By Rick Riozza

Ciao! Tutti! Greetings everyone! Last time we covered with a broad brush, the red comforting wines of winter.  And as fast as the wintertime season here in the desert treks, it may well behoove us to get our bellies full with some new and diverse red wines that are produced around the world.

Let me tell you right off, I simply love your exuberance to try and experience new and different wines, apart from the usual Cabs, Pinot Noirs and Merlots which we can always find in our wine bins.

Of course, for you lively wine enthusiasts, you probably know already what’s hot in the red wine world: the Italian “Ripasso” and “Appasimento” wines.  And while we’re at it, let’s just lay out all of the related wine names and styles that revolve around this “trending” wine that all come from the area of Verona: Amarone Classico, Ripasso, Valpolicella Classico Superiore and Recioto della Valpolicella.  Don’t get alarmed, this all simplifies by the end of the article.

Let’s get you comfortably situated so when you come across these terms at restaurants, wine stores, and in magazines, you’ll be ahead in the wine game.

For those who’ve never enjoyed an Amarone wine, a bit of heaven does indeed await you. Or, if you’ve not delighted in a bottle lately, hopefully treats are on the way.  The full name of this Italian wine is: Amarone della Valpolicella; an Italian red wine that is dry, but enchantingly provides illusions of sweetness. The irony goes on by the fact that “amarone” [ah-mah-ROH-nay] translates to “(the) grand bitter”. So what is it? Sweet? Bitter? Fruity?—well, we’ll get to the fruity in a moment.

What adds to the romance in the production of this wine (apart from its vineyard home in Verona, where Romeo & Julietta traipsed passionate) is the unique style where the newly harvested grapes are laid upon straw mats in a wine cellar room and left alone well into the winter months in this semi-drying process known as “apassimento”.

This withering gives the grapes a thickness where the natural sugars are concentrated providing complexity but not an enhanced sweetness (the concentrated sugars will turn to alcohol). This shoots the sensual nature of the juice to the stratosphere—flavors, aromas, texture. And to boot, the wine is aged in casks for no less than six years, creating a stable long-lasting structure and making it one of the longest-living wines in the world.

Okay—so that generally is how the world class wine Amarone is made: a stunning wine with aromas and flavors of bitter chocolate, cherries, coffee, dates, dried fruit & flowers, leather, licorice, plums, raisins, tobacco, spices & smoke. It’s a definite “bucket list wine” that every vino lover must taste, consider & contemplate, and hopefully appreciate & enjoy! Cheers to that!

Changing gears a bit, let’s discuss Valpolicella [VAHL-pohl-ee-CHEHL-ah]. This actually has always been a “mystery” wine for even those in the know.  That’s because it’s an area (as I mentioned—around Verona), and, it is a blended red.  For you wine geeks, it’s made from grapes with thick skins: the Corvina grape up to 40 to 70 percent of the mix, with Rondinella 20 to 40 percent and Molinara 5 to 25 percent. Up to 15 percent of the blend can include Barbera, Sangiovese, or Negrara, while up to 5 percent can come from other red grapes! I guess one can see where the “furtiveness” plays in.  But it’s the wide world of wine—and isn’t it fun!

For you vino lovers, Valpolicella can be a fresh lively light to medium-bodied wine with bright notes of red cherries, strawberries, floral, ripe red plums and light spices.  And this wine is the quintessential example of a ruby colored red wine.  Pour a glass and raise it to the light—looks like a bowl-full of rubies!

Definitely serve this at a jewelry store wine tasting; or more mundanely, simply sip it while listening to that Kenny Rogers country rock tune: Ruby—Don’t Take Your Love to Town.

So having an almost port-like fabulous full-bodied wine, Amarone, and, the light and easy Valpolicella, the Veronese desired a wine to bridge these dynamically different wines. 

Enter now our spiel on Ripasso.  Even for those who deign dyslexic whenever a foreign word is close by, we can all figure out that ripasso means “passing through again”.  And that’s the technique: fermented Valpolicella is passed through the semi-dried pressed grape skins from the Amarone production and fermented again.  This process can produce both a sweet wine: Recioto, and, a dry version, Ripasso.  And when you see “Superiore” on the labels, it simply means a wine with a bit more aging and over 12% alcohol.

Ripasso-style wines offer a convenient and affordable alternative to Amarone. Ripasso wines are rich, full-bodied and share some of the same aroma and flavor profiles as Amarone wines, just less so.

Tommasi family is certainly one of the most renowned ambassadors in the world of Amarone Classico, “Ripasso method” and the Appassimento technique of drying the grapes.  I’ve always enjoyed the line-up and portfolio of wines from this producer.  They have the utmost integrity in wine making historically since 1902, and their product is always impressive, elegant, and absolutely tasty!

Recently, wine critic James Suckling went absolutely ga-ga over the  2013 Tommasi, Ripasso Valpolicell (about $20).  “90 points!—a red with dried-berry, cedar, flower and almond aromas and flavors.  Medium body, lovely fruit and a flavorful finish. Drink now”.

We’ll drink to that!—Saluté