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What can you learn from this wine lesson?
This tasting includes five wines from Valpolicella made from the same grape varieties but produced by different methods. The five wines are Recioto, Amarone, Ripasso, Valpolicella Superiore and ordinary Valpolicella. The tasting wants to show how the production methods affect the characteristics of the wine.
Many of the suggested wines on this web site may be bought in your country. Refer to Wine Searcher to find retailers. The number below links to Systembolaget´s information in Swedish.
The development of Valpolicella wines
It all started with the Recioto. Alredy in Roman times wine was produced by drying the grapes for several months. During this process the grapes lost about half of their original weight and after pressing, a heavy, sweet and concentrated must was obtained. This was called Recioto.
It was not until after World War II that it became possible to keep the yeast alive at an alcohol content in excess of 14.5%. The dried grapes were then allowed to ferment to dryness and the result was a wine which was called Amarone.
Today the best grapes are used to produce Recioto and Amarone. The grapes which are not used to any of these wines will ferment in the usual way and are simply called Valpolicella.
Ripasso is the next step in the development of Valpolicella wines. It is a mixture of Valpolicella and Amarone. It is produced by pouring Valpolicella wine over the lees of the Amarone. The wine is then allowed to ferment a second time on the Amarone skins.
In recent years, another type of Valpolicella wine has arisen, called Valpolicella Superiore. This wine is made from a blend of dried grapes and fresh grapes. The wine is made on grapes which have been dried for about a month (for Amarone at least 3 months) and then this wine is mixed with wine made on fresh grapes.
Which grape varieties are included in Valpolicella wines?
The most common grape varieties of wines from Valpolicella are Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.
The local grape Corvina is the most important of these grapes. It typically accounts for 40-70% of the wine. Additional grapes are usually Rondinella and small amount of Molinara. Nowadays the clone Corvinone is also widely used, providing a richer flavour and the grape Oseleta which gives a fine structure and balanced strength.
The proportion of Molinara may not become too high, because it will result in a diluted wine. Another factor that may impair the quality is tieing up the vines. If the vines are tied up in a pergola system the result will be too large yields and less concentrated wines. From locations where Corvina dominates or where good viticulture is practiced the wines will have both depth and intensity and may compete with good Chianti in concentration.
What are the differences in taste between the Valpolicella wine styles?
All wines from Valpolicella are cherry-like and more or less bittersweet. Ordinary Valpolicella is usually light, Ripasso somewhat stronger and Amarone heavier and bittersweet. Valpolicella Superiore is slightly stronger than Ripasso but although these two wines are made from the same grape varities as Amarone, they can not compare with this wine. The main differences are the selection of grapes and that an Amarone is made entirely from grapes dried for at least 3 months.
Recioto is a sweet wine with flavour and aroma of oak, dark cherries, plums and sweet liquorice.
Amarone has an aroma of raisins and dark cherries.The aroma promises a wine with power and body. On the palate sweetness from fruit and alcohol can be found, before the bitterness sets in and gives a dry finish. Even the bitter flavour is lovely and the best Amarone wines do have the richness of cherry fruit aroma that is so characteristic of the Valpolicella wines. As it matures the flavours of chocolate, leather, tobacco and cinnamon become even stronger. Amarone is rarely experienced as a completely dry wine and this is due to the high alcohol content (up to 16%) and the fruit concentration that arises when making wine of dried grapes. There are different styles of Amarone from the traditional, powerful style to elegant and fruitier styles.
In terms of taste the Ripasso-wines lie between ordinary Valpolicella and Amarone. It has better better body and higher alcohol content than the simpler wine but are often coarser due to the production method. The bitter cherry flavour often has a hint of chocolate.
Valpolicella Superiore is in comparison with Ripasso somewhat stronger and is best with food, while a Ripasso-wine usually can be enjoyed without food.
Ordinary Valpolicella wine are light and fresh and brimful of typical morello flavours.
Why do the Valpolicella wines taste different?
The manufacturing method determines how the wine will taste. All the wines from Valpolicella are made up of the same grape varieties, mainly Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.
Amarone is made of early harvested grapes of high quality which have been dried on shallow racks in a cool and airy place for up to four months. Due to this air drying the water evaporates and the must becomes sweet and concentrated. This process results in shriveled concentrated Passito-bunches which are then fermented to dryness. The wine will seldom become completely dry and often the residual sugar content exceeds the maximum limit of eight grams per liter.
The method of making wine of completely dry grapes is called Appassimento. At persistent humidity above 70%, the grapes are at risk to be infected by so-called botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. Traditionally it was considered that a certain degree of "botrytising" of the grapes was good for the final product, the wine became more complex. The genuine, traditional producers let the nature control the drying process and do not interfere at all other than to be extremely careful in the selection of grapes. Some producers, however, have chosen to make fully modern Amarone where the fruit comes before anything else and both temperature and humidity are controlled accurately by a computerized micro-climate in the drying plants. Today most of the Amarone wines are made in the traditional way but manual fans are available and turned on if the humidity gets too high.
The Amarone is then stored in Slovenian or French oak barrels for 2-4 years normally and then bottled and stored further from six months to several years. Amarone should be at least five years old before drinking it. Many Amarone wines are aged for 10-15 years.
The Veneto region, the Valpolicella district and the city of Verona are not only known for their Amarone. In this area three other wines made according to the Appassimento method are produced.
Ripasso-wine is produced by a second fermentation on the yeast residues from the alcoholic fermentation of Amarone, a method invented by the wine company Masi. Ripasso is thus ordinary Valpolicella fermented a second time on the Amarone lees. It gives to the wine a richer flavour, more body and structure and higher alcohol content. But Ripasso is often coarser than the younger wines since the method to produce it can be compared to making a cup of tea with a used tea bag. All the good flavours have already been extracted in the first round.
Valpolicella Superiore is made of a mixture of dried grapes and fresh grapes. The wine maker simply makes wine of grapes which have dried for about a month (as opposed to three months for Amarone) and mix this with wine made of fresh grapes.
Ordinary Valpolicella is made without drying of the grapes and should be drunk young, after about a year. It can be wonderful, light and fresh and brimful of typical morello flavours. But Valpolicella wine sold after two, three years may not be very nice, it is getting too old, there is not enough substance in the wine to make it possible to store.
This wine style is almost declared as a cult wine. The heavy sweetness is due to the manufacturing process where the dried grapes are not allowed to ferment completely.
Where is Valpolicella located?
The grapes of the Valpolicella wines are grown on the slopes northwest of Verona in northeastern Italy, near the lake Garda. The original Valpolicella zone has been designated Classico.
Valpolicella wines from Veneto are famous but the quality has been impaired by over-production. Many producers, however, still make the wine that once made the region famous. You are likely to run the least risk to be disappointed if you choose wines labelled Classico.
Is the climate of importance?
Yes, the conditions are favourable in the Valpolicella region. The climate, with cool breezes from the north and warm summer winds from the southern plains, gives both acidity and sweetness to the grapes. And that is needed for the balance. In particular if you want to make such a powerful wine as Amarone. The steep slopes of the Valpolicella Classico zone, with a climate tempered by the proximity to Lake Garda, are ideal for the Corvina vine.
Amarone is strongly influenced by the weather both during the summer months but also during the drying period. The weather, during the approximately three months when the grapes are dried, affects the wine as much as the conditions during the summer. Nowadays the climatic conditions during the drying period may be controlled using computers. The wines will then be fruitier and lighter. If the grapes are allowed to dry without interference from the wine maker you get an Amarone that is less structured, with more suppressed aroma and often more complex and interesting.
Many of the proposed wines on this web site may be bought in your country. Refer to Wine Searcher to find retailers. The numbers refer to Systembolaget´s information in Swedish.
Full-bodied red wine with sweet, somewhat tangy, spicy flavour with minor oak character, dark cherries, plums, sandalwood, sweet liquorice and sage. The aroma is spicy and fruity with hints of oak, dark cherries, plums, sweet liquorice and sage.
Grape varieties: 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara and 5% other grape varieties. Sugar content: 97 g/litre. Alcohol content: 12.5%. Price about 10 euros (375 ml).
Full-bodied, rich and spicy red wine. Aroma: Spicy, developed, nuanced, with medium oak character and hints of dried cherries, tobacco, raisins, dark chocolate and figs. Flavour: Spicy, rich in flavour, developed wine with medium oak character, hints of dried cherries, plums, tobacco, raisins, cocoa and figs.
Grape varieties: 60% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 15% Molinara, 5% Dindarella. Sugar content: 7 g/litre. Alcohol content: 15.5%. Price about 42 euros.
Medium-bodied, rich and spicy red wine. Aroma: Spicy, somewhat developed aroma with minor oak character and notes of dried cherries, cinnamon, strawberries and vanilla. Flavour: Spicy, somewhat developed flavour with minor oak character and notes of dried cherries, vanilla, strawberries and cinnamon.
Grape varieties: 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 10% oseleta. Sugar content: 8 g/litre. Alcohol content: 14.0%. Price about 12 euros.
Medium-bodied, rich and spicy red wine. Aroma: Nuanced, spicy aroma with medium oak character and notes of cherries, sage, vanilla and cinnamon. Flavour: Nuanced, spicy flavour with medium oak character and notes of cherries, sage, red currants, cinnamon and vanilla.
Grape varieties: 70% Corvina and Corvinone, 20% Rondinella and 10% Barbera. Sugar content: 3 g/litre. Alcohol content: 13.0%. Price about 12 euros.
Light-bodied, light and juicy red wine. Aroma of red berries with hints of dark cherries, herbs and liquorice. Flavour of red berries with hints of cherries, blueberries, liquorice and herbs.
Grape varieties: 65-70% Corvina, 20-25% Rondinella, 10% Molinara. Sugar content: less than 3 g/litre. Alcohol content: 12.0%. Price about 11 euros.
Which producers are the best?
The producer is very important for the quality of the wine. Below you can find producers that make wine of good to superior quality whether it is an Amarone or an Ordinary Valpolicella:
Stefano Accordini **, Serego Alighieri *, Allegrini ***, Bertani **, Bolla **, Brigaldara **, Brunelli **, Tommaso Bussola ****, Michele Castellani-I Castei **, Dal Forno ****, Guerrieri-Rizzardi **, Lonardi *, Masi **, Mazzi *, Pasqua *, Quintarelli ****, Le Ragose **, Le Salette **, Speri **, Tedeschi **, Tommasi *, Villa Monteleone **, Viviano ***, Zenato **, Fratelli Zeni *.
* = Particularly good producer
** = Excellent producer
*** = Exceptionally good producer
**** = Producer of wine with the highest quality
Which Amarone wines can be stored?
Generally one can say that Amarone wines should not be consumed until they are five years old. Amarone wines are released after 3-4 years and can then be stored for at least another 3-4 years. But Amarone may also be drunk when released because it contains relatively little tannins. However, all Amarone wines will benefit from aging for 7-8 years. How long an Amarone can be stored is depending on the storage conditions, vintage and quality (producer). Since Amarone wines are so popular, good vintages are sold out very quickly and become difficult to get hold of. The best vintages are listed in bold below. The information below is retrieved from Amaroneguiden (in Swedish).
2009: Generally an extremely good vintage. Should be stored. All indicates a top vintage comparable with 2006. Wait to drink until 2016.
2008: A good vintage but do not store for more than a few years. Drink now. Nothing has happened the last year.
2007: Extremely good vintage. Should be consumed before vintage 2006 since the time for maturation is shorter. Fresher and more elegant than 2006. Perfect to drink now, do not store too long.
2006: This vintage is one of the best ever. Massive, powerful and fruity. Super vintage. Can withstand storage particularly well. Many are at peak now (Spring 2015).
2005: Varies in quality. Not very elegant and sometimes very high in alcohol content.
2004: Very good vintage. Without doubt the best vintage ever. Extremely good to store for a long time. 2004 is at its absolute peak now (Spring 2015).
2003: Too hot. Viticulture on high altitudes was better. Generally they lack complexity, elegance and structure. Drink now.
2002: Miserable vintage. Avoid.
2001: Super vintage, but more difficult than 2000. Variation in weather and humidity made the botrytis content difficult to control in some vineyards which resulted in less premium wines but there was power, complexity, elegance and a base for very long storage. More "masculine" than 2000. Drink now or store longer but the fruit is beginning to disappear.
2000: Super vintage, more "feminine" than 2001. Elegant wines with good structure and yet significant strength. Complexity not always at peak for some. Drink now.
1999: Varies in quality.
1998: Great variation among the producers.
1997: Hot year but not too hot. Regarded as one of the best years ever in Italy. Gave Amarone which matured quickly. Good to store for many years.
1995: A very good vintage generally. Powerful, traditional Amarone. Difficult to get hold of but extremely complex and excellent vintage.
1993: Good vintage from some producers.
1990: Very good vintage, powerful wines.
1988: Good vintage.
1979: A fabulous vintage which of course is very difficult to get hold of.
1964: Matchless good vintage which still can be enjoyed.
If the wine is to be stored only for 3 to 4 years it may be stored at room temperature in a dark and vibration-free place. Storage for longer periods should be done at 10-12 degrees, dark and vibration-free.
How are Italian wines classified?
DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
In theory this is the denomination of the classic Italian wines which are limited to a few regions with strict requirements on harvest yield and production methods.
DOC: Denominazione di Origine Controllata
This is the denomination of the major appellations comparable to the French AC regions. Grape varieties, harvest yield, location of the vineyard and production methods are regulated.
IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica
A recently introduced denomination of wines with regional character, like the French Vin de Pays. IGT wines are becoming increasingly common.
Vino da tavola, table wine
In general, the simplest wines with few rules. Independent and innovative producers sell however, superb wines that do not fit into the DOC regulations but then at a higher price than usually for vino da tavola.
Amarone is such a powerful wine that it only works with very flavourful food. The ideal companion is Parmesan cheese. Its intense flavour richness and saltiness goes so well with the fruit and sweetness of the wine. The Italian sheep´s cheese Pecorino or a flavourful Swedish Västerbotten cheese also taste very good to Amarone.
To food the Ripasso and Valpolicella Superiore wines are better. Valpolicella is a light wine which goes well with mild cheeses such as the fresh cheese Saint André or any smear-ripened cheese.
Recioto also goes well with cheese and to desserts with chocolate and fresh berries.
Duck breast fillet with mashed potatoes and balsamic vinegar based sauce
Recipe for 4 persons
2 large duck breasts
A few slices of Prosciutto
5 decilitres shredded white cabbage or Savoy cabbage
4 decilitres dark duck or veal stock
2 decilitres red wine
4 tablespoons sugar
4 sundried tomatoes
4+1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
700 grams potatoes
70 grams matured cheese or Parmesan
Milk to the mashed potatoes
Salt and pepper
Cut the skin of the duck breasts, salt and pepper and fry in a hot pan. Transfer to an ovenproof dish. Peel the potatoes and boil until soft. Make a smooth puree with 4 tablespoons butter and warm milk. Add the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Transfer to a suitable cookware, add a little milk on top and cover with plastic film. Shred and brown the Prosciutto.
Melt the sugar in a stainless steel saucepan without burning it, until it becomes orange-brown. Heat the stock until it boils and add to the sugar, little at a time, while whisking (do not worry if the sugar becomes hard lumps, they dissolve if you whisk during cooking). Add the wine and the balsamic vinegar and let slowly boil down to half. Season with salt, pepper and finely shredded sundried tomatoes.
Put the duck breasts in the oven at 150 degrees for about 25-30 minutes (internal temperatur 58 degrees). Heat the mashed potates in the microwave oven. Heat the sauce and pour it like a mirror on the plate. Heat the cabbage quickly first in the microwave oven and then to the boil in 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Stir in the shredded and fried Prosciutto. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the duck breasts and put them on top of the mashed potatoes. On top the cabbage.
Parmesan or Pecorino or Swedish Västerbotten cheese
Saint André or smear ripened cheese e g Saint Albray
100 grams dark chocolate
2 egg yolks
3 decilitres whipping cream
Break the chocolate into pieces and melt them in a bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water or in a microwave oven on maximum power for 60 to 90 seconds. Open and stir now and then.
Add the egg yolks to the chocolate. Let the mixture cool.
Whip the cream until thick and creamy but not too hard, because the mousse may then become grainy.
Fold half of the cream into the chocolate and mix well. Add the rest of the cream and mix with large airy movements.
Pour the mousse into a dish or small serving cups. Let it harden in the refrigerator for about 3 hours.
(Recipe from Bonniers kokbok)
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