© by Sheral Schowe
Ripasso Valpolicella. What a spectacular wine that many people are unfamiliar with, due to a lack of understanding of the name. The common reaction to this wine label is, "Isn't Valpolicella that cheap, uninteresting Italian wine?" That would be like saying, isn't that Chianti DOCG Riserva that cheap stuff that comes in a straw basket. Absurd, you say, but how do you think we got to the point of realizing how great a Chianti could be? Experience, in a word.
Valpolicella is a wine zone in the Veneto region of north east Italy. It earned its DOC status in 1968. At that time, certain minimum standards were imposed as to the type and amount of certain grape varieties as well as the amount of alcohol, and aging time before release. Valpolicella wines have three grape varieties in their blend including Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. Each of these lend unique characteristics to the wine. One for acid, another for flavor, another for neutrality and bulk. In the past, the poor Valpolicella has been nick-named "twice skimmed milk." But improved viticultural and winemaking procedures have upgraded the level of quality in recent years.
Now for the Ripasso part. Ripasso is an Italian term meaning repassed. It is a technique that adds additional flavor and alcohol to the Valpolicella. The unpressed grape skins to make raisinated wine called Amarone are added to the already blended and fermented Valpolicella. This adds an incredible amount of body, character, and style to the typically simple wine. The benefits of this process are oxidized and botrytis flavors and additional tannins. The tannins give this wine a few extra years in the cellar as well. The process of creating a Ripasso wine only occurs in exceptional vintage years. The latest one available in our market is the 1997, which was a pretty great year for Chianti as well. It is an expensive technique, which fetches a high price, but not nearly as high as an Amarone.
I enjoy the Zenato ($18.95) Ripasso very much. This year I tried the Tommasi Viticoltori Ripasso 1997 ($19.95) which I have recommended and used in several Italian wine tastings. In fact, I'm so sold on this wine, I have served it to well over one hundred people in the last two weeks, at various functions. My favorite food match for this wine was Greg Neville's pork "Arista" served at Lugano's new Loggia. There, 61 Les Amis du Vin members voted this wine as a favorite, out of six selections for their five-course meal.
Now that you know about the name as well as the process behind this wine, try it with a special dinner of lamb, pork, beef, or a variety of cheeses.
May 29, 2001