Primitivo, Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch have all been covered here in previous weeks and they are just a drop in the ocean of grape varieties we now have readily available to explore in our local wine stores or restaurants.
But before we had the great fortune of seeing thousands of wines from every conceivable wine region on earth, we were by and large constrained to a small selection of producers and wines from the most ‘notable’ and accessible regions, and this was only 20 or so years ago.
Thus, we were still very franco-centric in our tastes – if we wanted a soft, smooth red then Merlot would likely be the go-to choice.
The paradox of choice is very real in wine now with the breadth of choice is developing at a relentless pace, making it somewhat difficult for every wine region or style to make their case and find their audience. Not to mention for wine drinkers who are navigating that ocean of wine to find which of the new options actually suits our tastes and needs.
You don’t need to try every single new grape or style, but it is worthwhile reading about them as they emerge and dipping your toe in once in a while when they align with your tastes.
You may have moved on from Merlot, as many have, but have you ventured to the north east of Italy yet where the reds can be similarly bursting with black and red berry or cherry, overlayed with a mix of herbs, spice and oak influence depending on the specific wine.
Importantly, the wines can be bold, smooth and comforting which is often what you go looking for in Merlot.
Valpolicella finds its home in the north east of Italy, based around the town of Verona, East of Lake Gard and west of Venice. This is also where you will find the homes of Prosecco and Soave. The area is full of viticultural micro-climates given how hilly it is, but the area generally is protected from excess summer heat by the alps to the north and Lake Garda helps to moderate both winter and summer temperatures for the vineyards close to it.
The valleys that funnel air down through them no doubt play a part in the region’s ability to quickly and easily dry grapes after harvest.
Ripasso takes the fruit driven Valpolicella and macerates it on the leftover skins and yeast from the Amarone pressings. Amarone being the most sought-after wine in Valpolicella, which sees extended drying of the grapes and produces intense, powerful reds as a result.
While Amarone wine often fetch well into the hundreds of dollars, Ripasso offers something a little deeper, darker and complex compared to Valpolicella without having to stretch the budget so much for the Amarone.
This takes the bright fruit-driven nature of Valpolicella and adds some layers to it – the bright red berries are now accompanied by some darker spectrum and maybe raisins too, this primary character is now sitting alongside some developed characters of leather and spices.
Zenato ‘Ripassa’ Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2016 – $59
Zenato produce some of the most consistent, well-priced wines in the region. This packs plenty of dense, ripe fruits of cherry, blackberry and plum that also hints at the dried spectrum of prunes.
There is chocolate, vanilla, leather, a hint of pepper and spice coming through on the finish. Full-bodied, dense and undoubtedly smooth, the acid and tannin balance is well judged to provide relief to the bold flavours.