Summer red: Valpolicella
Monday's sermon on Zinfandel with summery fare from the charcoal grill drew a lot of E-mail responses, including notes from a few of you who live in even hotter climes than I do, commenting that it can be tough to enjoy a big, highly alcoholic red wine when the Fahrenheit and the humidity both reach into the 90s at the same time.
This is true. There are times when an ice-cold sparkling wine, a light and fruity white or even a crisp, herbal rosé hit the spot. But sometimes you're in the mood for a red, even when the thermometer suggests white or pink.
Quite a few lighter-style reds fill this bill with fresh, fruity, snappy but non-tannic flavor profiles that can even take a light chill. We'll sample several of them over the next couple of months; today, let's turn to a Northeastern Italian red-wine favorite, Valpolicella.
Valpolicella, a pretty region in the hills between Verona and Lake Garda, lost some of its luster within the past generation because, for a time, much of the exported product was inexpensive, uninteresting mass-market vino. But times and tastes have changed, and much of the Valpolicella sold around the world nowadays has returned to the regional style that made it famous in the first place: Juicy and fresh, light-bodied and easy to quaff, with a characteristic scent of dried cherries that makes it relatively easy to recognize and just as easy to enjoy.
Valpolicella also makes bigger wines: The majestic and powerful Amarone and the hearty Valpolicella Ripasso, made by returning young Valpolicella to casks just vacated by the previous season's Amarone. But for pleasurable summer sipping, I recommend sticking with the simpler stuff, whether it's the basic bottling or Valpolicella Classico (made from grapes grown in the region's central and purportedly more desirable vineyards) or Valpolicella Classico Superiore (made under somewhat more stringent production rules).
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Acinum 2000 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Rondinella ($11.99)
The mention of "Rondinella" on the label suggests that this wine is made predonominantly with this variety in place of the usual Corvina in the blend, an odd thing since Corvina is generally considered the better variety. The formula works in this case, though, as this clear-garnet wine is a ripe and fruity delight. The aroma mingles characteristic Valpolicella dried cherries with a distnctly toasty, almost charred note. Light in body but big in fruit, it's juicy and fresh in flavor, with gently snappy acidity somewhat cloaked by fruit but sufficient for balance. U.S. importer: VIAS Imports Ltd., NYC. (June 4, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: An excellent match with lamb burgers made with a touch of Asian spice.
VALUE: Fairly priced in the $10 to $12 range.
WHEN TO DRINK: Valpolicella is meant to drink young. I would finish up this 2000 within the coming year.
WEB LINK: This link goes to the importer's Website, but I can find no information there about Acinum.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Seek vendors and compare prices for Acinum Valpolicella on Wine-Searcher.com,
Allegrini 2001 Valpolicella Classico ($13.99)
Inky dark garnet, almost black in color, this wine shows reddish-violet glints when held up to the light. Typical dried-cherry Valpolicella aromas are accented with distinctly spicy notes that hint of oak, but the producer's fact sheets indicate that it sees no wood but is kept over the winter before bottling in glass-lined cement tanks. Juicy and tart in flavor, ripe sour-cherry fruit is balanced by mouth-watering acidity, with a lemony tang in the long finish. Good, palate-cleansing food wine, a traditional blend of the indigenous Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. U.S. importer: Winebow Inc., NYC. (June 5, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a Spanish-style rendition of arroz con pollo, chicken and vegetables in saffron rice.
VALUE: Particularly with the strong Euro, I can't quibble with a price below the mid-teens for quality Valpolicella. It's worth shopping around, though, as some online vendors list it for less than $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Valpolicella isn't made for aging, and I don't see this one evolving in the cellar. That being said, oak and fruit and an acidic backbone should hold it for a few more years, given decent storage.
WEB LINK: Here is the winery's fact sheet on the 2001 Valpolicella:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find Allegrini Valpolicella on Wine-Searcher.com,
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Wednesday, July 7, 2004