When considering Italian reds, Valpolicella is often overlooked. It doesn’t have the current buzz of, say, Etna Rosso from Sicily, or the prestige of Chianti Classico from Tuscany or Barolo from Piedmont.

But Valpolicella, from Veneto in northeastern Italy, is worth rediscovering for its fruit-forward profile, its drinkability, and its value.

There was a time when Valpolicella was a go-to wine at countless Italian-American restaurants adorned with those red and white checkered tablecloths, especially from a couple of big producers (ciao, Bolla and Folonari). It was cheap, fruity, easy to drink — and pretty generic.

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Fast forward to 2024, and Valpolicella is a lot more interesting, as I discovered tasting a broad sampling of the wines.

They take their name from the large Valpolicella region of Veneto, and are typically a blend of three native grapes: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, grown in the region’s calcareous, limestone, and clay soils. The sub-Alpine vineyards are cooled by the breezes of nearby Lake Garda, Italy’s largest. The better wines come from the Valpolicella Classico zone, but there are good ones to be found in the broader Valpolicella region as well.

While there are a number of styles (including the famed and powerful Amarone wines that are capable of long aging), I focused on classic Valpolicella and the richer Valpolicella Ripasso, which is made by “re-passing” the wine through a second fermentation with the grape skins that were used to make Amarone. This gives the Ripassos more concentration, tannin, color, and a bigger mouthfeel.

Regular Valpolicella is on the lighter side, and the good ones are charming — full of fresh red fruit flavors, softly tannic, and refreshingly acidic (a couple of them I tried had too much acidity). Sometimes compared with Beaujolais and Pinot Noir, they lend themselves to a chill and are versatile wines for summer. You can pair them with everything from burgers and pastas to grilled chicken and even full-flavored fish like tuna, salmon, and swordfish.

None other than Ernest Hemingway professed his love of Valpolicella in his 1950 novel “Across the River and Into the Trees,” referring to the wine numerous times and writing that Valpolicella “was as friendly as the house of your brother, if you and your brother are good friends.”

You’ll find that Valpolicella is, indeed, a friendly wine worth getting to know. Here are seven of the best ones to try:

Bertani Valpolicella 2021

Bertani Valpolicella 2021 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

A light expression of Valpolicella with red cherry, blueberry, and mineral notes. Beaujolais-like, this one is simple, delicious, and ready for a chill.

Price: $17
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Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore ‘Rafaèl’ 2019

Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore ‘Rafaèl’ 2019 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

There’s good complexity here, with spicy cherry and blueberry compote aromas and flavors, along with touches of vanilla, orange, and earth. Lightly tannic with perfect balancing acidity. The wood influence is subtle from 15 months in large Slovenian oak casks.

Price: $20
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Speri Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2021

Speri Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2021 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

Concentrated and bright, with cherry and dark fruit flavors along with hints of coffee, cinnamon, and garrigue herbs. A classic, balanced Ripasso. Also notable: Speri’s 2022 Valpolicella Classico, at around $20 or so, with notes of cherry, blueberry and forest floor. All of Speri’s wines are certified organic.

Price: $30
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Viviani Valpolicella Classico 2021

Viviani Valpolicella Classico 2021 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

Light and delicious with subtle cherry, pomegranate, cinnamon, and earth notes. Chilled down a bit, it was superb with grilled tuna, demonstrating Valpolicella’s versatility. It seems there’s more of the 2022 around, so I’ve included a link to that vintage.

Price: $21
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Nanfrè Valpolicella 2022

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Nanfrè Valpolicella 2022 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

Another light expression with aromas and flavors of overripe strawberry and stewed cherries, along with nutmeg, eucalyptus, and a hint of black pepper. I kept noting more complexity as the wine opened up. Aged without oak, it’s chillable and a good companion for grilled chicken or fish.

Price: $17
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Clementi Valpolicella Classico 2022

Clementi Valpolicella Classico 2022 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

Aged in stainless steel tanks, this is a beautiful expression of Valpolicella with no rough edges. Spicy cherry and vanilla notes are supported by medium tannins and perfect balancing acidity.

Price: $24
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Bussola Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore ‘Ca’ del Laito’ 2018

Bussola Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore ‘Ca’ del Laito’ 2018 is one of the best Valpolicella wines from Italy.

This was the biggest wine of my tastings — more like Amarone in feel with its concentrated fruit and dried herbs on the nose and weighing in at 15.5 percent ABV (most of the others are in the 12.5 to 14 percent range). That said, the wine is exceptionally balanced, with grapey and rich dark fruit aromas and red fruits emerging on the palate, along with accents of herbs and semi-sweet chocolate. This wine wants a steak or a rich, meat-based sauce.

Price: $27
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