The Ripassos of Valpolicella
Valpolicella’s Ripasso is one of the world’s more unusual wines. It is the marriage of the Valpolicella wine—young, vibrant and low alcohol—with Amarone, a rich, complex wine made from dried, mostzly indigenous grapes. Ripasso shares the traits of its progenitors—medium bodied with both fresh and dried fruit character. It has quickly become Valpolicella’s most popular wine, accounting for 42% of total wine production [see pie chart].
In late September and early October when the Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta, and other grapes of the Valpolicella vineyard are ready to be harvested, the healthiest and ripest bunches in the vineyard are earmarked for either Amarone or Recioto, the sweet red wine that first made Valpolicella famous. These superior bunches are stored in flat cases or trays and dried for anywhere from 60-120 days during the appassimento process. The grapes not destined to become Amarone or Recioto, will be used to make Valpolicella, a wine made from fresh (not dried) grapes vinified like a normal table wine and released the spring after the harvest.
About December or January, the grapes being dried for Amarone are pressed, fermented and put in oak vessels for prolonged aging. The grapes for Recioto are dried a bit longer and not allowed to ferment dry, so the resulting wine is sweet with moderate alcohol and terrific acidity.
After the fermentations for Amarone and Recioto are completed, the winemaker may decide to produce Ripasso. The winemaker blends the finished Valpolicella wine and the lees of the Amarone (or Recioto)—that then initiates a second fermentation in the combined liquid. The new wine picks up a few characteristics as a result, i.e. anywhere from a half point to two of alcohol, more body, and phenolics and tannins from the solids. The result is an often silky and rich wine that shows both fresh and slightly dried fruit characteristics, yet with none of the firm tannins that often mark an age worthy wine. For this reason, and its very reasonable price, Ripasso has become very popular.
Many Ripassos are less than exciting wines, having neither the freshness of Valpolicella nor the complex richness of Amarone. However, while tasting wines in Valpolicella and Washington, DC, for our Report #41: The Amarones of Valpolicella, we found several Ripassos that are of excellent quality and superb value. We list our favorites below. Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler are responsible for the tasting notes and evaluations.
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