In September of 2016 seven Ontario friends, colleagues and I paid visits to 18 Valpolicella estates over four days. We stayed at the perfectly situated Hotel Villa Moron in Negrar. We were formally introduced to the Veronese gastronomy and a set of Valpolicella wines at Locanda ‘800, a Negrar Valley institution. I expect some of you will know it. We visited the following estates. Buglioni, Pasqua, Santa Sofia, Ca’ La Bionda, Novaia, Sartori di Verona, Nicolis, Tenute Salvaterra, Valentina Cubi, Fidora, Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar, Ettore Righetti, Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve, Massimago, Corte Adami, Bertani, Zonin and Ca’ Rugate. Dinners were also taken at Osteria Numero 1 in Fumane, Antica Osteria Paverno in Marano and Ristorante Nicolis in Verona. It is my pleasure and, indeed, my privilege to tell you this Valpolicella story. Such as it is.
The permutations are many but well-defined. Valpolicella, a style of wine as much as anything though qualified as a set of possibilities all capable of being labeled as a DOC; Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore and Valpolicella Classico Superiore. Ripasso, a next level stylistic, a traditional technique that promotes a second fermentation through the basic Valpolicella’s contact with warm dried grape skins from which Amarone has been pressed. This practice slightly decreases the acidity and increases the alcoholic content and enriches the wine with a greater concentration of sugar, glycerine, dry extract, polyphenolic substances and aromas. Ripasso intends to promote a heavier structure and longevity.
Amarone knowingly set aside, at least outside the terms of this report, tradition looks to Ripasso as the top of the pyramid for Valpolicella wines but when we talk of terroir, of marl, clay and limestone, of 11 valleys and all the hills, what represents the truest expression of Valpolicella? Authenticity must be borne out of spontaneity, in a product that shows itself in different ways, in every year. It should never act the same way twice. Valpolicella must remember the primaries; geology, geography and climate but also colours, uncontrollable forces and natural tendencies. Memories are only built on that which is not forced. “The importance of little details,” with thanks to Camilla Rossi Chauvenet.
It’s all about the valleys. Do the grapes grow in the Valpolicella Classica or not? Corvina is king, corvinone and rondinella (often for colour) support while molinara may or may not bring up the rear. Sometimes there is croatina and oseleta. Pergola or Pergoletta Veronese is perpetuated as the training system of record, at times in double Pergoletta style. Guyot and high density planting continues to creep into consciousness. The Burgundy ideal will always play into the minds of all.
Valpolicella hails from the hills north and east from Verona. To the immediate west is Lago Garda and further to the east, Venezia. The Valpolicella extends from Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella to Val Tramigna in three sub zones, Valpolicella DOC Classico, Valpolicella DOC Valpantena and the eastern or extended Valpolicella DOC. The valleys; Fumane, Marano, Negrar (Valpolicella Classica), Quinzano and Avesa (Valpolicella), Vaplantena (independent), Squaranto, Marcelisse, Mezzane, Illasi and Tramigna (Eastern Valpolicella). The area is 80,000 hectares of which 7,600 are planted under vine. The Classico area is 45 per cent of the total. More than 60,000,000 bottles are produced annually, 45 per cent of which are Ripasso and (32) Valpolicella. For an in-depth analysis of the appellation production zone and a proposal for the delimitation of the principal viticultural areas of the hillsides seek out the map of Valpolicella Crus by Alessandro Masnaghetti.
Masnaghetti contends “however vast and variegated it might be, the Valpolicella is rather easy to sum up and describe.” Geographically speaking, that much is true. From a quality standpoint, there can be much debate. Tradition, even if spoken in terms of dry red wines, is hard to break and in Valpolicella the collective style is virtually unparalleled anywhere, considering the breadth and quantity of wine produced. Over the past 20 years the area of vineyards has doubled in the Valpolicella and the 60M bottles produced put it highest for any Italian PDO. The consistency of homogeneity is clearly a harbinger of sales and quality but sustaining such growth without a compromise to quality is surely the tallest of orders. Those producers attempting to challenge the current order are necessary for diversity and to preserve the perpetual health of Valpolicella.
A trip to Valpolicella is a most intense, concentrated and often repetitive exercise, much like and in mimic of the wines produced throughout the vast area and so pit stops in and out of Verona are both obvious and necessary. Verona may be most famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but it is truly one of the unconscionably beautiful cities of this world. It is a place that brings characters and events to you. With eyes open wide and faculties able to maintain focus you will continuously look and carefully listen, so that the stories come to you. Verona repeatedly delivers moments of awe. At dusk overlooking the Adige from the Ponte Pietra. At night in the busy Piazza delle Erbe. Musing over several hundred varieties of Gin at the Frz Lab Bar. Sipping on Champagne outside of Osteria Alcova del Frate and Patrick Piuze Chablis at Antica Bottega del Vini.
I’ve included some examples of IGT Verona at the end of this report to expound on two polar bookends of the 21st century ideal. Winemakers make use of the designation to fashion Super Veronese, wines of local meets expatriate varietals bathed in oak. Still others make Valpolicella doppelgängers with traditional varieties that can sometimes act more like Valpolicella than so many legal examples approved under the DOC. The IGTs with international grape varieties blended in and subjected to new oak need time to develop and will age into their bubbles welling with balsamic, chocolate, espresso and even truffle. There is no disputing the modernity and mimicry of other Italian brethren and sistren. Recent changes to labelling say that a wine exceeding 80 per cent of a local variety (like corvina) could in fact now be called a Classico Superiore though if the methodology of winemaking (and/or growing) messes with the plan there are some that don’t resemble one in any shape or form.
More pertinent to this investigation is in holding hope that wines produced under the auspices of rogue decisions will soon find their way out of the scrap heap piled high due to discriminatory DOC penalties. Things like bottling under screwcap, omitting sulphites and exploring “the terroir and grape varieties to the fullest by pushing all boundaries.” Valpolicella is and can be even more progressive, not just to increase market presence, Amarone sales and the bottom line of all Valpolicella wines riding the skins of their provider, but also to lead with innovation.
This report is due with great respect and thanks to Olga Bussinello, Director of the Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Vini. Also to John Szabo M.S. and Federica Shir. The trip and subsequent 8,500 words would not be possible without the company of esteemed, stupid smart and even funnier colleagues; Julie Garton, Joshua Corea, Annette Bruley, Lauren Hall, José Luis Fernández and Nick Chajoglou. Last but certainly at the top of the list are the Valpolicella wineries, their proprietors, winemakers, export and marketing folks who received us. Tiziano Accordini, Roberta Speronello of Bertani, Mariano Buglioni, Alessandro Castelanni of Ca’ La Bionda, Giorgia Lanciai of Ca’ Rugate, Valentina Cubi, Gabriele Righetti (and the whole family) of Ettore, Eugenia Torelli and Emilio Fidora, Camilla Rossi Chauvenet of Massimago, Luca Bissoli of Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Martina Fornaser and Giuseppe Nicolis, Marcello Vaona of Novaia, Chiara Pinamonte of Pasqua, Gianpiero Rotini of Salvaterra, Alex Guardini, Elisa Biasolo and Giancarlo Begnoni of Santa Sofia, Carmen Stirn and Andrea Sartori, Gaetano Bertani of Tenuta Santa Maria and Francesco Zonin.
I give you 64 reviews; Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella and IGT.
Bertani’s Valpolicella is not classified Classico because the grapes come from Valpantena and Valpolicella Classica, 80 per cent corvina and 20 rondinella. Fermented in stainless and aged one year in concrete. Basic, commercial, effective, red cherry and tanky leather, seamless and untouchable. Commercially corrected and correctly traditional Valpolicella. Low in alcohol, acidity and complex capability. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016 cantine_bertani churchillcellars @ @ @cantine.bertani @imbibersreport
It gets neither more obvious or direct in a perfectly commercial Valpolicella package, one that is highly fruity with a sidle over to the funky cherry side and would always benefit from a slight chill. A leathery note more suede than new strop distracts but only for a moment because of the omnipresent acidity. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted June 2016 cantina_valpolicella_negrar noble_estates @ @ @CantinaValpolicellaNegrar @NobleEstates
Rio Albo is drawn from vineyards in the hilly area of Montecchia di Crosara and is a blend of corvino (45), corvinone (40) and rondinella (15). Fresh fruity, very tangy, viscous, liquorice and plum Valpolicella. Firm but very juicy, with quite a bit of concentration. Very modern and forward but not overly extracted or pressed. Just up there with the ambitious, confident and in balance. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016 carugatevini @carugate.aziendaagricola
Monte Tabor is the name of the Sant’Ambrogio estate and this is pure delight from the purest, cleanest and most honest red fruit found anywhere in Valpolicella. Fermented and aged in only stainless steel, to push the fruit borne in requiem of a proper selection, even in the giving 2015 vintage, but pushed by higher learning from the challenge of the previous one. Establishes a base, like a song in celebration tells Emilio Fidora. “We are very good farmers, even if we are not super with making wines.” Joking aside there is no cheating here, just honesty and back to basics ethics. The notes talk of cherries at peak but then there is this calcari and marbling as per the mimic of the terroir. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted September 2016 and July 2017 fidorawines thelivingvine @ #fidorawines @ @fidorawines The Living Vine inc.
From the Illasi Valley, composed of 50 per cent corvina, (30) corvinone and (20) rondinella, another singular effort in its inaugaural vintage, rusty and rustic, not exactly light in spite of its transparency. Great visceral soil tang, in line with a top notch bardolino and while firm there is a brightness about it. A moment of tonic. Could drink this often and with thanks to some good length in its persistence. Excellent for the vintage with 5 g/L of RS and also richer than you think. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
Few reference points can prepare you for Massimago’s style of Valpolicella so simply use this as the ingress. Plucked from vines in the Mezzane Valley in the east part of Verona province, rising from the village of Vago towards Mezzane di Sotto. Camilla Rossi Chauvenet’s precocious blend is the crisp, crunchy, pure as driven white limestone portal into the soils laid out in amphitheatre vineyard grid. Camilla uses only stainless steel tanks here to accentuate a basal clarity brush stroke on her Valpolicella canvas. This from a selection of the grapes that will not enter the Amarone process, the second and third pass harvested bunches. Cherry and silty saline mingle at the interces of limestone. How can you miss the white stone in the naked Valpolicella? You can’t. It’s without make-up, transparent, naked to the world. The wine speaks a natural vernacular and the land is spoken for. If villages-level Bourgogne were made like this all would be well in the world. Lithe, delicate and perfumed. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
Family history matters. It begins with Paolo Vaona, then Bruno, followed by two sons, Gianpaolo and Cesare. Today it is Marcello (Gianpaolo’s son) and Cristina (Cesare’s daughter) who have transformed Novaia, or “new courtyard” into the organic farm it is but also to the new age for Valpolicella, predicated on experimentation, mistakes, triumphs and changing the way the region will think about its storied wines. Because, as Marcello reminds us, “in the beginning there was only Recioto. So getting to this moment was a long journey and Novaia’s Valpolicella named Vino Biologico can’t be labled Classico because it’s under screwcap. That will change. It’s fresh, spicy and of no oak. It’s natural ease and yeasty feel mesh with saline, terroir-drawn variegate and it’s so very specific and focused. Love the cherries and the lithe 12 per cent frame. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 bwwines @ @ Marcello Vaona (Novaia) @bwwines
Iperico (St John’s Wort) is made of corvina (65 per cent), rondinella (25) and molinara (10), a wine confidently in purport of the ’14 intel., with an early note of musty, damp forest floor, currants and flower compost. All of the earthy components are exaggerated by the vintage with nothing to cover it up, but the palate is silky in a transparent way and acidity that softens, like a saline streak, as an ancient underground river would impart, as if by Willamette Valley pinot noir. This is singular stuff in Valpolicella. As before, raised only in steel. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016
Iperico is a blend of corvina (65 per cent), rondinella (25) and molinara (10), similar in character to 2014 but with a compressed reduction to the compost and yet a striking come about from an increase to the sharpness. The acetic push is a key factor in the linear definition. Torched marshmallow skin, bitter herbs, umami savour, the flowers still fresh, the fruit vibrant and all tolled, a beautiful vitality. An intense wine, again like pinot but also like Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol teroldego or Piemonte alter-ego varieties, specifically grignolino. As with Sin Cero, raised only in steel. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016 #valentinacubi @ Valentina Cubi
In 2014 the entire crop was sold off to bulk wine because the quality was not considered up to standard. The Valpolicella Classico 2015 is composed of corvina, rondinella and 18 per cent croatina, with no oak and a flash raised three months in stainless steel. An increase in quality might arise from training by Guyot (2-4 but generally 3 kilos) says Mariano Buglioni, but this Valpo is from vines trained by pergola to yield quantity (3.5 to five kilos per vine). Certainly some warmth on the nose and the result here is both floral and acetic, fully crushed, simple, firm and fruity, though not too firm nor infirm. The vintage is promising across the range and here this lingers quite long, clean, crisp and a bit chewy. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 buglioni_azienda_agricola marianobuglioni #buglioni @cantine.buglioni.9
From the Righetti family, from grandfather Ettore to grandson Gabriele, Vigneti di Ettore’s Valpolicella Classico may just be possessive of the most quaffability of any Classico, all red fruit and in the optimum bring it on zone. The acidity and whatever momentary firmness accorded is functiional and better still, beautiful. As basic and categorical as life in Valpolicella grapes should be and only made more complex because it pleases so. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 vigneti_di_ettore #vignetiettore @vignetidiettore
Stylistically this Ettore Valpolicella Superiore ’14 is a departure, or perhaps it is ’15 that changes course. I get the feeling there is more grandfather Ettore inherent here and grandson Gabriele drives the ship next season. Or perhaps it’s just a case of vintage. Nature versus nurture arguments aside this ’14 takes a step deeper and away from simple red fruits into a more variegated gathering that includes blue (berry) and black (currant). Still quiet and quite restrained, elegant even, said despite the creative license employed with that word. Greater acidity balances the more developed and deeper fruit and so balance is fully realized. More pleasure in a slightly adjusted bell-curve way. I’d drink up some ’15s for a couple more months while waiting for the more awkward 14s to come around. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
So simply pure, clear, concise and precise. Ripe cherry, brightness, transparency and unadulterated. Every day Valpolicella, the way it was and the way it needs to be encouraged to remain. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 santa_sofiawines @ @SantaSofiaWines
A post oxidative must has made transference to personality lifted by a reductive odour within and expressive of ripe, firm fruit without. Dark but not exactly black cherry, with little to no oak but certainly cariries the characteristics of a wine that has had a cup of coffee with wood. The collection is ultimately reductive, smoky and dangerous. The caramel finish is a sign of a wine not unlike some new world takes on old world grapes. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 tenute_salvaterra tre.amici.imports @ @ @tenutesalvaterra
This silly inexpensive blend of 45 per cent corvina, (30) corvinone, (20) rondinella and (five) croatina spent five months housed in the big barrels. Valpolicella of stronger, deeper, traditionalist methodology. Firm and low tonal, baritone Classico, mahogany and leather, naugahyde and deep black cherry. Clean and balanced. Old school with a great understanding of things done right. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 sartoriverona fwmcan @ @ @SartoriVerona @FWMCan
Zonin Valpolicella Classico DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (475145, $13.10, WineAlign)
Zonin’s Valpolicella Classico 2015 is corvina with some molinara and rondinella, aged in 2nd and 3rd passage large barrels but no barriques. Clean red fruit and despite some tonneaux time really quite fresh. Sour cherry, textbook, elevating, commercial, technically sound. Clean as a whistle. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 zonin1821 @ @zonin
Profasio establishes new territory for Valpolicella Superiore from Mezzane Valley fruit in a wine over dinner “that lets you talk.” A careful and specific selection of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella (65/30/5) is subjected to “un leggero appassimento,” or a “slight withering” from one month of drying and the rest kept thankfully and respectfully fresh. The child is raised in stainless steel for five months plus one year in 2nd and 3rd passage barrels. This is Valpolicella meant to partner up with dinner for two, replete with secret recipes and crossing glances. “We feel the appassimento method is about levels of aromatics,” tells Camilla Rossi Chauvenet. In such a contrary to Superiore belief we find freshness and anti-jam the goal and as a result, the wine is allowed to tell a story. A script written cursively, crisp and pure, crunchy like the normale with an addendum of aromatic profiling; cherry, leather and red citrus. Profasio is a wine of good temper and vision (and could mean profezia, or prophecy, or perhaps a surname in reference to Dante and the Veronese ebraico’s Almanacco Perpetuo), a Valpolicella into a second level of contemplation, but not too much. The wine causes no worries, no anxiety and shoes are left at the bottom of the mountain. Profasio with its hint of dried momentum is a wine of communication and a new way of communicating. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016 massimago @ Massimago
Valpolicella Classico Superiore
Mariano Buglioni’s Valpolicella Superiore 2013 sees a blend of French and Slavonian oak, aged for two years, the first 18 in Inox plus six months in the barrels. The blend is nearly the same as the Valpolicella Classico 2015 but with eight to 10 per cent croatina. A well-balanced split between fresh and dried fruit comes through on the nose, with some fennel, tar and rosemary. Firm and mildly tannic, black cherry and bokser to the palate, chewy again, of texture, with structure and the slightest tingling fizz. Not so much a fizz as much as an electric current tang. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
From the Fumane Valley, an airy, aerified, soft and blowsy, carbonic felt Valpolicella, at once to a whole bunch sensory response and then for thoughts to big hose pumpovers. Saline, from vineyards stretching up the hillside from 350 up to 500 plus metres high. Classic red fruit and nettle meets impartial red limestone, citrus with as much salty sting as their can be. Many Valpolicella turn out this way but few are as blatant and obvious as this. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 accordini_stefano majesticwinesinc @
In 2015 the blend is 70 per cent corvina, with 20 corvinone, rondinella and molinara. Some producers decide not to produce this level in Valpolicella but Alessandro stresses its importance. It allows him to make a selection for the other categories and the young vines can better service this wine. Only in stainless, bottled in February, this is beautifully natural. Molinara has less colour but brings salinity (a.k.a minerality). Here plays the opening card for the cellar. Fresh cherries, inviting acidity, such freshness, bright, effusive, so drinkable. Began the harvest on September 2nd. Must have been the first in town. The acidity is that special. As a footnote, no Amarone is made from this vineyard. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016 #calabionda lesommelierwine #CaLaBionda @ Azienda Agricola Cà La Bionda @LeSommelierWine
In the world of Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2014 was a difficult vintage with lots of rain, some development of botrytis and as a result many bunches were dropped, reducing the output from 120,000 to 80,000 bottles. It was also (and concurrently) not a great vintage for Amarone so some of the vineyards that would feed the big wine were diverted to the Superiore. Aged 18 months in oak barrels, averaging 20 years (16-25) from Casa Vegri vineyard, the wood is by now integrated, the vintage compendium resolved with kept freshness and ripe tannins. Very young, alive, in and out of biting but never sharp. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
It was a warm vintage, similar to 2009, here at four years with a stand up and be counted, noticed and no questions asked applauded level of maintained freshness, despite the heat of the moment. I say this because there is a slight elevation in volatility, a hyperbole as compared to 2014, but also more compression and mineral tonic. With eyes shut tight I get to this point with such properly rendered corvina, corvinone et al swirling in my mouth and my senses acute to the variegated fruit character. And I know this is more serious and of a Campo Casal Vegri structure to let it age another seven to eight, at the least. How does this apply to later vintages? Only time will tell. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted September 2016
Alessandro Castelanni comments how “it’s nice to taste old vintages because we have to stop and note the things we need to do. To figure out how to get acidity, freshness, lesss quantity, more quality.” Looking forward to 2016 Campo Casal Vegri will be the first vineyard of full organic certification and looking back 2002 was the last year using selected yeasts. And 2010? “One of my favouritre, classic vintages,” smiles Alesandro, “cool, with some rain but not too much.” A season of the enervating diurnal shifts in temperature and with “the colour of corvina.” Late September harvest, now here, suddenly, the magical Classico Superiore impossibility, shy but real, the moment of volatility anything but, the plum-cherry-strawberry current running through with live wire elegance. Natural wonder of corvina and subsidiaries, with secondary character just beginning though they were always there, fennel, the territory occupied by he who may not be named, but fresher, cleaner, more precise. Again, not a baby Amarone and not giving the market what it ignorantly thinks it wants. This wine can establish or re-establish the market, to bring back (or bring the contiguous and contagious style from out of the dark and into the mind of tasters that need to be directed. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted September 2016
A little bit more rustic than the foward ’10 and ’12 vintages, more liqueure and from a smaller production, more bretty volatility, certainly concentrated, with colour and yet the acidity is still buzzing. “Too rustic for my tastes,” insists Alessandro and here greener than the younger vintages. The linger is quicker and the drying tannin a force more blunt than the forward years. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016
When the vintage offers great fruit ambition often follows and so the strength, volatility and power comes with little surprise. A really dense and equally tart Superiore has this citrus streak running through. After an hour in the glass it’s all chocolate and the perception of heat units increases though 13.5 per cent alcohol is a reasonable frame on which to cling. Give it a year to come together and see it seduce with some secondary notes, including balsamic, dried fruit and spices. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted September 2016 corte_adami coliowinery #corteadami @ @CorteAdami @coliowinery
The traditional wines of Nicolis are mostly from the Valpolicella Classica region which are night and day different than those from Valpantena (central Valpolicella and eastern Valpolicella “alla garta,” the stertched boundary. Their Classico shows high acid, cherries, past red before black fruit, liquid pomegranate, red ruby chalk. Reduction keeps talking, a bit hot methinks but with some air it cools off and just acts simple, amenable and what it needs to be, which is fruity. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016 nicoliswinery #thevineagency @ @ @NicolisWinery The Vine – Robert Groh Agency
This Valpolicella is ahead of the Ripasso in terms of quality because it is a particular Superiore, from a volcanic soil and single vineyard, “I Cantoni” at 400m. The wine submitted to a 10 per cent loss during the one month drying process plus 18 months in wood in a combination of barriques but also 1000L and 1500L larger barrels. An expanded, airy, moussy, floating fresh Superiore. There is spice in its step and so it dances on the tongue. Not so much floral as ambrosial in its rich and thick aromatics. Definite bitter chcolate and cimmerian dried fruit but the palate is not heavy or cloying. Some mushroom and truffle demi-glace, savoury, umami initialization in in the stages of the begin. But it can still improve. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted September 2016
Montegradella is 70 per cent corvina and corvinone plus 30 rondinella that saw 40-45 days of drying. The grapes come from the Valpolicella classica region, from vineyards planted on loamy marl in the hilly countryside of Fumane, San Pietro in Cariano and Marano. A special multi-vineyard designate Valpo aged for two years in 70 per cent large oak and 30 per cent small barriques. Some of the terse corners receive the smooth couverture of the amalgamation of barrels, the amore and aroma deeper into black cherry and beginning to hint at chocolate melting into espresso. Structure forms like the first sculpted clay to practice and prepare before switching more permanently to work with the marble of it to receive its first chisled stroke. Persistent and concentrated, Montegradella is a full cupboard of slow-developed spice. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted September 2016
Il Tabarro (The Cloak) is an opera in one act by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami, based on Didier Gold’s play La houppelande. Il Tabbaro the Valpolicella is a house-consistent blend of corvina (65 per cent), rondinella (25) and molinara (10) plus some wood aging after the steel. The use of selected yeasts, temperature control and some sulphite addition separate it from Iperico though the Guyot, Pergola doppia and Pergola semplice growing methods are the same. A selection is completed both in the vineyard and in the winery to pick the right grapes for this classification. Deeper and richer but still pure red fruit, wild cherries and because of the treatment, an extra level of refinement. I would still drink this any day over a high percentage of the region’s Classico Superiore. Bright and alive palate with nothing but fruit and spice. And length. Plenty of length. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Bertani Ripasso Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (395087, $17.95, WineAlign)
Just released, also a combination of Classica and Valpantena fruit, 85 per cent corvina, 10 merlot and 5 rondinella. Not much distinction from the Valpolicella, of a similar fruit profile, cherry and leather, here restained in alcohol and in avoidance of seeling itself with sugar. Some firm grip, a step towards liqueur but very clean, celar and precise for Ripasso. Quite dry especially in relation to many other regional takes. Aged in Slavonian oak barrels. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
Certainly carries the torch forward from the Valoplicella but with some pomace addendum, without the concentration and with a mere tacky furthering from the barrels. Older ones (225L) and for just six months. Same on the verge but quite shy of oxidative so that the fruit stands out and the rusty quality remains bright. Plums are fresh with that variegated purple skin/red fleshiness and then plenty of spice. The sugar level is 6.5 g/L RS but it’s negligible considering the style. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Yet another new launching point, this time for the much maligned Ripasso category, acquiesced through the fresh urgency of the whimsical Marchesi MariaBella. The fruit is borne of a a much earlier ripening vineyard outside of Massimago, perched only at an insignificant 100m on Argileux soil. This a Ripasso I will wager large you have never tasted before. La Bella Poesia, “is different because its literary destiny has followed a strange path.” To say that a feminine disposition, temperament and engagement fills not just the aromatics but also the texture would be a Valpolicella understatent of this early century. There is virtually no dried fruit on the nose; there is more tension than the two classic Valpolicellas which is both counter-intuitive to terroir and to methodology. Ripasso needs to carry both weight and tension. It needs to have some elegance. It requires acidity and freshness. This walks that very line and it will age gracefully and with beauty. Incidentally to answer the query of whimsy each character on the label represents the democracy of the proletariat. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted September 2016
From a not very good to certainly difficult vintage, the alt-Ripasso is made in the following manner because Macrello Vaona explains that “it’s a strange way to make wine but we do it to improve the body and the structure.” No drying, just the use of the wet skins towards the second fermentation. This has a very elegant, smooth, controlled, cool (13.5 abv) temper. Sees one-year in barriques and larger tonneaux, very little new to gain the calming Ripasso. Black cherry though light and fresh but on the flip side firm and direct. “What I want to produce is a drinkable wine, without thinking too much because the wine is too strong and has destroyed the food.” Well done Marcello. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016
The vintage in Novaia’s hands is antithetical in terms of Ripasso, with more acetic notes but also elevated florals, more fresh than potpourri. It’s quite spiced but in deep, masala ways, into the umami of mushroom and a roasted forest wood smoulder. Plenty of tea and then a clearing of the skies with brightness at the finish. One of the more variegated Ripasso studies to ever come across. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted June 2016
Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore
In the realm of Ripasso this busy label Romeo and Juliet love letter of a Venetian is markedly more Valpolicella Superiore in style. No Ripsasso ever breathes so fresh and light and the Pasqua-made red is therefore part deception and part delight. I for one am pleased with the result, all fruit and little to less hydration and rehydration. There is a simplicity to it that leans nouveau but again, the simple and pure act of red fruit love is a laudable attribute. Just a bit of white peppery spice late reminds that fruit was once passed over some Amarone lees and that barrels parts were in the leavening mix. Chill this for best results. Many a consumer will enjoy the platitude. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted twice, September 2016 and February 2017 pasquawines #ChartonHobbs @ @ @pasquawinesitaly
Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore
An inviting initial feigned freshness but then a posit tug of structure in the difficult vintage. Plum fruit and the same balsamic tone afforded the Classico but here the darkness begins to cover the fruit, with the classic but modern secondary fermentation passage over the Amarone skins. One year in French oak plus some large Slavonian oak. Already showing some secondary mushroom and truffle. High acidity, stark and driven, like a Doors Texas back beat. The smokiness heads straight to the back of the brain. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
Quite similar and consistent to the ’14 though with more personality and further resolved into the secondary character traits; mushroom, truffle, forest floor, savoury herbs, tart berries, juniper, tonic and nearly umami. Pretty much what would be expected. Some affirming vitality reappears at the end. Nice Ripasso. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
Quite evolved, deeper into the boletus and digging into a spongy, mid-autumn forest. Composted pine and some limestone here with more chcolate than either of the two younger (’11 and ’14) were showing. Seems to be more oak impart in 2009, either because the barrels were newer or because the vintage made the request or showed some intrinsic accord with it. Acidity is still quite solid, tannins nearly past. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016
More acetic vintage and not as much oak as expected, especially as compared to 2009. A consistency of secondary aromas is noted, from the woods and the boletus that appears every fall, depending on the vintage, in 2008 not quite as pronounced. Good persistence, very classic, totally in the zone. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016
Fermented on skins from the Amarone, Buglioni’s Ripasso went with four weeks of drying grapes, blended as 75 per cent with 25 per cent. Nicknamed “Bugiardo,” the liar, because this is what the wine is. Another electric Valpo but here with some salumi, quite a bit of salumi actually and some liquid cherry smoke. Also earthy with a truffled note and then more smoke, smoulder, in the chamber beside the fire. Quite an even keeled Ripasso, in between concentrations, acidity and tannin. Clocks in at a very reasonable 14 per cent. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted September 2016
Ca’ Rugate Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)
Here we are again fully entrenched in 2014, from whence it was nearly impossible to make a really fine, elegant and getable Ripasso. Again 45, 45 and 15 (corvina-corvinone-rondinella), the holes filled in with more extract and careful selection than many. The green current and tobacco are not instigators but rather spectators to the fruit. Perhaps a lower percentage of skins here and more fresh fruit. This has the liquid red ruby citrus-grapefruit and orange play and then some grain in the tart, quite tannic structure. Modernity again and a success for 2014. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Ca’ Rugate Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)
Produced in the traditional way where the pomace from the dried Amarone grapes are left to referment in a Valpolicella wine from the same vintage. The wine is aged half and half in tonneaux and stainless steel for approximately eight months. The gravel and limestone estate vineyards are located in the hills around Montecchia di Crosara. This 2015 perpetuates the house blend of (45 per cent) corvina, (40) corvinone and (15) rondinella, consistent and familial similar to ’14 but carrying more freshness, bite and intensity. It will require a year more settling to bring the Ripasso vigour and rigour into real time Valpolicella by way of Amarone connectivity. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2016
Le Roselle is a woman’s name, the diminutive of Rosa but in Valpolicella terms her character is both rich and acetic, fully consumed from Amarone skins and pressed to the maximum for colour and potential. Her name should see her as feminine from head to toe, but here in Ripasso she is highly permeable to the atmosphere of wherever she happens to be. She can repeat herself too, like the bird or parrot, so that her consistent nature will translate wherever she is consumed. In 2014 the results are quite intense, with full-on acidity wrapping up the optimum concentrated fruit in a Ripasso package so global, so far and wide reaching. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
Domìni Veneti Vigneti Di Torbe Ripasso is made with the skins of Recioto (as opposed to Amarone), drawing uopn the sweet-bleeding for refermentation towards a developing potential, with heavy fuel, dense compression and brooding character. Another Cantine Negrar cooperative stylistic to make the biggest wine possible from a variegated collection of Classica grapes. Full bore plum fruit, a rage of acidity and some Amaro tannin. Even bigger of an expreession than the already glycerin-listed Le Roselle. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
This is the third of three Negrar Ripassi tasted side by side by each from a much better vintage without the necessity to over do, not from pressing, not for extract nor to dish hyperbole of concentration and last but so very important, accomplished without heavy oaking. The fruit is a bit baked but not without charm, the sun-ripened and passed over skins sets of berries turned to dehydrated plum and piqued by a contiguous found balance from major wood spice. The equilibrium here is quite improved and born that way. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
Ettore’s Ripasso comes from 20 year-old vines, of four grapes, corvina (45 per cent), corvinone (30), rondinella (15) and croatina (10). Needs air because of a minor reduction and a whiff of SO2. The first vintage was 2008 (as with all the Ettore labels) and here the small portion of dried grapes melds into passed over Recioto skins for a (5 hL) tonneaux experienced Ripasso of great spice and cool savour. This is arid and tense Ripasso with linear drive and vital spirit. Ripasso of clarity and direct connectivity, to the 40 million year old friable rock soil, the calcaire and the basalt. Well-made in a very difficult vintage. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
The aromatic tones are quite high and even acetic (especially as compared to the bookend vintages) but this Ettore is as floral as they come. It’s a veritable potpourri flower bowl and then meaty, in dried charcuterie and splashed by balsamic. Deep flavours dip into chocolate and then a back bite into char-crusted, rare roast beef. Acidity pierces into the finish, with an injection of pure vanilla and finally some sour cherry. A satisfyingly gastronomic wine. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted June 2016.
Assuming Ettore’s Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore ’12 grape make-up is the same as in 2014 the benefit is beautifully obvious from a most excellent vintage that is a gift (especially in comparison to ’14). The real purport to avoid the “sumo-warrior” Valpolicella shows in this bottle of finesse and one that you can finish. These are pure plum notes, in aroma and flavour, with balancing acidity and really fine tannins. This wine is so young still, spicy and spirited, jumping from the glass. What Ripasso can be. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Seccal is a single-vineyard Ripasso, 70 per cent corvina, (20) rondinella, plus five each molinara and croatina. It spends 16 months in big Slavonian oak barrels and takes the stylistic reigns from the fruit juicy Classico. With a firm grip it adds low and slow big wood time lapse release to develop breadth and slightly bretty volatility. Reductive again (a recurring Ripasso theme) dry and tangy, very soil-driven to supersede the volatility and so it really reminds of cooler climate grenache (top part of the southern Rhône Valley) or even salty, marine cannonau. I find this really terroir driven with the fruit less prominent but acids are high and tannin low. A very specific, old-school, the way it used to be Valpolicella but with a tie to the vineyard that is undeniable. Though the grapes comes from a single vineyard because Amarone grape skins are used for the second fermentation its single-vineyard status is changed. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
The closest of cousins to the Valpolicella Classico, from a different vintage but similar in styling. Reductive and silky in texture, with the dried grapes addition adding layers of impression and compression. Acidity is neither tough nor linear and while it is present, its support is a lift, not a distraction. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
The Ripasso 2013 is 70 per cent corvina and corvinone plus (30) rondinella, of no dried grapes, only secondary fermentation with amarone grape skins, simply and originally Ripasso. “Many Ripasso are like the small brother of Amarone,” explains proprietor Giancarlo Begnoni, “but in our case Ripasso is the big brother of Valpolicella Superiore.” Something added, augmented, not taken away. Aged only in old (up to 30 years) old (Slavonian) oak barrels. This is completely new and yet so very old, modern but ancient. The great dichotomy built through slow evolved structure. Tense, terse, direct, liquid yellow tufo rock with red citrus, pomegranate and the most refined tonic. More structure than so many but less freshness than some for sure. Superiore speaks only to the appellative minimum content plus context and speaks nothing to structure. That changes in the stylistic hand of Novaia. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted September 2016
Sartori’s Ripasso Valdimezzo is a blend of corvina (60 per cent), corvinone (20), rondinella (15) and croatina (five) in a mix of medium and large format oak casks. The deep mahogany wainscotting and black cherry notation is recognized for aligning house style clarity though the acidity and the vital tonality are elevated. The purple to black plum fruit controls the depth. Really high acidity. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
Some vibrant bright red fruit bridging fresh to dried, right on that line. The kind of Ripasso that feigns fortified when it really isn’t that way at all. Lots of spice and once again the liqueur like old school, old barrel aged tempranillo or sangiovese but here on the fresher side. Plush texture and tannin. Very solid for a 2014 and not so dry, with 8 g/L RS. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Arusnatico is dedicated to one of the few underground groups that refused to submit to the Romans. This is hard to be believed as Ripasso, light, cool, crisp, very citrus (orange) directed and a bite into chocolate that might be white or dark I couldn’t really say. The nose does not speak to Ripasso (nor does the hue or the construct) but the palate does more so. Richness is observed and permitted with grace throughout and and as more than just an impression. Hard to believe that Amarone pomace is used and in fact it will be impossible to know what churns this Ripasso until we return and the similarly vintage-dated Amarone is tasted. Once again in a league of its own. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Very similar, in fact impossibly consistent with the Classico, of red fruit first, freshness second and commerciality in confident control. Clean, crisp, here smoky and with just those slight notes of earth, forest floor, savour, tobacco, umami. The additions are the smokiness and the 2014 challenges unable to find their clear. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016
A test of time for this Ripasso is an all well and incredible Superiore certainty, now all mushroom and truffle, earthy forest, umeboshi plum, darkening soy sauce and bubbling brown sugar. The acidity is clearly alive, then tempered chocolate, dried and slightly torched espresso bean, ground and pressed. Very alive. One punch and a knockout, short finish. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016
IGT Rosso Verona, Veneto and Venezia
The truthful or sincere one is the third vintage after 2012 and 2013 (there was no 2014), a blend of corvina (75 per cent) and rondinella (25), of zero sulphites and possessive of the naturalische, straight from the soil and a breath of fresh air. There too is a bready, yeasty, enzymatic air and this is IGT you are pleased to put in your mouth. Spontaneous fermentation and microbes no other Valpolicella varietal IGT (or approved) has thus far granted. Is it typical? No. Could it be labled Classico Superiore? Stylistically speaking why not. But it’s bloody atypical, potentially consumer confusing but there is every reason to drink it. It’s beautifully dirty and with a cereal quality, like sugar crisp but not the commercial, fructose glazed crap, but more like the bulk bags of slightly earthy, whole foodies stuff. Fermented and aged only in steel. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016
Secco Bertani is an IGT Verona composed from corvina (80 per cent), sangiovese grosso (10) plus equal parts merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Aged in (cherry and chestnut) Veronese barrels, this is IGT of high tones, red and black fruit and dry-aged beef bresaola. Travels through an acidity fire and comes out smouldering with tobacco and chocolate. Cimmerian IGT of high acidity and big, sweet tannins. Needs two years to settle down before beginning to age into balsamic and truffle territory. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted September 2016
Arsi is from 15 year year-old vines at 400m in volcanic soil. No malolactic and higher acidity bleed lava from corvina veronese (30 per cent), corvinone (30), croatina (30) and pelara (10). A different wine for Valpolicella and for IGT, the wine is highly saline, from grapes dried for 50 days, of lovely red fruit with the saline streak that is not found in the other wines. A wine I feel many winemakers, especially from the larger houses and cooperatives would not understand. Though there is some emptiness on the palate this highly distinctive, salty umami Rosso is in a world of its own and that world is one I am delighted to visit. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016
Testa, “the head,” from grapes at the head of the vine, left to hang for two or three weeks longer than usual. The Ripasso aspect is the short drying time on the vine. A late harvest IGT from Corvina (90) and 10 per cent other (not named) varieties. This alters the house style and does something other, something Classico Superiore but it can’t be this because it exceeds the DOC Corvina maximum of 80 per cent. The large casks have added more sheathing than you might expect. This is highly wooded and toasty with quite a bit of vanilla, lavender and clove. Certainly made for a crowd that loves this style. Changes to labelling mean you can’t call this Rosso del Veronese anymore but now this wine could in fact be a Classico Superiore. Though it doesn’t resemble one in any shape or form. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2016
Passimento is “Passione Sentimento,” part of the Romeo & Juliet line, composed of merlot (40 per cent), corvina (30), and croatina (30). It’s somewhat experimental and yet traditional, from grapes partially dried for one month, half way between Valpolicella Superiore and Amarone, in weight and alcohol. Four months in barriques has given this lean and green red a decidedly merlot bent, with memories of stems and herbal dill plus some balancing corrected sweetness. At 14 per cent alcohol and extra body it represents market driven wine in a nutshell. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted September 2016
The word Lazzarone comes from Campania, from the men who hung around the church either begging money or looking for a day’s work. Just a small portion of grapes are dried (30-40 per cent) and for a shorter period than Amarone, between five to seven weeks. A baby Amarone this one, maybe with a bit more umami or certainly a different one, wooly and weedy, herbal and crazy. Some teroldego is added in here with the corvina and rondinella. Some freshness and palate softness but still, it’s the modern house style. The soft back side is filled with plump raisins, fresh figs and a shave of truffle. Oh will people eat this up, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted September 2016
Arléo is 85 per cent corvina, the wine Giancarlo Begnoni is proud to have invented, from a longer (60 day) dry-aging, more like Amarone, plus 15 per cent of (not dried) merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Two years in large Botti plus one year in barriques, for body, complexity and variegated intensity. Bretty volatility delivers in the great and righteous stylistic success that walks up to the threshold, teases to climb over, turns, grins and perches at the precipice. This shares a commonality with sangiovese, either Brunello or Gran Selezione, in more ways than you would imagine or think it should. But this is structure, traditional risk and wisely decided upon confident decision making, calculated and successful. The right grapes are essntial to pull it off and the winemaker musty have known otherwise or would not have moved them or this wine in this direction. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted September 2016
Pràgal is corvina (50 per cent), syrah (25) and merlot (25), all estate fruit and admittedly kind of foxy and boxy. Dried red fruit, fresh figs and grape must. Rustic and oxidative. Then an old Rioja or Chianti liqueur, so in some ways this walks the line. Quite the smouldering, bretty, lit up experience with a note of pickling brine and wet horse. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted September 2016
Good to go!