I don’t think of myself as a contrarian, but I am fascinated with wines that seem to have gone out of style.
Our last subject, Rioja Gran Reserva, was one such wine, and so is our next, Valpolicella.
Light, crisp, refreshing Valpolicella used to be a famous name among Italian reds, but it has been overshadowed by its sibling in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, Amarone della Valpolicella, better known by the more informal Amarone.
This big, powerful, expensive, often syrupy red is made from the same set of grapes as Valpolicella, primarily corvina, with some rondinella and corvinone. To make Amarone, those grapes are dried after harvest until they become sweet and concentrated, and then fermented.
In the last 50 years, another version of Valpolicella became popular, one that occupied a middle ground between the ordinary style and Amarone. This version, ripasso, is made by pouring already fermented Valpolicella over the dried skins left over from making Amarone. This repassing, or ripasso, adds weight and intensity to the wine.
Over time, ripasso has become the dominant style of Valpolicella. But I still have an affection for the fresh purity and drinkability of the old style, which is not always so easy to find. Here are my three suggestions:
Brigaldara Valpolicella 2018 (Vinifera Imports, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.) $16
Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2017 (Winebow, New York) $18
Prà Valpolicella Morandina 2018 (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.) $25
If you can’t find these bottles, look for wines from Ca’ Rugate, Monte Dall’Ora, Vaona, Adalia, Le Albare, Tomassi, Allegrini or Viviani. It’s not always easy to tell the ripassos from the normal styles by the label, as the term is not always used. If you end up with a ripasso, enjoy it.
Valpolicellas go well with pork chops with herbs, sausages and simple chicken dishes. Some people like them with tomato-based sauces, but I gravitate toward Chianti or barberas for that. Valpolicellas are often light enough to go well with fish.
Give these wines a light chill before serving. No decanting is necessary.