The Valpolicella red wines from the shores of Lake Garda in the north-eastern province of Verona are amongst the most famous wines from Italy.
With diverse styles of Valpolicella from fruity easy drinking lunch wine to Valpolicella’s Ripasso’s richer black cherry fruit and leather character and ultimately, to the intense and powerful meditation wines of Amarone della Valpolicella with its bitter herbal twist contrasting to the raisin, date and fig fruit flavours, Valpolicella is a wine for all seasons and reasons.
These three main styles of Valpolicella comprise of three local grapes, Corvina the foundation grape and supported by Molinara and Rondinella. The names sound not unlike three sisters in an Italian opera, another art for which Verona is famous. Wine made from the heartland of the best vineyard sites is indicated by the term “Classico” referring to the terraced vineyards on the steep hilly slopes overlooking the city of Verona.
“Superiore” indicates extra alcohol from riper grapes giving a richer character and enjoys an additional year’s ageing for a more mellow impression.
“Amarone” takes its name from “amaro” meaning “bitter”. These remarkable wines are made from grapes harvested early when high in natural acidity, then dried in shallow trays over the winter from 3 to 6 months, a process called “appassimento”. The shrunken sugar-rich, yet high in acidity grapes are fermented to dryness, producing wines nearing 16% alcohol.
These “Vini de Meditatzione” or Meditation Wines are often so complex, powerful and intense, they are best served and sipped reflectively after a meal and are a real challenge to match with food. Most need time to mature and evolve and are at their best enjoyed at least five years after the vintage year.
“Ripasso” is a style that bridges two polarised styles. The light-bodied, refreshing and food versatile Valpolicella style, ever popular in restaurants as a House Wine in contrast with Amarone, the full-bodied, rich and complex wine high in alcohol towards 16% ABV and not meant as a companion to the dinner table. Ripasso fills the gap for a medium-bodied wine around 13%-14% ABV for rich meat dishes and hard cheeses.
The second fermentation process involved pouring freshly made Valpolicella wine over the sugar rich grape skins from the Amarone wine to kick-start a refermentation adding extra richness of flavour and alcohol. A simple analogy would be adding used tea leaves to a freshly brewed teapot for a little added strength. These Ripasso wines work well with strong earthy flavours, gamey meats and hard cheeses. Ripasso is at its best within the first five years of its vintage.
Here are the highest scoring Valpolicella Ripassos and Amarones from twenty-four blind tasted.
Ripasso Superiore 2014, Palazzo Maffei
€23 – Available at all Mitchell & Son outlets: CHQ and Glasthule including Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne.
Scented with moss and red berry skins. Intense palate with layers of berries, wood and a jammy core. Delicious with a tangy fruity long finish.
Food friend: Serve simply with a carpaccio of beef and olive oil with crusty Italian bread.
Ripasso Classico Superiore 2014, Exquisite Collection
€9.99 – Available at Aldi stores nationwide
Perfumed with berries and church pews. Delicious and intense palate. Complex berries are supported by firm tannins enlivened by a sappy streak of acidity. A well-rounded Ripasso.
Food friend: serve with a duck breast and a black cherry sauce.
Ripasso Superiore 2013, Zenato
€24.95 – Available at Searson’s, Monkstown, McHugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide Roads and Jus de Vine, Portmarnock.
Opulent aromas of super-ripe black cherries. Delicious and seductive palate of soft ripe berries and cherries underpinned by firm meat-tenderising tannins. Full-bodied and well-rounded flavours. Mellow and warming.
Food friend: Try with a grilled steak and a blue cheese sauce.
Amarone 2014, A Alpha Zeta
€35.99 – Available in Dublin at 64 Wine; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; Drink Store; Egan’s; Fallon & Byrne; Gibney’s; Green Man Wines; Jus de Vine; Leopardstown Inn; Martin’s; McHugh’s; Morton’s; Sweeney’s; The Corkscrew; The Old Stand; Thomas’; The Vineyard Wine Company; The Wine Well, Dunboyne; La Touche, Greystones; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel and Wineonline.ie
Smooth, silky texture and long finish.
Dry but with Port wine-like power, intensity and richness. Treacle tart and raisin character but without any sweetness and well-integrated alcohol. Deftly balanced between power and elegance and immensely satisfying, liquid velvet.
Food friend: Sip reflectively after a meal with walnuts and dates.
Amarone Classico 2013, Single Vineyard I Comunali, Villalta
€35 – Available at Marks & Spencer nationwide
Aromas of red and black berries and some earthy echoes of the vineyard. Silky tannins and red berry fruits invigorate the taste buds. Intense and attractive contrasting layers of bitterness and raisins with a very long mineral terroir finish.
Food friend: some Pecorino cheese and almonds.
Amarone 2012, Col de la Bastia, Fattoria
€36.99 at Donnybrook Fair
This meditation wine levitates with complex scents of sour cherry, dark spice and tobacco. Delving deeply into the taste buds are cherries and plums, allspice and Angostura Bitters finishing with black tea and dark chocolate. This is a domineering full-bodied diva demanding full attention.
Food friend: Serve with special friends.
Amarone Classico 2011, Costasera, Masi
€42.99 – Available at Bradley’s, Cork; O’Driscoll’s, Cork; Martin’s, Fairview; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin and McHugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide Roads
An intriguing bouquet of tobacco, tea chests and moss. A silky smooth texture unfolds deep flavours of plump sultanas, sour cherries and spiced fruit, submerging the weighty alcohol. Delivers a fine balance between power and elegance.
Food friend: Finish off a meal with a hard Parmesan-style cheese and some almonds.
Amarone Classico 2012, Vigneto Monte Sant’ Urbano, Speri
€70 at Dollard & Co., Wellington Quay and Morton’s, Ranelagh
Deep layers of flavour, very concentrated with mineral notes and arresting bitterness. Sublime concentration like deep sea diving into rich inky dark raisined fruit, figs and dates, refreshed with lemon zest.
Food friend: Enjoy solo.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.