I have been organising bike events here for nearly 10 years and planted a vineyard 4 years ago in Esporles. My holidays are become more of a blend of biking & wine than ever before. A few weeks ago I met some friends in Italy for a last minute cycling & wine trip. We took in Verona & Lake Garda and I was taken aback by the passion of the local residence of this spectacular region of Italy. Our trip was in May and we benefitted from the tranquility that Covid 19 has thrust upon us.
We based ourselves in Verona, and cycled to & from Riva de Garda. We squeezed a couple of visits to the region’s most well known vineyards, spent 2 days with the Giro d’Italia and consumed a fair amount of fresh pasta & meat.
Amarone della Valpolicella is a wine made with partially dried grapes in Valpolicella, Veneto, north-east Italy. There are three geographical sub zones; Classico, Valpantena and ‘Est’, the extended zone. Each of the three geographical zones has its own identity Amarone from Classico tends to be the most elegant and aromatic, versions from the Valpantena are generally lighter and fruitier.
There are a few permitted grape varieties in Amarone wine – the main ones being Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, plus some lesser known ones. Expect bold aromas of cherry liqueur, black fig, carob, cinnamon, and plum sauce along with subtle notes of green peppercorn, chocolate, and crushed gravel dust. Amarone wines often have medium to high acidity balanced with high alcohol. The wine has a of a touch of natural residual sugar (RS). This helps complement the wine’s naturally high acidity and adds to its boldness.
The key to the distinct characteristics of the wine, the process. Appassimento is the method of partially drying out the grapes, which are then slowly pressed, and slowly fermented, to make Amarone della Valpolicella.
Technically, there is only one way to make Amarone wine:
- Harvest of the grapes
- Grapes are laid out in drying lofts until there is 40% less liquid (called appassimento and can take as long as 120 days)
- slowly press dried grapes
- slowly ferment grapes into wine for 35–50 days (this is a long time for wine!)
My first highlight was the winery of the late Giuseppe Quintarelli. He put the Valpolicella region on the world wine map, and his benchmark estate is now run by daughter Fiorenza and her family. The estate produces about 60,000 bottles a year and is boutique in size compared to the production of the likes of Masi. Quintarelli’s extraordinary, limited-production Amarone – made using Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, cabernet, Nebbiolo, Croatina and Sangiovese grapes – is a Holy Grail for serious oenophiles. Other coveted classics include Quintarelli’s austere Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC, velvety Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOC, and spicy, potent Alzero Cabernet IGT.
Masi is the leading producer of Amarone and has always interpreted the values of the Venetian regions in its wines with total passion and commitment. The Masi story is the history of a family and its vineyards in Valpolicella: one of the finest Italian wine production zones, stretching from Verona to Lake Garda. The name of the company comes from “Vaio dei Masi”, the small valley purchased by the Boscaini family in 1772, still in family hands. Masi has expanded over the years with vineyards purchased in the best historical production sites in the Venetian regions. Masi also manages the historic “château” belonging to the Conti Serego Alighieri, the noble house descended from Dante the Poet, whose family members have lived in Valpolicella since 1353.
Today, Masi produces five different Amarones, the widest and most qualified range on the international market. Costasera is its flagship wine in the world and a benchmark in the Amarone category. Italy’s finest wines, in fact, include Amarone, together with Barolo and Brunello.
Cycling & Lake Garda
North of Verona, Lake Garda is the most family and water sports-oriented of Italy’s lakes. It’s also Italy’s largest lake, reaching from the steep Alpine foothills to the northern edge of the Po Valley. The southern shore is lined by beaches and backed by low hills, while in the north, mountains and sheer cliffs fringe the lake, especially along the western shore.
Our 100km route to from Verona to Riva del Garda was along the west coast. The first 15-20km out of Verona was hard work, tricky to navigate and lots of traffic – not aided by a monster headwind and numerous bottles of Greenie from our friends at Giuseppe Quintarelli. But once into the countryside it was very pleasant. Peschiera del Garda was the first village on the lake. The picturesque village on Lake Garda with an imposing fortress had a fantastic vibe and would be a recommended place to stop for a coffee. We instead headed to Sirmione for a coffee & a coke. The route took us along a shoreline that was bustling with families spilling out from the camp sites to the beaches and people participating in various water sports. We left the banks of the lake and it was head down until we reached Mokai Beach & Salò – where we joined the lake once again, this time from a more elevated position. The route took us through Toscolano, Gargnano & finally Limone – whilst the views across the lake were stunning, there were too many tunnels and hectic Italian drivers for us to do anything more than put our heads down and push on to the hotel.
The way back was the preferred side of the lake. In the sun, cycling next to the water and virtually no tunnels. The mentality of the drivers was also more akin to the drivers in Mallorca. Highlights were the cafe stop on the water just before Torri del Benaco and the village of Lazise. Lazise is one of Lake Garda’s most picturesque towns. It has a beautiful waterfront and a medieval historic centre full of shops and pastel buildings that resembles a town on the Riviera. With only about 25km left to Verona we were afforded a Bettie or two before heading into town.
We were lucky enough to be on the Sega di Ala with about 2km to go to see Dan Martin race to victory on the brutal stage 17 of the Giro. The climb has never featured on the Giro before. The first-category ascent averages 9.5 per cent over 11.5 kilometres. Its middle section is considerably steeper than that average. Our rental e-mountain bikes afforded us the luxury of an Aperol Spritz or two before pressing the turbo button & bombing past the exhausted masses to our vantage point on the climb. There was an incredible air of expectation the hill, with the supporters in fancy dress, music pumping and roads being painted in pink…. Dan Martin shot past us to victory with the mallet rosa a few minutes behind.
Our PCR test was in Rovereto a couple of hours before the start of stage 18. So we doubled up and saw the riders at a pedestrian pace through the streets.
This was my first experience of Grand Tour in the flesh and despite the limitations in access to the teams, it was a fantastic experience and well worth repeating. A great way to structure a few days away
Places to Stay
Lido Palace in Riva del Garda – https://lido-palace.it
Palazzo Monga in Verona – http://palazzomonga.com
Spine Tinglingly Good Traditional Restaurants
Antica Bottega del Vino in Verona – https://bottegavini.it/en/
Trattoria al Pompiere in Verona – http://www.alpompiere.com/it/
Malga Grassi – Rifugio Capanna Grassi, In the hills behind Riva del Garda
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