Sunday, January 19, 2014

In which the Italian wine industry makes a monkey out of me

Because you see, now they're putting the word Ripasso on their labels, when suitable. It used to be they couldn't do that, and in previous posts I had carefully explained, using, alas, only barely outdated information, how if you wanted a ripasso you had to know what it was, and know your producers. Now, no more of that nonsense.

I'm glad of it, of course. If you want to buy a Valpolicella that is not an ordinary Valpolicella, also neither a Valpolicella Classico nor a Valpolicella Classico Superiore, and neither yet a Recioto della Valpolicella nor even a great Amarone della Valpolicella, but rather a Valpolicella in between them all, one that has been allowed to sit on the lees from a previous batch of either recioto or amarone, why then -- it helps not only to know that that sort of Valpolicella is called a ripasso, but to learn that the label may now say so.

It's all owing to a change in Italian wine law that occurred about five years ago. "Ripasso" used to be a trademark of one winemaker, Masi, which marketed the first valpolicella to be "re-passed" through the lees of an amarone in 1964. In about the mid-2000s, it seems, Masi gave up that trademark to the Chamber of Commerce of the city of Verona, thus freeing it to be used by other winemakers in this region of northeast Italy. (We remember always to think V for Valpolicella, V for the region called the Tre Venezie, V for Venice and V for nearby Verona.) And so they have.

The example before us today is a 2006 Secco-Bertani [the maker] Valpolicella Valpantena D.O.C. [the place of origin] Ripasso [we understand].

clear bright fresh cranberry red
smells like a stable -- then, leather
very silky
tangy -- acidic, mouth watering
juicy, not sugary -- little fruit

The more I am exposed to them, the more I think that when dealing with these zingy, zippy Italian wines, we must be calm but firm. They are tart and mettlesome creatures and they want to be thrown at robust meals full of bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, piquant sausages, fresh basil, and assertive cheeses. By contrast, a thick, sugary, chocolate-and-stewed prunes California-style red (pick one) may not necessarily need "a plate of bear meat" accompaniment after all. A simple snack of buttery crackers and what I call my boring cheese -- fresh mozzarella -- seems to flatter their languor nicely.

Speaking of languor, and chocolate and stewed prunes. Be aware that if your palate is at all accustomed to unctuous New World red wines, you may find yourself non-plussed at the descriptions other people offer for these tart, mettlesome Italian minxes. (Remember when we were aggravated at being told a disappointingly thin Barolo was "too big for us"? Too big? we snorted.) Today's lesson in ripasso legalese came from an article in the Montreal Gazette published on in September, 2007. At the end of the article are a series of tasting notes on many valpolicellas -- good ones, from the area called Valpolicella Classico, the wine's original home before its official legal borders were enlarged in the 1960s so that less interesting product from nearby vineyards could be labeled with the V word. For these wines, good as I trust they were, our Canadian tasting panel's descriptors somehow just don't ring true. Far be it from me to judge. I merely express some curiosity about tasting reference points. "Gorging with fruit"? "Ripe red fruit, supple and generous"? And they hadn't even got to the amarones yet. Dear things, I wanted to ask, have you at all recently sampled a Lodi zinfandel -- an Australian shiraz -- a Napa cabernet? Or any petite sirah whatsoever? We are enjoying Italian wines, no?

Still. You shouldn't necessarily trust me. I'm the one who is five years late keeping up with the whole ripasso thing. 

See: "The many faces of Valpo," Montreal Gazette,, September 4, 2007.

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