Among the verdant, rolling hills of Italy’s Valpolicella region near Verona, winemakers have been turning out wine since ancient Greek times. Once we’d soaked up Verona’s architectural splendor, and had seen Verona’s Arena and Juliet’s Balcony, we traded city life in fair Verona for a wine-tasting excursion in the countryside, replete with the region’s famed Amarone and Valpolicella wine.
Our escape took us to the Massimago Winery in the village of Mezzane di Sotto, situated in one of five valleys of the Valpolicella region. As we left Verona, the city’s pleasant hustle and bustle gradually gave way to lush green vineyards recently awakened from a winter slumber, slopes occasionally dotted with lacy cherry-blossom trees, cypresses stretching to the sky, and graceful estates.
With its quiet streets, and classic architecture, I was instantly taken by Mezzane di Sotto’s elegant, yet laid-back charms. The town’s roots go back to Roman times and it originally belonged to the Bishop of Verona. From the 15th Century onwards, it was home to many noble families. Today, its population numbers around 2,000.
Getting to Know the Grapes of the Valpolicella Region
At Massimago Winery, they principally use three types of grape varietals: Corvinone, Corvina, and Rondinella. Occasionally, they also add a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon.
This trio of grapes can produce very different types of wine, based upon the time of harvest, and when they are pressed. The entry-level Valpolicella, for example, is made with grapes harvested and fermented immediately. The pricier and beloved Amarone is made with grapes harvested later in the season, which then dry over the winter months on mats, crates or rafters, before being pressed. As you can guess, the grapes lose a great percentage of their weight as they’re transformed into raisins, which results in a boosted sugar content, and ultimately, a higher price tag.
Massimago Winery: A Melding of Tradition & Innovation
Massimago winemaker, Camilla Rossi Chauvenet is working hard to marry modernity and tradition at the incredible estate that’s been her in family since 1883.
Sitting on a swing-set under a 400-year-old mulberry tree which still has remnants of her childhood treehouse, we spoke with Camilla as her loyal German Shepherd, Brina, remained at her side.
“We hope to give new energy to wine culture and show young people that wine is cool. To do so, we try to make it fun – one needn’t be a wine connoisseur to enjoy wine,” she said.
Convinced that each bottle of wine “has a voice,” Camilla commissioned an accomplished pianist to compose a song for each wine with the hope that consumers would savor the wine and music simultaneously. Each label also bears a poem, written especially with the wine’s unique characteristics in mind.
“We invite visitors to partake in the grape harvest too,” she added. “A Japanese traveler once biked all the way to the winery from Venice and stayed one month during the harvest.”
Massimago produced 30,000 bottles in 2012, and aims to increase that number to 100,000, all while trying to incorporate eco-friendly practices and innovative projects.
After the tasting and nibbling session – with our favorite not surprisingly being the Amarone, literally ‘the bitter’ because of its full-bodied taste – Shawn and I set out to explore the estate’s grounds replete with vineyards, olive trees, fruit orchards, and biodiversity. At the edge of the neighboring forest said to contain more than 800 different plant varieties, we yearned to further explore this landscape of the Veneto that looked as though it’d sprung forth from a canvas. The setting sun caused us to take a different path though, and as we rode home, the Amarone’s cherry, plum, and cinnamon notes still danced on our palates, reminding us that we must return.
Flight of Wine:
- 2012 Massimago Rosae Saignée, with 13% alcohol content. Aged in stainless steel. Made with Corvina (65%), Corvinone (30%) and Rondinella (5%) grapes. Skins left in contact with the juice for about 8-10 hours, then removed.
- 2012 Massimago Valpolicella, with 12.5% alcohol content. Aged in stainless steel. Made with Corvina (65%), Corvinone (30%) and Rondinella (5%) grapes.
- 2010 Massimago Valpolicella Superiore, with 14.5% alcohol content. Made with 50% dried grapes, and 50% fresh. Aged one year in barrel, six months in bottle. Made with Corvina (65%), Corvinone (20%) Rondinella (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) grapes.
- 2010 Massimago Amarone, with 15.5-16% alcohol content. Aged two years in barrel, one year in bottle. After three years, a winemaker is allowed to sell it. Made with Corvina (70%), Corvinone (15%) and Rondinella (15%) grapes
Video of this Experience:
Where in the World?
- The Massimago Winery is located in the outskirts of the village of Mezzane di Sotto, about 13 km. (8 miles) from Verona. They offer wine tastings and bed & breakfast stays, and more innovative programs like custom picnics and yoga retreats. Camilla was also eager to point out that they’ll enthusiastically welcome travelers who’d like room & board in exchange for assisting during the grape harvest.
- We day-tripped to Valpolicella’s wine route from Verona, and stayed in a centrally-located bed and breakfast in Verona called the Ai Leone (affiliate link). We found our room at the Ai Leone to be comfortable and clean, and it was not far to walk to the Old Town center either, including Verona’s Arena (Arena di Verona) and Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta). In the Ai Leone’s communal kitchen, we enjoyed meeting travelers from around the world, chief among them a fun family from Brazil celebrating its matriarch’s birthday.
- Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Italy.
Disclosure & Thanks:
We were graciously hosted by the Massimago Winery, to which we extend thanks.
To Camilla and Francesca we extend an additional grazie mille / hearty thanks for taking such good care of us!
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.