Among Italy’s wine cities, Verona is unique: not only because it is, in the words of Paolo Monelli in his 1935 book ‘Il Ghiottone Errante’, a precursor to today’s gourmet travel books, “surrounded, like Florence, by many soft hills punctuated by cypress trees and festooned by vines”. No, this fact alone does not suffice to explain Verona’s originality.
To fully understand that originality, it’s necessary to walk in those vineyards and sample the wines. These are wines which, despite seeming so different in character and taste, are in fact quite complementary and unified. Their unity can be understood by the notion of biodiversity. While that word may have been abused of late, it is the concept of many diverse parts within a single, unified organism that can help explain Verona’s wine culture.
Monelli, whose sensitivity as an interpreter was underpinned by real technical ability, can help us get to know their many characters. First there is Soave, “clear-cut, nervous and lightly aromatic”. Beside him are the reds of Arcole, of Bordelais, balsamic intensity, and Bardolino, “gracious, gentle, appetizing, bright and compact”. Beyond them stand the Amarones, quite the reverse of the former: with their opulent, ample fruit they’re capable, using only their generous energy, of “forming and cementing friendships”! Here, on one side, are the sparkling Durello dei Monti Lessini, with their nerves of saline vitality and, on the other, the juicy Recioto wines, “whose very name brings on the desire to drink them” for their qualities of enfolding sweetness. Then there is the crisp freshness of the whites of Custoza and of Lugana, which are coupled with the tonic character of the reds from Valpolicella; or the spicy nuances of the reds from Lake Garda, which speak long-distance to the long-lined silhouettes of the whites from Valdadige.
There’s little to be done about it: if elsewhere one can speak about a love of wine, in Verona it’s to a cult of wine that one must refer. A lay cult, you understand, fed more by an openness to differences than by eclecticism, driven by omnivorous curiosity more than by the scores obtained in official wine guides.
The selection that has been gathered here is set to reinstate those differences.
Yet it has not been set up simply to bring together wines from the differing wine-making areas of the Veronese. This selection aims higher than that, to gather not only examples of the best that each area of production can offer, but to address another undeniably important distinction: the diversity of winemaking styles this single part of Italy can offer.
Never more than today has the identity of a wine, of its traditional or original character been more needy of the interpretative talents of its producer. Of his or her ability to propose a vision and define a style for their wines. It is precisely in this range of differing approaches of expression that we can appreciate this selection of wines from Verona Wine Top. Together they offer a stimulating repertoire where the idiosyncracies of the most personal artisan wines can stand beside the more technical, reassuring definitions provided by the large cooperatives, along a route that can be appreciated by everyone, from beginners to experienced wine lovers.
After all, what is wine culture if not the desire to acquire an ever more lively and active taste for the game of spotting analogies and differences which presents itself at every wine tasting? Where does a passion for wine take us if not into a more intimate dimension of flavours and of the beauty that nurtures them?
I’d like to quote Monelli again, but this time from his sentence ‘Verona è la grande osteria dei popoli’ (Verona is the great osteria of the peoples), written after he too had been summoned to Verona to select and judge its wines and foods. At each mouthful of food or sip of wine he felt himself “more able to fully appreciate the beauty of the city, and more determined to possess it.”
If things were still like that today, if we too could imbue a wine with the ability to create a similar stretch of empathy and through it feel closer to the beauty of the place it came from, no doubt could possibly remain about the cultural value of drinking wine. And in our ideal box of treasures, alongside the recording of an opera heard at Verona’s Arena, a book on the art of the Scala family, and a DVD of the latest film of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we’d find a few bottles of the best wines from Verona too. Especially if they were amongst those in the Wine Top selection.
Giampaolo Gravina earned his degree in Philosophy at Rome University.
He has a PhD in Art Theory research; for over 10 years he has taught at the Sapienza University in Rome as part of professor Edoardo Ferrario’s department of Phenomenological Aesthetics. During the same period, Gravina also developed his passion for gastronomy and wine. In the mid 1990s he opened a restaurant, Uno e Bino, in the San Lorenzo sector of Rome. He also produced a radio programme about wine and culture on RadioRaiTre, called Pure Spirits. He has become one of Italy’s foremost wine experts. Since 2001 he has been a vice-curator for the I Vini d’Italia annual wine guide published by L’Espresso.
He speaks about wine and organizes tastings, seminars and conferences on wine. He is a regular contributor to Enogea magazine, to Go Wine, and to the restaurant guide published annually by Gambero Rosso. Gravina is 45 and lives in Rome.