A couple of weeks back, the bank where I am employed had a Christmas get-together where we went to a local restaurant in the city. As we gathered, I was given the wine menu and tasked to choose. Not that I mind…in fact, that’s a job I rather enjoy! However, when you’re handed a less than stellar wine list, it makes choosing rather difficult! I played it safe, yet went a little higher in choosing the Masi Campfiorin. This is a Ripasso wine made from the large Italian producer located in the Valpolicella region. It deems Masi to be the expert in the Appassimento technique.
I beg to differ….but before I tell you why, let me explain a little about Appassimento: Grapes are dried on bamboo mats in temperature controlled rooms after harvest to concentrate all the flavours of the grapes. They become almost raisinated, but not quite. And it’s after this process that the grapes are then crushed and fermented and used to make either a Recioto (sweet) or an Amarone (bitter) wine. There’s also this business called Ripasso, which means the leftover juices from the Amarone must, are passed over a Valpolicella. So, the flavours are MORE concentrated than a regular Valpolicella, but less than an Amarone…or so they say. But is Ripasso just a gimmick?
In June, I met a young Italian winemaker named Camilla Rossi Chauvenet, who lives outside of Verona in the Veneto region, on her property named Massimago. (BTW, her website is really fun! She has music to go with her wine…brilliant!) Here, she grows the classic grapes of Valpolicella. She is making brilliant wines that reflect the soil, and continually testing the frontiers of flavours and characters from the regions grape varietals of Corvina, Rondinella, and for Camilla…Corvinone. (We usually hear of Molinara, the final trio of the classic Valpolicella grape varietals). With her Valpolicella, Superiore and Amarone in front of me, I got to try all three, and then I asked her about Ripasso. She told me with a smile on her face, that “it is not real. It is just juice! They just do this to sell wine!” And since then, I have not purchased a Ripasso. I have however, been dying to drink Camilla’s wines again, and because it’s Christmas, and my pocketbook is thin, purchasing her Amarone was a bit beyond my reach. (sugg retail of $75) And if you’ve ever had an Amarone, they are fabulous! Full, dense, concentrated flavours of dried fruits, smoke, licorice and sweet tobacco, and usually a full price tag to go with it due to the extensive process of making this wine. So, I settled on the Valpolicella Superiore – the baby Amarone and less than half price on the shelf for about 33 bucks. None of this Ripasso business, but rather, a baby Amarone…made exactly like an Amarone, but with less aging, and half the price! This wine did not disappoint (for the second time) and I loved the flavours of figs, licorice, vanilla and baking spices. Even a hint of that black current, which is likely due to the 5% Cabernet Sauvignon in this wine too! I even managed to save some for a second day’s tasting and wow…this wine was (and is) spectacular! If you can, pick up a Massimago of your own this Christmas season…it’s the perfect Christmas wine! Cheers!