Should Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet have drunk Valpolicella Ripasso, produced between the glamorous Lake Garda and their home town of Verona, instead of the infamous and ill-fated sleeping potion, it’s with absolute certainty that things would have turned out for the better. For their potion was poison, possibly deadly nightshade, and Ripasso is a heavenly fruit-bomb, vinified by Bacchus himself. Valpolicella Ripasso is one of the world’s most under-valued wines but knowing which bottles to buy can be a minefield as quality varies widely and recent vintages have been impacted by extreme weather.
As Valpolicella Ripasso became an official DOC in 2010 and has only been in production in its current form since the 1960’s, our literary lovers would never have had the chance to enjoy Ripasso (now that’s a tragedy!). This wine’s popularity soared in the mid-2000s, especially in Scandinavia where Ripasso style enjoys cult status and sales have grown exponentially across Sweden, Finland Norway and Denmark. This popularity is thanks to the introduction to that market of Masi’s unmistakeable Campofiorin in 2004.
With this surge in popularity came an increase in demand and a business opportunity for Venetian winemakers. Many producers added a Ripasso to their range in the mid-2000s and have cashed in on the newly refined drinking habits of the Swedes. But how exactly is this wine different from the basic Valpolicella of the 1970s, a wine so tame and vapid that its legacy cursed the region for a generation?
Ripasso’s (literally; to be re-passed) method of production is very simple and it’s amazing that, despite wine production from dried grapes being a practice for two millennia, the Ripasso style has only been with us for fifty years. A base Valpolicella is produced and then this wine ferments a second time on the pomace of Amarone or Recioto skins and undergoes an extended maceration passing colour and tannin as it goes. It’s the grapes that go into these wines, dried in lofts in the Venetian autumn, that are the key behind the high alcohol and tannin. These attributes give Ripasso its depth of flavour and improved structure. These wines are frequently given the moniker “Baby Amarone”, and while they do possess acres of rich fruit and tannin compared to a standard Valpolicella, they do not share the structure or power of a good Amarone. However, neither are Ripasso wines as expensive, retailing under £15 a bottle, with the average Amarone closer to £40-£50.
So why is the quality so hit and miss? This is due simply to the laws that govern the current DOC. Ripasso can be produced in six different appellations of Valpolicella, its grape %’s can vary wildly between producers in the base wine, and so can the number of days that a producer permits the second fermentation and time on Amarone or Riecoto pomace. The rules are many, but their conditions are loose. This forces top producers in the area, Masi and Allegrini, world-renowned for quality, to voice concerns that many of their neighbours are producing inferior Ripasso. Masi and Allegrini have called for the DOC rules to be tightened to ensure a continuity of quality. We all know how it ends when Veronese families start in-fighting…
So which producers and vintages should you be looking for when on the hunt for quality in Valpolicella Ripasso? Firstly, be mindful of the two most recent vintages when released, 2016 and 2017 growing seasons were hit by extreme weather from burning heat to hail and everything in-between. The best recent vintages are 2015 and 2013 so where you can, look for these years. Although, not all vineyards are impacted equally by hail or heat, there will always be outstanding wines even in off-vintages, but as a rule of thumb the Masi Campofiorin (though strictly labelled an IGT) or Allegrini’s excellent Corte Giara Ripasso (2015 if you can) are safe choices and widely available on the web and specialist wine retailers for under £15.
If buying a Ripasso as part of a mix and match case isn’t on the cards or you want to buy a bottle today then consider just popping down to your local supermarket! The quality of the UK supermarket’s own label range continues to improve and many are carrying their own label Valpolicella Ripasso. I visited Asda/Morrisons/Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose last weekend to purchase their own-label versions to perform a little UK taste-off. The results of which fair well for Ripasso. Surprisingly, neither Aldi nor Lidl, who do a great job sourcing fruit forward wines at fair prices, have a Ripasso on the books . Here are my top 3 best Valpolicella Ripasso wines currently available in UK supermarkets.
Valpolicella Ripasso Supermarket Review
GOLD – Morrisons – Valpolicella Ripasso – 2015
A dark ruby red, this wine’s aromas are pronounced and leap out of the glass. Notes of chocolate, black cherry and baked prunes are quick on the nose and the palate carries these qualities through and merge with a well-judged level of tannin and acidity. The wine is tasty, balanced and the best example of Valpolicella Ripasso I’ve ever seen under £10. Well done Morrisons. 90 Points/£8.50/13.50% abv – Buy
SILVER – Asda Extra Special – Valpolicella Ripasso – 2015
Red berry and cherry notes dominate the nose with a luscious mouth-feel. The wine is full bodied and packed with crunchy sweet fruit including red berries and cranberry. A bit hot on the end but very easy drinking and enjoyable if a little one dimensional. A buy for the price and a good example of typicity. 88 Points/£8.50/14% abv – Buy
BRONZE – Waitrose – Valpolicella Ripasso – 2015
Deep ruby red in colour and viscous. The nose is packed full of dense dark fruit including blackberries and cranberry. The wine has a velvety, full mouth-feel with a good streak of acidity but does lack that tannic structure and felt a bit unbalanced. This is a fruity, full and plain tasty wine with good length on the finish. 88 points/£12.99/14.5% abv – Evens