A favorite Italian red of ours is Ripasso from the Veneto region in the Northeast of Italy.. A few years ago we traveled through this area which encompasses many micro-climates. The wines are also very diverse ranging from refreshing Prosecco and Soave to Bardolino, Valpolicella and Amarone. The Dolomites are in the background and the Adriatic Sea in the east. If you have your fill of powerful reds in this area you can travel a few more miles and drink some crisp Prosecco, sure to cleanse your palate.
One of the most powerful wines and also one of the most well-known is Amarone. This is also a very expensive wine as it is quite labor intensive. Only specific areas of the whole grape clusters are selected from each grapevine for Amarone. These grapes are then brought into the winery to be dried in attics. Many years ago the tradition was to dry them on straw or wicker mats but with new methods and attention to hygiene the drying is now done on plastic skids and racks. The drying process is controlled with the use of very large, noisy fans that help with air circulation. Standing in an attic next to these fans certainly does not fit the image of winemaking as mysterious or romantic! The drying process is known as appassimento and is quite unique to Amarone. The drying process reduces the moisture content in the grapes so they become raisin-like. When the right amount of drying is achieved the grapes are then pressed. The grapes that had been harvested in the fall are finally ready sometime in January or February. Only certain grape varietals are allowed to be used including Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. These grapes tend to have thicker skins than other varietals and therefore can stand up to air-drying. These same varietals are also used in making Valpolicella and Valpolicella Ripasso. In 2010 Ripasso was given DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) status. Though Valpolicella has been made for many years it experienced a decline in poularity in the first half of the 20th century. It was revived in the 1950’s by the Masi family when they introduced Valpolicella Ripasso. The Masi’s are a highly regarded producer of Amarone. The term Ripasso literally means re-passed. The technique for Ripasso wines begins with the basic Valpolicella wine which can be rather light in body. Once the juice is removed the remains of the powerful Amarone wine contain skins and stems. The basic Valpolicella is then added into this mixture. This process not only adds depth of flavor but the Valpolicella is allowed to referment producing higher alcohol content. By mid-February the wine is complete. You now have a stronger, much less expensive wine with many of the tastes of Amarone, fuller and rounder than that of a plain, lighter style Valpolicella.
So this winter when you are cooking lamb or steak just reach for a savory Ripasso as the perfect accompaniment!