Tasting wine: Valpolicella is good winter wine

Amarone is the most regal non-DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine made in Italy. Why it is just merely DOC is still a mystery to me and others. However, I don’t let this get in the way of my enjoyment of the wine.

From the Veneto region, Amarone is made in the “passito” style in which the grapes are dried on mats before they are pressed and fermented. This creates a wine that has a lot of alcohol and rich fruit. Many can age for decades.

Today’s column is not about Amarone but its little sibling, Valpolicella, which is made in the “ripasso” style. Like Amarone, Valpolicella ripasso wines are generally made from the indigenous grapes corvina, rondinella and molinara.

They differ from other Valpolicella in that the juice undergoes a secondary fermentation on Amarone lees, the leftover particles from fermentation. Adding dried grapes to the young wine after fermentation is another technique that is used to achieve the same result, and some think, superior flavor. As a result, the wines have an Amarone-like character with less alcohol and intensity, yet they are generally more complex and have more body than Valpolicella not made in this fashion.

This is not exactly a new practice. Masi, one of the top producers of Amarone, was the first to make a wine in this method in 1964. However, it has caught on in a big way in the last decade as Amarone has continued to become more sought after and expensive.

They are also great winter wines and complement hearty food, from different meats to mushrooms and cheeses. The larger houses such as Masi and Alegrini have ripasso wines that are not too hard to find, but some of my favorites are those made by smaller producers. Here are three that are worth the search.

Montresor Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, “Capitel della Crosara,” 2005: Do I have a deal for you! Really — this is superb wine that has all you can want from a ripasso. Medium- to full-bodied with baked black cherries and raspberries, bittersweet chocolate, a hint of violets and spice; this is too good to pass up.

Suggested retail: $16

Giuliari Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, 2004:  This is a fairly traditional-style wine. It has plenty of gusto but is not overpowering. On the contrary, it has elegance in spite of its intensity. Full-bodied with meaty accents in the nose, baked fruit and ripe tannins, it offers more than any Amarone fan would desire.

Suggested retail: $31

Stefano Accordini Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, “Acinatico,” 2005: Carrying on the family tradition, Stefano Accordini runs this estate with his wife, two sons and their wives. This is a more modern-style wine, i.e., less rustic than Giuliari, yet there is a strong presence of terroir. Full-bodied with vanilla, spice and dark-fruit flavors, this is a rich and luscious mouthful of wine.

Suggested retail: $28

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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