The beautifully green and conical, ex-volcanic hills north and east of the city of Verona in the region of Veneto is home to some of the most renowned names in Italian wine: like Soave, Amarone, and Valpolicella; but as much as I love a good Garganega-based white like Soave, tonight’s post is all about red wine. And of all of the great and not so great wines that come from this area (unfortunately, too many producers in this region have been seduced by the quantity over quality trap) Amarone is undoubtedly the market king, and it’s not hard to see why.
Amarone (whose full name is actually Amarone della Valpolicella), like all Valpolicella wines, is typically made from the grape triumverate of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, with the possibility of adding at least another handful of local varieties to the mix. Amarone’s wild popularity hinges on its sweet, powerful character that is derived from the process by which it is made. Know it or not, Amarone is made from partially dried fruit. After harvest in the Fall, the fruit that will become Amarone is placed onto straw mats called graticci, and stored on multi-layered racks in well ventilated barns until the Spring, over which time the fruit dessicates losing approximately 40% of its water weight. After the drying process, the berry’s sugars and pigments are concentrated which ultimately yields wines with high alcohol, deep color and a slightly sweet character; in other words, wines that are real crowd pleasers.
Straight Valpolicella wines are made from the same stable of grape varieties minus the drying process like any other red wine is produced. And then there is the Valpolicella wine called Ripasso which essentially splits the difference between Amarone and straight Valpolicella, and that’s what we’re talking about tonight. Here’s how it works…A producer will make a regular Valpolicella, and leave it to rest until the drying process and vinification of his or her Amarone is also complete. Before bottling the Amarone, the dried skins are filtered out of it, and are then introduced into the regular Valpolicella for a time which induces a second fermentation that enriches both the color and the alcohol levels of this new ripasso wine, which as you might infer, gets its name from this process of “re-passing” these Amarone squeezings through basic Valpolicella.
As I allude to in the title of this post, Valpolicalla Ripasso, at its best, incorporates the fresh, fruity, and balanced character of regular Valpo with the rich, powerful, dried fruit “sweetness” of Amarone, which ultimately makes for a warm, and totally unique style of wine. And this particular wine represents ripasso at its best, for sure.
Because of the extra oomph that the ripasso process imparts, these wines pair very well with intensely flavored dishes, so with that in mind, I made crostini spread with a mousse of mortadella and red pepper paste, followed by a northern Italian style pollo alla cacciatore with sage, rosemary, a bit of tomato paste, red wine, and porcini mushrooms with some roasted Jersey asparagus (the season was pushed back a few weeks due to our chilly early Spring weather) to go along with it.
Ca’ del Monte Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2007
Brownish, deep ruby/magenta color. Very intense, complex and elegant nose of currant raisins, dried cranberries, plums, cloves and cinnamon spice, dried flowers, damp earth, walnut butter, and menthol. The decidedly full body is deep, rich, and round with gently dry and smooth tannins, and a juicy acidity that provides an overall great balance that lays out a platform for deep and clean flavors of chocolate covered cherries and blueberry compote. Very long and warm blackberry finish. A wine of great drinkability and “typicity”.