Because wine is never simple, the story ofRipasso is the story ofAmarone, which is the story ofRecioto, which is also the story of Valpolicella, all wines from Italy’s Veneto region. As fun as it is to clumsily over-pronounce those names, it starts to feel a little bit like Inception—going one layer deeper each time to find the truth, except things become really confusing and you can’t find your way back out. (Hey, at leastTom Hardy’s there.)
But Ripasso is delicious, worth the plunge, and we can do this, with or without Hardy. The place to start is Valpolicella, the “101” wine of Italy’s Veneto region, made with Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes. Chances are you’ve had Valpolicella, especially if you’re on a budget—it’s a pleasant, inexpensive, cherry-bright, fruity Italian wine, totally serviceable, but generally nothing to ponder over. And that’s where Recioto comes in. The Veneto region wanted to add some “oomph” to its wines, give them depth that the grapes couldn’t really impart. So they started partially drying them prior to fermentation, resulting in a far more complex, but also sweeter wine: Recioto.
Italians have had a thing for sweet reds for a while (mulsum is a kind of Ancient Roman honeyed wine), so the sweetness of Recioto wasn’t objectionable. In fact, what was objectionable was when the wine meant to become Recioto kept fermenting, eating up all the residual sugars, resulting in a dry (some would say “bitter”) wine. This is the birth of Amarone: amaro=bitter, not in the sense of a bitter flavor but in contrast to the sweetness expected. Amarone was Recioto left too long, or just by some hiccup of fermentation robbed of its residual sweetness, treated like a mistake, presumably given to the peasants to stew horse meat (or so we hear). Tastes changed, of course, and now a bottle of Amarone, “great bitter,” can easily go for an average of $50, often well over $100. And generally we’re not using it to stew meat, equine or other.
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We still have one more step. How do we get to Ripasso? Yet more Italian ingenuity. Think of Ripasso as the middle ground between spritely Valpolicella and brooding Amarone, the dryly complex mistaken stepchild of Recioto. The goal, once more, is to impart more complexity to Valpolicella. After pressing the dried grapes for Amarone, there were plenty of grape skins leftover. Rather than chuck away so much tannic treasure, winemakers began using the skins in a second fermentation of Valpolicella, essentially infusing the wine with more complexity. Thus, Ripasso, meaning “re-pass,” or “go over again,” a process that proved so successful it was given its own DOC in 2007.
OK, we’ve incepted it. But why do you have to know this, beyond trivia points for your wine tasting club? Think of it this way—if you can’t or won’t drop a Grant (that’s a $50, right?) on a bottle of Amarone, but you’d like to take a step up from $12 Valpolicella, Ripasso is exactly your medium ground. Priced at around $20 a bottle, you’ll still get that approachable cherry fruitiness of a classic Valpolicella, except now it’ll be anchored with tannins and flavors drawn out of those dried grape skins—darker fruits, spice, leather, and a longer finish. It’s like if someone said “We can’t take you backstage to meet Jack White, but we can give you the sweaty T-shirt he wore during the concert.” You’re not fully immersed in the real thing, but you have a taste of it.
AKA, budget shopping at its best.