The wines of Tenuta Chiccheri are a fresh, new take on the classic Valpolicella wines of Italy. The vineyard was founded by Giancarlo Ruffo on the eastern slopes of Verona province (of Romeo and Juliet fame) to the west of Venice, in the heart of Illasi Valley. Known as the New Valpolicella or Emergent Valpolicella to distinguish it from the Valpolicella Classico, this wine growing region is regulated by the Valpolicella DOC Disciplinare Di Produzione to ensure authenticity and quality. The soil here is rich in volcanic carbonates and the subsoil contains limestone; a foundation which yields wines with good intensity of colour and structure.
A business man with a passion for nature and wine, Giancarlo decided to start his own wine production company in 2003. He hasn’t always been a vintner, but his nature drives him to do everything with passion and emotion, including his winemaking. Thus Tenuta Chiccheri was born. He likes to say that it is in “nowhere land” because no GPS or navigator systems will get you there, you just have to follow directions. Up and down hills through vineyards and villages, and paths white and winding, until you reach the gate with the big barrel outside. There your heart will open and reveal you are in a magical place in the heart of the country. You are at Tenuta Chiccheri. Here, in the silence of nature, the only sounds are birds twitting, wind, bees and crickets during the summertime, the quiet of vines in the vineyards, and of wines in the cellar. This is the world of Tenuta Chiccheri, in the most eastern part of Valpolicella, at about 400 m above sea level.
Why Chiccheri? What does it mean? It’s an evocative name and a play on words. Chiccheri was the nickname of a peasant who lived in the region after the war. Every morning he rode his horse downhill for a chicchera (the local dialect name for cup) of coffee. But in Italian Chiccheri also sounds like chicco which means grape: hence Tenuta Chiccheri.
Quality is a watch word for Tenuta Chiccheri. They have good grapes for a good base and this is the first step towards their goal of a world-class wine, but that’s not all. Their skilled workers in carefully cultivated vineyards and cooled cellars contribute, as does their wine maker. The final ingredient that cannot be overlooked is what they give to their wines: passion.
They grow the area’s most distinguished grape, Corvina, as well as Corvinone and Rondinella (the 3 historically indigenous varieties of Valpolicella grapes). In addition the Croatina grape in different percentages and a different process of vinification gives Valpolicella – their entry level wine – a very fresh, grapey and easy to drink nature.
Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso is made according to the ripasso (refermentation) tradition. Leftover grape pulp, skins and seeds are added back to increase the complexity, colour and strength, followed by a short ageing in French oak barrels, yielding a trendy and appealing wine.
Their Valpolicella Superiore is like a “piccolo Amarone.” In the amarone style grapes are harvested as late as possible to build up their sugar content, then dried. But here they do so for a shorter period – only 3 months – and age the wine in French oak barrels for two years. The perfect adjective to describe the result is elegant, with a good bouquet of red fruit and spices.
And last but not least, Amarone: the king of their Valpolicella wines. It is traditionally made, drying grapes for about 4 months and ageing in French oak barrels for three years. The result is a ruby red, powerful wine, rich with the aromas of red fruits confit, vanilla, cinnamon, liquorice and notes of tobacco and cocoa. This proud wine can be matched with winged game or red meat, with old cheese or Parmesan, but is best drunk peacefully and thoughtfully.
Additionally Giancarlo, a great lover of Champagne, has made a side bet: to see if he can made good champenoise method sparkling wines in Valpolicella. So Tenuta Chiccheri also have Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes growing in their vineyards at 450-500 m elevation, to provide “Valpolicella” bubbles. The altitude and more calcareous soil yield good acidity, and by all accounts the bet has been won.
While a young label, Tenuta Chiccheri draws upon a long history and tradition of winemaking dating back to the ancient Greeks. The use of partially dried grapes was known as the “Greco method,” and the sweet wines of the region were favoured by the Romans in the 6th Century. With the founding of Tenuta Chiccheri, Giancarlo Ruffo is standing on the shoulders of giants, and has no intention of letting them down.
— Fred Holliss