Allegrini's wine-making history stretches back to the 16th century. In the mid-20th century, Giovanni Allegrini modernized the operation, sought out national and international markets for his wine, and before he died, in 1983, purchased the La Grola vineyard, now the jewel in the Allegrini crown. Today, Giovanni's children, Franco and Marilisa, manage Allegrini's diverse portfolio.
The estate's vines cover 70 hectares in Verona, specifically Valpolicella. La Poja, the best parcel from the prestigious La Grola vineyard produces Allegrini's top wine, a deep red made entirely from Corvina. The lighter Palazzo della Torre bottling (local grapes plus Sangiovese) employs a variation on the classic ripasso technique: rather than a second fermentation on the skins that are leftover from making Amarone, a small portion of grapes (about 30%) are dried and vinified separately, then added to the rest of the wine, vinified in the conventional fashion. Other notables include the classic Valpolicella and the wildly consistent Amarone. Neither are to be missed.
Despite the high quality of its finest wines, Veneto is best known for Soave, which is among the top-selling imported wines in the U.S. and is often made in industrial quantities.
This region of northeastern Italy is also the source of Amarone--a very rich, concentrated, high-alcohol, dry red Veneto wine made from air-dried grapes pressed weeks or months after the harvest.
Veneto's Port-like Recioto della Valpolicella is one of Italy's best sweet white wines and is perfect with any chocolate dessert.
Italy, like France, offers a world of wine styles within a single country: dry Italian white wines ranging from lively and minerally to powerful and full-bodied; cheap and cheerful Italian red wines in both a cooler, northern style and a richer, warmer southern style; structured, powerful reds capable of long aging in bottle; sparkling wines; sweet wines and dessert wines.
Most of Italy enjoys a relatively warm climate, and the southern portion of the country can be particularly hot in the summer months. However, Italy's Apennine mountain chain, which traverses the country from north to south, provides an almost infinite number of soil types and exposures, as well as favored hillside sites in virtually every region, where vines can be cultivated at higher, cooler altitudes. Mountainous terrain has also resulted in the segregation of many small wine regions, enabling dozens of indigenous grape varieties to survive in near isolation. Here, Italy markedly differs from most of the wine world, which is becoming increasingly international in nature.
But Italian wine, as most North Americans know it, is a fairly recent phenomenon. Prior to the 1950s, only a tiny proportion of Italy's wines were even bottled by the farmer who grew the grapes. Most Italian wine was consumed by the local market. The Italian government's DOC system (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), created in the 1960s, imposed more explicit standards and thereby improved Italian wine quality while at the same clarifying the labeling of wines and thus making it far easier for Italian producers to ship their wines abroad. (Today DOCG -- Controllata e Garantita -- is theoretically the highest level in the quality pyramid of Italian wine, with this special status more recently granted to such historically important Italian wine areas as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino and others: areas that had previously enjoyed DOC status for at least five years.)
Of course, some of the most innovative Italian wine makers quickly began to look for ways to escape the restrictions of this system. They believed that DOC laws actually prevented them from making the best possible wines -- for example, by proscribing the use of certain grape varieties or by requiring them to age their wines in wood barrels longer than they believed was beneficial in some years. Those with a more independent bent essentially opted out of the system, instead producing wines that were simply classified as Vini da Tavola (table wines) but that in a number of cases surpassed the "official" best Italian wines in quality and price. (A new law passed in 1992 created the IGT category, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, for the innovative Vini da Tavola for which DOCs were not yet created.) These trailblazers have revolutionized Italian wine over a period in which French wines have merely "evolutionized."