For this month’s wine club, we want to shine the spotlight on one of northern Italy’s jewels: Valpolicella Ripasso. Often referred to as simply “Ripasso,” it resembles what we imagine would be the outcome if you somehow crossed California Zinfandel with exceptional Ruby Port. However, to understand Ripasso, you first need to wrap your head around its father, Amarone.
First, let's understand the region where these wines come from. Valpolicella, a smaller subregion of the Veneto in northern Italy, sits near the city of Verona. It produces some of the most intriguing and powerful wines in the world, along with some of the lightest and simplest.
How is this the case?
In general, intensity in a wine comes directly from the ripeness of the grape, which in turn comes from the heat and intensity of sunlight in the region they reside. Northern Italy does not meet this criteria. Instead, winemakers in Valpolicella developed an ingenious - though very labor intensive - way to concentrate the flavors and sugars of their grapes. This allows them to make rich, thick, high alcohol wines.
Amarone uses the process we discussed above - called appassimento - to attain extremely rich flavors and texture. In essence, they make raisins from the native corvina grape, then crush and ferment them.
Step one is to leave about 40% of a given harvest on the vines longer than the rest. Next, winemakers lay out the grapes on bamboo mats to slowly dry over the course of months. This comes with significant risks. Like the northeastern part of the US, northern Italy has discernible seasons. Come mid-October, the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, and often wet. If not scrupulous enough, winemakers run the risk of mold and rot, which, in this case, does not translate well into the final wine. Once the grapes have sufficiently dried out, they are crushed, and the juice is fermented into an opulent, intense, earthy, chocolaty gift from the gods. Amarone truly shines as one of the greatest styles of wine from Italy.
Ripasso, equally as gorgeous, though not quite as huge, needs Amarone in order to exist. The term translates to “passed over,” or more accurate to this use, “to do something again.” An easy way to remember it is that it sounds similar to the English word “repeat.”
So, what’s “done again” mean in this case? The pomace from Amarone. Pomace is the pulpy mass of seeds and grape skins left over from the process of making Amarone. It still has plenty of flavor and tannins left to impart. So, to make Ripasso, winemakers take a separate, newly fermented wine made from mostly corvina, along with rondinella, molinara, and sometimes negrara. All of these are native to the region. This takes the wine from medium to full body, and imparts some of the character that comes from the raisinated grapes used in Amarone.
That covers the two most famous styles from Valpolicella, but if you want to continue expanding your palate, be sure to check out the other styles from Valpolicella, all made with the same grapes as Ripasso. Standard Valpolicella is essentially simply a thirst quencher, to be enjoyed slightly chilled and flexible with all types of cuisine, while Valpolicella Clasico and Valpolicella Clasico Superiore designate higher quality.
As always, we hope you love the wine we choose for the wine club! Enjoy!