Benvenuti, amici miei – welcome, my friends!
I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s “From The Archives” post, featuring the little known, yet delicious white wines of Italy’s Lugana region.
As I mentioned then, I got to know these wonderful whites – and their producers – during an industry-only tasting at San Francisco’s venerable St. Francis Hotel.
BTW, my friends, I’m following through on my promise to smuggle you into cool, “insider” wine-and-food events with me!
At this walk-around tasting, hosted by the wine consortia (associations) of Lugana and Valpolicella – neighboring wine-growing regions in north-central Italy – I was able to talk one-on-one with the dozen or so winery owners and winemakers from both areas.
(I trotted out my trusty (but rusty) college Italian, but all of the winery principals spoke excellent English.)
Unlike the white-wine-centric Lugana region, which we explored yesterday, Valpolicella features reds, in several different, widely varying styles. And unlike Lugana, which America has only recently discovered, Valpolicella is already firmly established here. Several of its wines, in fact, enjoy almost a cult status, and can fetch prices well above $100.
The three main grapes grown here are Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. “Basic” Valpolicella – fresh, fruity and unaged, and the region’s best-known style – compares to a nouveau Beaujolais.
The Valpolicella Classico style, aged for at least a year, is fuller bodied and more complex.
Next, the Amarone style amps up the weight and concentration of Valpolicella, due mostly to a unique, labor-intensive technique that dates back to the ancient Greeks.
After harvest, carefully chosen bunches of grapes are spread out on straw mats to dry.
As they shrivel, and the water evaporates, their sugars, acids and aromatics concentrate. These raisined grapes are pressed, the juice is fermented completely, and the resulting dry wine aged in oak barrels.
As you may imagine, Amarone is exceptionally rich and complex – and often quite expensive – $50 and (way) up. It’s not surprising that Amarone has acquired a bit of a “cult wine” status.
For a less pricey alternative, though, there’s the Ripasso (twice-passed) style, sometimes referred to as “baby Amarone.”
The Ripasso process adds the pomace (grape solids that remain after pressing) from the Amarone production to Valpolicella wine from the same vintage, and the second fermentation this kicks off builds in extra layers of flavor.
Unlike the ancient Amarone method, this technique was only just developed in the 1980s.
Though noticeably lighter than Amarone, Ripasso wines, thanks to the dried grapes that both styles are based on, share a “family resemblance.”
And their price tag – often only $15-$25 – is far more approachable.
Finally, a dessert version of Amarone, called Recioto and made using a similar drying technique, has lower alcohol (because the fermentation is stopped before it’s complete), and retains a generous amount of residual sugar.
It’s dense and inky, with berry-jammy, dark cherry and chocolate flavors – and wonderful on its own or alongside not-too-sweet chocolate desserts.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this freewheeling, two-day tasting of Lugana and Valpolicella wines, my friends. Come back soon, and we’ll explore more great flavors together!
Cheers and happy tastings,
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And be sure to tell your friends!
More details soon – See you on the inside!