Valpolicella – Recioto, Amarone, Ripasso. Everything but the squeals…

“They boast that they find a use for everything about a pig but his squeal”
Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night”

In the northeast of Italy, in the vinicultural zone Veneto, the wine region Valpolicella locates that produces wine under the same name.

This is one of the well-known Italian red wines, alongside Chianti, Barolo, and Brunello, if not in terms of quality, then at least in terms of quantity.

The base of Valpolicella wine is four autochthon grape varieties that exist almost only in this region – Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara. The best, and definitely, the most typical one is Corvina; it gives light, low-tannic wine with good acidity, and sour cherry aroma. According to modern wine law, the Corvina part in the Valpolicella blend should be from 45 to 95%. Corvinone has similar characteristics, and its’ part in the Valpolicella blend can be up to 50%. Rondinella brings to the blend herbs aroma and some tannins. Molinara is almost out of use nowadays.

As a result, we have light- or medium-bodied wine, with good acidity, light tannins, relatively pale, with aromas of cherry and herbs, and a light bitter almond taste. This is characteristic of well-made Valpolicella, which can be found with high probability among Valpolicella Classico. Mass-market Valpolicella is a light, pale, acid wine with a weak taste.

When your neighbours are such monsters of bright deep wines, such as Barolo or Brunello, it is a shame to produce such type of wine. Of course, quantity can replace quality, but it is not the right way for a good winemaker.

Valpolicella winemakers found the way. Corvina, and other varieties of Valpolicella blend, have thick skin and are appropriate for drying after the harvest. The Italian name for such raisin and for wine technology that is based on it is passito. It is a well-known technology, that originated from Ancient Greeks, and is used in many regions for naturally sweet wine production. Grape is dried after the harvest eliminating about one-third of water and increasing the concentration of sugar and aromatic compounds. Traditionally the grape was dried on the straw mats, that brigs the name “straw wines”.

Valpolicella traditionally produces Recioto della Valpolicella – sweet, deep, aromatic wine. Grape for this wine is collected in whole bunches and dried in special warm and dry rooms from three weeks to three months.

Recioto della Valpolicella always was popular wine despite its price.

How sweet wine becomes sweet? For this, the fermentation process should be stopped before it is completed, i.e., before the moment when yeast converts all sugar into alcohol. It means that the amount of sugar should be constantly controlled during fermentation to abort the process at the right moment because the yeast will continue until the last sugar molecule (or until they die because of alcohol intoxication). By the way, if you want to know more about different methods of sweet wine production, you can find it here.

From time to time unmindful Italian winemakers forgot about their Recioto and passed the right moment to stop fermentation. Of course, every time the result was a dry wine. Spoilage as it is. However, at the beginning of the 1950s, under the influence of new approaches in the viniculture, they tasted such spoiled products again and decided that it is actually good, and can be considered as a feature instead of a bug, and commercially produced. Special yeast stains that resisted high alcohol content were invited to finish fermentation completely.

It was the birthday of Amarone della Valpolicella, dry red wine, made from dried passito grape. Rich aromatic wine quickly becomes popular around the world. Its name is based on the Italian word “amaro”, which means “bitter” because originally it was set against sweet Recioto. Amarone has high alcohol content because the dried grape has a high amount of sugar. The approved minimum is 14 % abv, but usually, the wine has 15-16%.

Amarone is a unique wine. Usually, dry full-bodied wines with high alcohol content are made in regions with a warm climate, where grapes can accumulate high levels of sugar during the season. Typical examples are Australia and California. The downside of such a climate is a low concentration of acid in the grape that leads to the flat, unbalanced, jammy wine. Valpolicella is a region with a cool climate, so berries have good acidity, and high sugar amount is reached by water loss during the drying after the harvest.
As a result, we have full-bodied, high-alcohol wine with well-balanced acidity and cherry aroma. Drying of grape brings to the wine taste the aromas of coffee, dark chocolate, raisin, dry fig, and earth notes.

Same as Recioto, Amarone is aged in big neutral oak barrels for at least two years, often longer. The wine is ideal for long ageing in the bottle. Good vintages require about 10 years to open the tase completely and have the potential for ageing up to 20 years.

Any red wine after fermentation is separated from the must (skins, seed, rest of pulp). The must is used for grappa production, as a fertilizer, or simply discarded. Recioto and Amarone production also results must, of course. Winemakers of Valpolicella felt pity about this must: so good stuff, that is full of phenols, tannins, and other beautiful things, concentrated in passito grape are wasted! Not all compounds can be transferred from must to wine, especially when they are so concentrated. Parsimonious souls of Italian winemakers were hurt, and they decided to use this must for winemaking. Valpolicella Ripasso appeared on winemaking scene.

This is the wine of double fermentation (ripasso). Regular young Valpolicella is making. In parallel with it, Recioto or Amarone is fermented. When the last one is ready and moved to barrels for ageing, its must is combined with new Valpolicella, and the second fermentation begins. The wine extracts everything from the must, that is left after Amarone fermentation. Result – Amarone light, named Valpolicella Ripasso. This silky wine is lighter than Amarone but much more saturated than simple Valpolicella and has a bright cherry taste with light almond bitterness. Price is more democratic than Amarone’s. And not a drop of beautiful content of expensive passito grape is lost.

Not only do the owners of Chicago Stockyards have the talent to extract every drop from their income source.
And a rare person can produce a really good product at the same time.

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