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Italy’s magical Verona offers many delights. Young lovers kiss by the homes of Romeo and Juliet. Musicians enjoy summer opera under the stars. Families revel in the fun and beauty of Lake Garda.

And all of it is made complete with a glass of red wine.

Grape cultivation around Verona dates as far back as Roman times. Wine needed to be high in alcohol and sugar, both to survive transport and stand up to the spicy, aromatic cuisine of the day. A 1,000-year-old document described Verona’s Valpolicella as drinkable no matter how it was stored.

The grape production zone encompasses three areas. The first, known as Valpolicella Classico, includes three valleys northwest of the city. Second, a narrow finger of vineyards just north of Verona is called Valpantena. East of town there are three more valleys in the area known as Valpolicella East.

Each zone imparts distinct characteristics to the grape harvest. The mineral composition in the soil, weather effects from the mountains and Lake Garda, and a variety of sun exposure, governed by the elevation and orientation of vineyards, all affect flavor and quality.

The reds from Verona are a blend of three native grape varieties. Corvina gives the wine its body and color. Rondinella adds tannin and a floral touch. Molinara offers acidity and aroma. The percentage of each is regulated, and up to 15 percent of other varieties may be added (such as Barbera, Trentina or Sangiovese). The controls offer producers a great deal of flexibility while at the same time maintaining historical integrity. The result is wine with subtle nuances and distinctive flavors.

The grapes produce three principle red wines. First is Valpolicella. It has a balance between sweet fruity flavors and a dry, almost sour taste, and is typically served with lighter pasta dishes or young cheese. Bottles will be labeled “Classico” or “Classico Superiore,” which refer to the zone where the grapes were harvested, the quality of grape and the aging process.

A bottle of Classico should cost less than 8 euros. Classico Superiore, aged longer and imparting a fuller flavor will run 12 to 18 euros.

Recioto is a sweet wine, more complex and higher in alcohol than Valpolicella. Traditionally a dessert wine, some Reciotos are well-balanced with a smooth finish, enjoyable any time. A bottle will cost 12 to 20 euros.

Finally, there is Amarone, called “Verona’s Noble Wine,” with its velvet texture and full-bodied spiciness. Served with strong meats and aged cheeses, Amarone is the result of a complex production process. The best grapes are hand-selected and carefully harvested to ensure the skins are not broken.

About 15 pounds of grapes are placed in a single layer on special wooden crates. They are left to air dry in a well-ventilated room for up to 100 days. Fermentation begins in metal vats and continues in oak barrels for up to two years. Once in bottles, the wine will be left to mature another one to six years, depending on the vintage and the producer. A bottle of Amarone may cost as little as 20 euros or as much as 200.

Whatever your preference, the red wines of Verona will deliver a satisfying and memorable treat — like a pleasant visit to your brother’s house.

Jim Sajo is a freelance writer living in Italy. E-mail him at: james_sajo@ yahoo.com.

If you go ...

About the wine: There are hundreds of wine producers, so choosing a wine can be tough. Here are some good names to buy: Allegrini; Le Salette; Tommasi; Giuseppe Lonardi; Musella; Speri; Le Ragose; Serego Alighieri; Tenuta Sant’Antonio; Viviani.

Each year, Verona hosts a five-day international wine fair beginning the first Thursday in April. Last week’s “VINITALY — International Wine and Spirits Exhibition” featured 4,047 producers offering samples of their best wines (including 278 wines from 38 countries). Olive oils and wine production equipment and technology were also featured.

Getting there: By Air: Verona’s airport has direct flights from throughout Italy, Germany and the U.K. A bus for downtown departs about every 20 minutes. Ryanair flies into the nearby Brescia Montechiari airport from London and Rome.

By rail: Verona has frequent train connections from Milan, Venice, and Bologna.

By road: Autostrada A4 and A22 intersect at Verona. Use the Verona Nord exit for the city center. In Italy, the Esso and AGIP stations on the highway accept NATO fuel coupons.

— Jim Sajo


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