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.
43 thoughts on “Amore for Amarone: A Springtime Wine Tasting in Valpolicella, Italy”
Great blog, and stunning photos. Thanks for sharing!
Travels and Tomes, many thanks for your kind words. With scenery as stunning as the Valpolicella, documenting it came easily. :)
Wish I could just snap my fingers and be there. Thank you! Valpolicella, woohoo! 😃
Malen, here’s hoping you’ll get a chance to visit the region someday soon. We were fortunate to have been there during spring – the cherry blossoms were breathtaking!
Your pictures once again are amazing and I feel like I am there with you!
Darlene, many thanks! The region is absolutely stunning, and we were lucky to have been there at an even more photogenic time of year, to coincide with the spring blooms. It was hard to extract ourselves. :)
Living life at it’s best: on the slow lane. Always great posts…
“Life in the slow lane.” I like that, Alessandro, and couldn’t agree more about that approach’s appeal. :)
It’s funny – I’m made up of a quirky blend of European ancestry, but as far as I know I’m not at all Italian, somewhere where I feel very much at home.
Grazie as always for joining along!
Wine making is truly a labor of love and you and Shawn are enjoying the fruits of the labor, history of the area and definitely good company. :)
A “labor of love” indeed, Lynne. Sometimes, I get a yearning to delve into winemaking, but with each tasting and chat with winemakers, I realize more and more how complicated the process is. I think we’ve been fortunate to enjoy the best of both worlds – we get to sample the wine and mingle with the special people who’ve put their heart and soul into crafting it, but don’t have the worries that could come with poor growing conditions, or something going wrong during the aging process.
That being said, I do hope to participate in a grape harvest sometime soon! We’re contemplating doing so in Croatia this autumn, but our curiosity was certainly piqued when we heard that this winery in Italy also welcomes people interested in experiencing the tradition.
Tricia, great post as usual. I agree with your answer to this last of Alessandro. Living here in the U.S. I am more home sick to Italy as far as a country, when I went to Italy last year, I felt so much more at home and so connected.
Cornelia, isn’t it funny how one can feel so at home in some foreign spots, as we both do in Italy? As much as I feel comfortable in foreign locales, of course there are things I miss about ‘home.’ In addition to family & friends, cheddar cheese and Mexican food are at the top of that list. :)
Every time I read a post here I come away hungry! Your food platter looked divine. What a gorgeous way to spend a day.
Carol, it sounds like I’m doing my job then. :) You seem to make it over to Europe pretty frequently, so here’s hoping that you might get a chance to visit the Valpolicella region and try the wine for yourself. Have your travels already taken you to Verona? It’s only about 20 minutes from Verona to this wine-growing region.
No we haven’t been to Italy yet, but it’s on our wish list. Our travel plan is to see somewhere in Australia one year on a longer holiday and then do somewhere overseas the following year. So far we’ve done that every year since 2008. Aren’t we lucky. This year we are having three weeks in Western Australia in July and I’m looking forward to it very much. Even to go to Perth from here is a five hour flight.
Carol, how wonderful that you’re able to mix up local and far-flung travel as you do! I haven’t yet been to Australia, but as your comment noted, the country is so large – I wouldn’t know where to begin. :) I suppose that’s how many visitors to the United States feel as well.
Yes, Australia and the USA are roughly the same size in land mass, the biggest difference being that there are 50 states in the USA and only 6 states and 2 territories here. I think with any trip you need to decide what you definitely want to do, accept that you can’t see everything and just go with your choices. Many people come to Australia and they go to Sydney, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, which are all thousands of kilometres apart and then think they’ve done Australia.
Carol, you’re making a great case for working in Australia for a year or more so that we can properly explore the country. :) In hindsight, I wish we could’ve made it there when we were in Bali a few years ago, but we knew we couldn’t do the country justice with a short trip of a week or less.
You would enjoy it here and I would say you would need at least a year to even scratch the surface. Get the longest visa you can and then decide!
Such a tempting idea. Will have to research it, Carol. :)
You will have to come and visit me if you do!
That would be fun, Carol. Perhaps we can meet over a glass of Australian wine, and do a photo walk. :)
You’ve got a date!
Great post, looks like my kind of weekend.
Mark, we spent just an afternoon here, but thought it’d make a wonderful weekend retreat! Good wine, stunning surroundings, a pool, and calm. I would’ve loved to have gone walking in the forest if we’d had more time. :)
Those are big wines – – big in flavor and big in alcohol. It must have been very enjoyable to taste them.
Gerard, I’m always impressed by your knowledge of wine! This was our first time trying Amarone, and the experience was made more special since we were doing so in the terroir that makes the wine what it is. I would love to return someday. :)
You take us away to another place – so wonderful – so breath takingly beautiful it is almost not real.
Virginia, wouldn’t it be incredible to have had this home in your family since the 1880s as this winemaker has? I was impressed not only by the estate’s grounds, but by the classic antiques inside. I love that they’ve probably been handed down for generations.
You really bring us so close to this winery with your photos and writing…emotional in both its history and current work. What a tradition and way of life they have created, and you fortunately have been able to experience and share. Love the photos of the exterior of the home as well as the landscaping around the place. In such an environment, enjoying a flight or two of wine would be perfect!
Randall, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Certainly, winemaker Camilla has done a brilliant job of melding tradition & innovation here, while respecting the integrity of the home and gorgeous surroundings. I wish we would’ve had more time to return so that we could have savored more of their Amarone, perhaps with its commissioned song playing in the background. As someone who loves playing piano, I appreciated how a musician composed a song for each of these wines. Adding the musical component allows a wine tasting experience to touch all the senses.
It seems the ambiance that Camilla created, especially the music and your appreciation, would have been pretty overwhelming…not sure if I would have left. Such wonderful travels, and great people you meet along the way.
Randall, you’re absolutely right about it being hard to leave. This region is a place where I could imagine chancing upon a tiny home in need of restoration, and staying there for a long time. But then, I’d wonder if a desire for wandering would enter into the picture. Ah, the tug between planting roots and exploring. :)
Nothing better than wine and cheese! Cheers!
Agreed, Sonia! I’d toss bread into that list as well, but it’s often tricky to find gluten-free baguettes while on the road.
Now, wine tasting in Italy is on my to do list, thank you for the inspiration :)
Mermaido, glad to hear that the glimpses of Valpolicella inspired you. I’m eager to get to additional spots in Italy, so that we can try some new varietals. So much history, and sweeping landscapes to make it quite special!
Gorgeous photos! Bookmarking this for a future trip! :)
Mille grazie, mfryan! Such gorgeous surroundings there, making my camera work overtime. :)
I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and really enjoy it! Amarone has been my favorite wine for a few years – our go-to for celebrating! Thanks for all the info about where it is made!
Hi Tovah, I can see why Amarone is your preferred wine. This was my first time sampling it, and how lucky we were to do so in the area where it’s grown. Now, whenever I hear Valpolicella, I associate this part of the world with delicate almond and cherry blossoms. I hope you get the chance to visit Valpolicella someday too. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Salute!