no more than 15% of the finished blend, and each of these 2 varietals individually (Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) is no more than 10% of the total blend.

Question 2: If a producer wanted to blend Sangiovese and Oseleta in the blend, could s/he do so and in what amount?

Answer (Pinzolo): Yes, The producer can blend Sangiovese and Oseleta into the blend up to a combined maximum of 15% of the wine with neither varietal individually measuring more than 10% of the total mixture.

Question 3: What about blending Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot?

Answer (Pinzolo): Same as above, all 3 varietals are specifically mentioned in the disciplinaire and therefore they can make up a combined total of 15% of the final blend making sure that none of these 3 varietals individually comprises more than 10% of the finished wine.

Question 4: Does this mean you can blend other varietals like Nebbiolo, Primitivo, or Nero d'Avola in the blend?

Answer (Pinzolo): Although these are all indigenous varietals (varieta' autoctone), none of the 3 grapes mentioned above seems to be authorized for use in the DOC/G wines of the Veronese area. Of course this does not mean that a well argued request for authorization may not be successful in having them included in the future.

Currently the varietals specifically approved to produce red DOC/DOCG wines in the area of Verona in the amount of no more than 15% of the finished blend (with single varietals not allowed to contribute more than 10% of the mix) are:
Corvina (min. 45% max. 95%),
Corvinone up to a max. of 50% provided Corvina is reduced proportionately (i.e. if Corvinone is 50% of the blend then Corvina must be no more than 45% of the blend), and
Rondinella (min. 5% max. 30%).

The remainder can be made up of 15% of the following grapes combined, each of which cannot be more of 10% of the blend individually:
Cabernet Sauvignon,
Cabernet Franc,
Spigamonte, and

The other indigenous grape varietals that can be used in the red DOC/G blends from the Veronese area appear to be (limited to no more that 10% combined and no more than 10% individually):
Schiava Gentile,
Schiava Grigia,
Croatina, and
Enantio (Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata o Lambrusco Nostrano). Apparently unrelated to the Lambrusco family of Lombardia and Emilia Romagna... (needs to be confirmed, authors note).

Translation of Scienza's Answer by David Pinzolo:

In 2019 the disciplinaire for the area of Verona was changed. Corvina went from being no more than 50% of the final blend to making up from 45% to 95% of the blend. For all intents and purposes a producer could now make a Valpolicella wine using almost entirely Corvina. It is acknowledged that Corvina (and then Corvinone) are the 2 varietals that offer the most from an organoleptic point of view with regards to desirable characteristics as a result of the drying process the grapes have to undergo to produce Amarone della Valpolicella. In addition Corvinone could be used up to a maximum of 50% of the blend, as long as Corvina was reduced by the same amount (as described previously in this note).

Why is this significant? It is significant in two respects.

1) Minimum Grape Drying Period to Produce Amarone: Although the disciplinaire for the production of this wine does not specify a length for the drying time it nonetheless specifies that fermentation cannot begin prior to December 1st of the harvest year. Prof. Scienza then makes the case that with changing climatic conditions the grapes of Corvina may reach the optimal stage for conversion to wine prior to the December 1st deadline and as such it would preclude the producer from selling those products as Amarone della Valpolicella.

Enter Corvinone. A little less prized than Corvina but nonetheless related and therefore sharing some of the aroma and flavor profile, Corvinone as its name implies is the "Big" Corvina. Since the size of the individual grape is larger it contains more water in proportion to Corvina and therefore in warmer years it will allow the producer to reach the December 1st deadline with raw materials that present better characteristics than the Corvina which may be too dehydrated and perhaps even compromised from an organoleptic profile.

2. Resistance to Certain Fungi (Esca): Mature Corvina plants are quite susceptible to the Esca disease, a blight provoked by 2 strains of fungi -- Phaeoacremonium Aleophilum (Eppo: TOGNMI) Phaeomoniella Chlamydospora (Eppo: PHMOCH) Corvinone is much less susceptible to this infection and its resulting consequences.

So, Prof. Scienza concludes, in past years it was common for grape growers and winemakers to look at non-local varietals to give that extra little help to their wines, today the trend is towards these same folks to focus on local indigenous varietals and so its is more an more unlikely to find grapes other than the following used in the red DOC/G Veronese blends:
Molinara (making a comeback after years of neglect, Pinzolo opinion -- originally I was told by producers like Gaspari, Allegrini, Accordini, Camerani ecc that they were focusing more on Corvina at the expense of Molinara because the latter did not give good results as the wine aged in the bottle),
Oseleta (Pinzolo opinion -- Boscaini [Masi] together with Gaspari [Zyme plus other winery clients] were two of the first big proponents of this almost lost varietal), and