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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Veneto-Italy:Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone.

The Veneto Region.
THE VENETO region together with Fruili-Venezia Guilia and Trentino-Alto Adige regions form that famous district in the Northeastern part of Italy, known as the Tre Venezie - the Three Venices.

It is estimated that these three regions produce about 15% of all wines produced in Italy, on top of which this amount account for an estimated 30% of all DOC category wines from this country.

The Tre Venezie district is renowned for several popular wines that are produced here from several indegenious grape varieties by various long established winemakers, who adher to long established precise and decisive traditions that are unique to these regions. Most of these wines are named after the location, town, city or village in which they are produced such as Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino. A stylish Prosecco - Sparkling Wine, as well as other exclusive reds come from this area. For this feature, I am concentrating only on the Veneto, but I am looking forward to have the opportunity to sample and rate some wines from the other two regions in due course.

The Veneto is the western section of the Tre Venezie, near Lago di Garda on one side and the volcanic mountain range of Monte Lessini on the other. Various categories of traditional wines (Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino - which are all available as low-quality, as well as superlative high-quality wines), are produced here, and major efforts and progress have been achieved in the last years to eradicate the notion that this region can only produce light, cheap, quaffing wines such as were produced during the 1960's and 1970's for the United States and British markets. These countries at that time were lucrative markets for cheap Italian wines. The introduction of the DOC and DOCG rules in 1966, better viticultural and oenology techniques as well as competition from emerging, new wine producing countries, instigated the leading winemakers in these regions to produce various world-class wines that can only be produced successfully here.

The major city of the Veneto is VERONA, which is referred to as Italy's Wine Capital and in which the country's largest wine fair VinItaly is held every year. The dates for next year have already been set for the 25th to the 28th of March, 2012. The 2011 exhibition in April saw 156,000 visitors attending.

Three Veneto Classics.
The Veneto's most important wines are: Amarone, Valpolicella and Ripasso di Valpolicella for the red wines, and Soave and Prosecco for the white wines. Other wines worthy of note produced here are: Bardolino and Recioto della Valpolicella (sweet) for the red wines; Bianco di Custoza, the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, as well as Recioto di Soave for the whites. Various Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay varietal wines are also produced, but these grape varieties are not indegenious to the region.

Our wine of choice for this feature is the Valpolicella and its derivatives, and after giving a brief outline of the various categories of this wine, reviews of a brand selection and ratings shall be given to illustrate the feature.

Corvina Veronese Cluster.
Today, six different and distinct styles of Valpolicella wines are produced. Valpolicella is a blended wine produced from at least 70% Corvina, with the remaining 30% being selected from the Rondinella, and Molinara grape varieties as well as the Negrara and Sangiovese varieties by some winemakers. The styles are:

1. The basic Valpolicella, which is extremely light and mainly forgettable.
2. The Valpolicella Classico, which is a step above the basic version, but which is also a lightish, quaffing wine for everyday drinking with pizza and pasta. After fermentation in September, this wine is kept in stainless steel tanks until it is bottled in the spring for immediate release and consumption.
Classico Superiore -Exceptional.
3. The Valpolicella Classico Superiore. The "Superiore" title here, is not given in vain to the best produced versions of this wine. It is a much superior wine to 1 and 2 above, as it is produced from high quality grapes, chosen from low yield vineyards; after fermentaion and the maceration process the wine is matured and aged on oak barrles for 12 months as well as more bottle aging prior to release. This results in a more structured wine that can prove to be sensational and fascinating in the hands of a top class Vigneron and Oenologist.
4. AMARONE. This is the top category of Valpolicella. Amarone means the bitter one, and is produced from the same grape blend as the Valpolicella. The difference between the production of Valpolicella and Amarone is crucial. Whereas the grapes for the Valpolicella are picked during the normal harvest in mid to late September each year, the selected grapes for the Amarone are left hanging on the vine until the mid-third of October, to achieve more ripeness and therefore more residual sugar before they are hand-picked. For Amarone, only the upper portion of each grape cluster is selected since it is here that the grapes are richest in sugar and extracts.
The selected grape bunches are then spread on mats and left in cool, drying lofts for three to five months, so that the grapes would shrivel and lose most of their water content, thus further concentrating the sugar nectar and flavours of each grape.
When the grapes are finally crushed and fermented,maceration and eventual malolactic fermentation completed, the resultant wine is lavish, full-bodied and containing well over 15% alcohol, even 16.5%in the better wines. Some of the best Amarone's are aged in new oak barrels and casks as well as in the bottle for about five years prior to release, thus finally releasing a wine that is powerful with Port like flavours, structure and complexity.
Amarone is the embodiment of the Valpolicella wine and the product that has elevated the Veneto to World-Class as a wine producing region.
5. Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore: This is the inbetween style of the best Valpolicella and Amarone.
This wine style is produced by selecting the best Valpolicella Classico wine in the best vintages, from the recent harvest of September/October. The wine is fermented and stored in oak or stainless steel tanks until February.
By this time the Amarone production processes- drying out of the grapes after harvest (approx. 4 months); crushing, pressing and fermentation would be completed.  The Amarone wine is then transferred to oak barrels and casks for maturing, leaving the pomace in the fermentation tanks.
The Valpolicella wine is then pumped in carefully onto the Amarone pomace in the fermentation tanks and left to re-ferment for at least two weeks. During this time the Valopicella wine picks up extra colour, tannin, flavour and structure and becomes ripasso.
6. Ricioto della Valpolicella. This is the sixth style and is the sweet and rich dessert wine that compliments the above styles at the end of a superb dinner. Fermentation is stopped before full completion so that some of the residual sugar in the grape is retained, so that the wine will acquire that distinct sweet taste which makes it such a luscious dessert wine.

For our wine reviews and ratings from this region, for this feature I picked three superb wines produced by Azienda Vinicola Zenato of San Benedetto di Lugana, Italy.

Zenato Valpolicella Classico Superiore
This is a sumptious red wine, which is superior by far to most Valpolicella wines that I have taste-tested before, and which took me by surprise during the first blind tasting as Valpolicella wine does not normally reach my expectations of a premium wine.
This VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE from Zenato is not just different and vastly superior to the norm, but it is in a class of its own among Valpolicella's in this category. An excellent product which at the first blind tasting was compared to the best Vino Nobile de Montepulciano's and Chianti Riserva's, probably due to its Sangiovese content and richness of the Corvina Veronese.

This wine is produced from a blend of : 80% Corvina Veronese; 10% Rondinella; 10% Sangiovese, which grapes were cultivated and harvested from selected vineyards in the Classico area of the Sant Ambrogio comune hills. Harvest mid-third October by hand.

Vinification: After destemming, the grapes were crushed, followed by the traditional 6 to 7 days fermentation and macerartion on the skins, in temperature controlled conditions. The wine is then kept in stainless steel tanks until it is eventually pressed. After malolactic fermentation is completed, the wine is transferred for maturation in 33 and 55hl barrels for twelve months and eventual further bottle aging prior to release.

The wine is dark ruby verging on black, with full ripe fruit aromas, spice, liquorice and vanilla, with a distinct hint of violets on the nose. Rich flavours of mocha, cassis, dark chocolate and dried cherry and plums. The wine is creamy, full-bodied and dry with an excellent texture and complexity. It is well balanced with smooth tannins. Finish is long with an aftertaste of liquorice and ripe black fruit.

Alcohol content: 13.5%
Serving temperature: 17 - 18 deg.C.
Aging potential: 10 years.
Price range: Eur10
An excellent wine at a very good value for money.
Zenato Ripassa Classico Superiore.


This wine is blended from 80% Corvina Veronese; 10% Rondinella; and 10% Sangiovese, similar to the above Valpolicella Classico Superiore, with a second fermentation period on the pomace of the Amarone wine some 5 months after the first fermentation.

Vinification is the same as for the Valpolicella Classico Superiore. The second fermentation on the Amarone pomace, ten day further maceration at controlled temperatures of 25 - 30 deg. C, is then followed by an 18 month maturation period in Slavonian oak casks. After bottling the wine is further aged for 6 months prior to release.

This wine is dark, deep ruby red. Full-bodied with strong ripe black fruit aromas, with hints of violets, spice and vanilla from the oak casks. Rich flavours of dark chocolate, dried red cherry, black pepper, and ripe black fruit. Well balanced with smooth tannins,  elegant with a long finish.

Alcohol content: 14%
Serving Temperature: 17-18 Deg. C.
Aging potential: 15 years.
Price Range: Eur21
Zenato Amarone Classico.


Grape Varieties: 80% Corvina Veronese; 10% Rondinella; 5% Sangiovese; 5% Molinara. Harvested by hand from the Classico area of the Sant Ambrogio comune hills, in the mid-third of October.

After careful selection of the grapes the grape clusters are placed in shallow wood trays to dry out for about 5 months. The grapes are then crushed, pressed and fermented on the skins for a number of days under temperature controlled conditions. The fermented wine is then transferred into 300 litres, French Oak barrels and Slavonian casks for maturation which takes about 30 months. This is then followed by 12 months aging in the bottle prior to release.

This wine is a soft, opulent and exotic full-bodied wine. Dark ruby red in colour bordering on black, creamy and thick in the glass. Aromas of black liquorice and dark chocolate and black cherries. Bouquets of violets, vanilla and spice. Deep flavours of plum, pepper, nuts and ripe dark fruit and chocolate covered cherries. A refined and elegant, robust red wine with a fascinating balance and structure. Finish is long and lingering, accompanied by a vintage Port aftertaste.
It is recommended to open the wine and to decant it at least two hours before serving.

Alcohol Content: 16.5%
Serving temperature: 18 deg. C.
Aging potential: 20 years.
Price range: Eur40
Grilled Bistecca Fiorentina.

FOOD PAIRING: Strong wines require strong cuisine. These wines pair well with Roast red meats - lamb and beef; game - venison, boar; Grilled and barbecued prime steaks - bistecca alla Fiorentina,          Rib-eye; Kobe Wangyu beef; Roast prime-rib; Osso Buco;  roast turkey. Strong, aged Italian cheese - Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Parmesan, Robiola. Black truffle.

Black Truffle
Parmigiano Regiano
BBQ Rib-eye.
Grilled whole beef fillet.

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