Veneto is a north-eastern Italian region bordering Trentino-Alto Adige (North), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Northeast), Emilia-Romagna (South), and Lombardia (West). Surrounded by lush, green, rolling hillsides, Veneto is a mecca for architecture, food, history, and vino. Veneto was part of the Roman Empire until the 5th century AD, it then became part of The Republic of Venice, “La Serenissima” until 1797, and thereafter of the Austrian Empire until it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
The capital of Veneto is Venice, one of the most famous, and often misunderstood, cities in the world. Venice, during the maritime republic centuries, was the center of one of the richest and most dynamic empires in world history. Many notable people in history were born in Venice, such as the playwright and notorious lover Giacomo Casanova, the explorer Marco Polo, and composer Antonio Vivaldi.
Veneto is protected from the harsh northern European climates by the Dolomites. The Adriatic also keeps the winters warm and the summers cool, making Veneto one of the most ideal locations for growing many different grape varietals.
Modern Veneto is divided into seven provinces, each named after the provincial capital. These are Belluno, Padua (Padova in Italian), Rovigo, Treviso, Vicenza, Verona, and Venice (Venezia). Each province has a distinctive character, dialects and, as we shall see, unique cuisines rich in dishes and local produce – not too mentioned diverse winemaking traditions.
The Terroir of Veneto
Veneto is slightly smaller than Italy's other main wine-producing regions – Piedmont, Tuscany, Lombardy, Puglia and Sicily – yet it generates more wine than any of them. The terroir is rich and diverse.
Veneto can be split into several geographical areas, each characterized by unique climate and soil-formations. In the northwest the foothills of the alps hug the eastern edge of Lake Garda. East of the lake lies Valpolicella, with its sub region Valpantena, which translates to the “Valley of Many Cellars”. Valpolicella lives up to its name by producing 500,000 hectoliters of red wine. Here, the renowned Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone, and, near the lake Bardolino, reds are produced.
East of Valpolicella is Soave and east of that lies Gambellara. Both Soave and Gambellara produce the key white varieties, Garganega and Trebbiano, which is grown on volcanic soils, vinified in several styles – still, metodo classico, and passito. East of Gambellara we have the Colli Euganei around Paudua, land of the unique Moscato Giallo, and East of Paudua we enter into Prosecco land, with the city of Treviso at its center.
The region’s vineyards cover is 90,000 ha, with 35,400 of that being acclaimed DOC; annual wine production is 8,500,000 hectoliters; 55 % white, 44 % red; 29 % is DOC and DOCG wines. In the last 20 years, a burgeoning natural wine scene has taken Veneto by a storm.
The Red Wines of Veneto
Red grape varieties in Veneto: Rondinella, Negrara, Cabernet Sauvignon, Corvina, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Molinara, and Roboso.
Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara: These are the principal indigenous grapes used in Valpolicella reds including Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto dessert wine. They have large berries and thick skins needed to withstand appassimento.
Oseleta: “Little bird” takes its name for its small berry size. This structured red grape is arousing great interest among winemakers and is often added to Amarone.
The White Wines of Veneto
White grape varieties in Veneto: Trebbiano di Soave, Prosecco, Garganega, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco.
Garganega: The basis of Soave, Garganega is well suited to volcanic soils and produces crisp, dry white wines with flinty aromas and flavors of citrus, honey, and almond.
Glera: Formally known as “Prosecco,” vigorous Glera remains the basis for Prosecco DOC and DOCG still and sparkling wines. It is widely planted in the areas of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene near Treviso.
Pinot Grigio: Planted across northeast Italy (“Delle Venezie”), Pinot Grigio represents one of Italy’s largest exports.
Trebbiano di Soave: A synonym of Trebbiano di Lugana, this white grape is used in smaller percentages in Soave wines.
The Food of Veneto
From the seafood of the Adriatic to delicate sweets, Venetian food plays an imperative role in the formation of regional Italian cuisine. Unlike many parts of Italy, pasta is not the staple – that role is played by the double act of polenta and rice.
Venetians make and eat a pasta called bigoli. Bigoli is a thick spaghetti made with flour and eggs – although as with many things in Italy, there are lots of variations.
The large Venetian lagoon and Adriatic coastline to the east of the Veneto provides much fish for the dishes of the region – not forgetting that the western edge of the Veneto is dominated by Lake Garda.
Mussels, clams, crabs, anchovies, and sprats are in abundance and often on the menu. Bream and sea bass are found in the area and are often served as secondi (main courses). The black goby, a resident of the lagoon, often swims its way into risotto di gò.