The hilly country not too far north of Verona is home to one of my favorite everyday wines: Valpolicella. This pretty wine–next–door is made entirely, or predominately, from the Corvina grape. It doesn’t put on airs, and is comparable to Beaujolais or CÔtes du RhÔne in France – unpretentious regional table wines.
But for astute label readers, one little one can signal the transformation of humble Valpolicella into something far more interesting. The word is “Ripasso,” which means “re–passed.”
In the spring, after fermenting over the winter in the usual way, select batches of Valpolicella are transferred into casks holding the grapeskins that were left over after its big, bold cousin, Amarone, was made.
This process of “re–passing” the lighter wine over the bigger wine’s squeezed skins adds body, color and flavor, and launches a secondary fermentation that boosts alcohol content and character. The fruity, complex and bigger–bodied Ripasso still drinks beautifully by itself and pairs very well with red meat, game or sharp cheeses.
If you’re shopping for Valpolicella, take extra care to check the label. If the word “Ripasso” is there, you’ve got your hands on something completely different from the everyday wine.
Recently, I enjoyed lunch with other members of the wine trade and Deborah Cesari, whose family has been making Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone near Verona since 1936.
Mara Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso is a blend of 75 percent Corvina, 20 percent Rondinella and 5 percent Molinara, Its “re–pass” is done every January, and when the wine is racked in February it ages for 12 months in a dense Slavonian oak and flavor inducing French oak. After bottling, it mellows another 8 months before being shipped.
While plenty of modern production and environmental standards are practiced at Cesari, these are still very much wines steeped in tradition, regional styles and, of course, represent this historically rich terroir.
Mara Ripasso poured deep ruby colored in the glass. Its aromas evoked thoughts of ripe dark fruits, raisin and hints of chocolate. To taste, it is well–rounded and loaded with fruit. That careful aging process insures well–balanced flavors and very little influence from tannins.
It’s a fun exercise to have friends over, crack open a bottle of Valpolicella, another of Valpolicella Ripasso and taste the two side by side. One caveat: Open the Ripasso a couple of hours in advance of tasting. This big wine requires a breather before showing its true colors.
To view a video of Deborah Cesari talking about Mara Valpolicella during her visit to Savannah, go to YouTube, search for “savannahfoodie,” and select the video.