Great Italian red wines

Wayne on Wine
Phil Yeakel, left, and Knox Glass join in the Wine Group’s blind-tasting. Photo by Wayne Crawford

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Italian wine sales in America are significant, appearing on almost all restaurant wine lists and in every retail wine facility. All 20 state regions in Italy produce wine. Tuscany and Piedmont are the best known and showcase the sangiovese and nebbiolo grapes in Brunello Monticello, Barolo and Barbaresco.

There are other great Italian wines. Seventy-five miles west of Venice is Verona; the Valpolicella wine region is the birthplace of the white wine, Soave, and an exceptional red wine, Amarone Della Valpolicella.

Unique to Amarone production is the drying of grapes—corvina, molinara and rondinella—in a process called appassimento. This procedure takes several weeks, allowing an increase of sugar concentration in the grapes, which were selected carefully during harvest and stored in well- ventilated rooms, often on straw mats.

Once shriveled like a raisin, these grapes are crushed and fermented, creating a wine with high alcohol content and deep, black fruit and raisin flavors. It is aged for two years in oak prior to release. This process is expensive and translates to higher retail costs.

These are remarkable wines that will age gracefully, making this an exceptional wine to cellar. In our Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tastings, the two oldest wines—2000 and 2001—held their blackberry flavors and were smooth and well-balanced with lingering finishes that reinforced the value of aging wines.

There is a tiered structure to Valpolicella wine that migrates from Classico through Superiore, Superiore Ripasso, Amarone Della Valpolicella into the sweet wine, Recioto Della Valpolicella. With Amarone, the oldest vines are selected.

The Valpolicella basic wine is fruit-forward, light-bodied and released within weeks after bottling in the nouveau style. The Tier 1 Valpolicella Classico is the largest quantity produced from grapes grown in the region. Tier 2 Valpolicella Superior is aged at least two years prior to going to market. Tier 3 Valpolicella Superior Ripasso is relatively a newcomer, first crafted in the 1980s by Masi Costasera. This repassed process takes leftover grape skins and seeds from Amarone or Recioto production and adds Valpolicella wines over the repassed to produce a Ripasso. Most producers who craft Amarone and the more rare dessert wine Recioto make a Ripasso using the must of these two wines.

Tier 4 Amarone and Tier 5 Recioto wines now are rated as DOCG wines, the highest rating for Italian wine. The aging potential of these two wines, when stored properly, is two decades or more. The Ripasso wine, which is less expensive than an Amarone, is often considered a “baby Amarone.”

Aged cheeses like Parmesan or Gouda pair well with Amarones, given their high alcohol, full body and full flavor. With a main course, braised lamb, grilled red meats, wild game and mushroom sauces go well. The lighter Valpolicella wines complement grilled or roasted chicken, tomato pasta, risotto and sausage.

If you have not enjoyed an Amarone, now is a good time to include the wine in your holiday entertaining.

Wines drinking well now
Masi Costasera 2000 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico, Italy, $45: Dark-red with high color saturation, this 14-year-old wine has red berry aromas with hints of spice and menthol. On the palate, note a wonderful mouthfeel, well-balanced with cherry, herbs and dried fruit flavors dominating. The wine exhibits a medium body with a long-lasting finish that keeps inviting you back. This classic Amarone was our best-of-class win during our blind-tasting— a great wine undeniably improving with age. Highly Recommended.

Villa Mattelli 2010 Amarone Della Valpolicella, Italy, $25: Red with ruby tints and nice cherry aromas on the nose, this relatively young, ripe red berry wine with notes of raisins and sweet herbs has a medium body with a luscious, lingering finish. It was the first in our second-choice wines in the September blind-tasting. The grapes are 50 percent corvina, 30 percent corvinone, 15 percent rondinella and five percent oseleta. Best Buy.

La Ragose 2001 Amarone Della Valpolicella, Italy, $62: This wine’s dark-red color with full saturation is a classic, old Amarone appearance. On the nose, the wine exhibits dark, cherry aromas with spice, herbs, raisins and smoke. Its intense legs and medium body with rich, cherry flavors support a warm mouthfeel in a balanced wine that sustains a long, rewarding finish. This was our third choice wine in a very close blind-tasting, where almost all 11 wines were well- chosen and rewarded. Highly Recommended.

Other wines to enjoy include: Monte Del Fra 2007 Tenuta Lena Di Mezzo Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico, Italy, $49; Speri 2011 Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore Veneto, Italy DOC, $16; Albino Armani 2011 Ripasso Della Valpolicella 1607, Italy, $20; Luigi Righetti 2010 Capitel de Roari Amarone Della Valpolicella, Italy, $33; Pasqua 2007 Amarone, Italy, $34; and L’Arco 2008 Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, $33.

Drink what you like

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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