More is less?

This weekend has given the chance to taste two bottles of Valpolicella Ripasso (you can add Classico Superiore if you wish).  Most Valpolicella is made for quick and easy drinking and there is a huge jump up to Amarone, made from semi-dried grapes, and thus far weightier and hopefully more complex.  In between is Ripasso. The clue is in the name – once you have made your Amarone, you ‘pass’ the basic wine over the spent skins of the Amarone with a view to enriching the basic wine.  The idea is to produce a wine with some greater complexity, but definitely one for drinking and to go with food. Amarone by contrast is a ‘meditation wine’.

Both these wines are a nice, clear ruby red.  Both come from the 2008 vintage.  The Fabiano is £12.50 from Grape Expectations, Andover; the Waitrose/Recchia offering normally £10, currently on offer at £8.  On the nose they offer red fruits from the Corvina grape and then some pleasurable hints of dried fruit and a little bit of tar or smoke from old oak. The palates vary.

The Fabiano is on the face of it the ‘better’ wine. It’s a bit more expensive and it is far, far richer.  I enjoyed it but I couldn’t help wondering if it wasn’t Ripasso made for a market used to the big fruit flavours of the New World.  That would be a surprising conclusion but one that may be right.  By contrast, the Recchia (sold under the ‘Waitrose in partnership with’ label)  just creeps in to the Ripasso category – that is, the notes of dried fruits and balsam are very subtle.  I am not sure I would have spotted them if I had tasted it blind, but there is a lot more here than just new fruit.

At the end of the day it is of course a matter of style.  The less substantial Recchia is just, well, more vinous.  It doesn’t jump out of the glass at you but its quality is in its properly astringent finish – it refreshes the palate and is surprisingly long.    It has that characteristic slight bitterness which is so prized in Italian cooking and its wines. By contrast the Fabiano is luscious, fruit driven and powerful.  For my taste that doesn’t entirely go with the proper high level of acidity in the wine.  Good but not typical.

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