two fine italian wines for the month of may 2009

Wine for may – Under $25

La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2006 (about $20)

Fattoria La Valentina was established in 1990 by Sabatino DiProperzio near Spoltare in the hills west of Pescara in the Abruzzo region. While a relatively young winery for the Abruzzo area, it has under the guidance of acclaimed winemaker Luca d’Attoma within a very short period established a reputation as a quality-oriented producer of wines that reflect the distinctive and unique characteristics of the Abruzzo region. La Valentina takes a very traditional approach to farming based on organic and biodynamic farming methods but is not averse to using cutting-edge technology when appropriate to ensure the integrity of the wine from the vineyard to bottle.

The grape of choice in the Abruzzo region is Montepulciano, a native Italian grape of outstanding potential that flourishes in this mountainous region and accounts for La Valentina, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006nearly all of the Abruzzo’s DOC red wines. Often overlooked and frequently misunderstood, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (mon ta pul chee’ ahn no dah broot’ zo) wines can be as rich, flavorful and complex as wines made from more popular Italian varietals like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.  As I’ve indicated in previous wine reviews, they are reliable and interesting wines that provide real value. While most are in the $10 to $20 price range, there are also some highly regarded, artisanal Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines that carry high double-digit price tags. But my experience is that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines seldom disappoint and generally represent real value at any price point.

La Valentina’s ’06 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo consists of 100 percent Montepulciano grapes manually harvested from 25 to 35 year old vines in their vineyards in the Spoltore area. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 12 months in a combination of cement and stainless steel tanks with 15 percent aged in wood. The wine is bottled in December of the following year and is released for sale after several months in the bottle.

La Valentina’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has the deep purple Damson plum color and rich aromas of black currants, dark cherries and kitchen spices overlaid with traces of mushrooms and dusty earth. It is a medium to full-bodied, round wine with nice, juicy plum and dark cherry flavors, muted tannins and just a hint of black pepper on the finish. Absolutely delicious.

The wine is ready to drink now or you can hold it for, say, 3 to 5 years. This wine goes well with hearty first courses like risotto with sausage and main dishes like eggplant lasagna, grilled meats and roast lamb as well as aged cheeses.

Where can I buy this wine?  Available at Arrowines in Arlington but otherwise difficult to find locally.

Wine for may – $25 and over

Zenato, Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa 2005/06 (about $28)

I’ve been a big fan of Ripasso wine ever since my first trip several years ago to the Valpolicella region around Verona. We were in a restaurant in the small town of Soave, a picture postcard-pretty town a few miles east of Verona. Some in our small group were having braised meats as a main course and the proprietor recommended a bottle of Masi’s Rispasso-style wine called Campofiorin (see my review) to accompany our food. The Campofiorin was a dark, rich, sensuous wine that complemented the meat dish without overwhelming it. I found it impossible to resist. Fortunately, there was some Rispasso left for meditative sipping after the table was cleared.

So what is Ripasso and how is it made? you ask. After the fermentation of Amarone wine is complete, traditional Valpolicella wine is passed over the lees, a fancy term for the dregs or pomace (consisting of grape seeds, pulp, stems, grape skins and traces of yeast and alcohol) remaining from the production of the Amarone wine. This “repassing” of the new wine over the pomace leads to a secondary fermentation that creates the Ripasso Valpolicella whose deeper color, greater depth and more complex aromas exceed those of the original Valpolicella but are less than the more opulent Amarone. Enterprising and ingenious people these Veronese winemakers!

The first Ripasso wine was produced by the Masi winery in the early 1960’s which subsequently registered the Ripasso name. The Zenato winery’s version of Ripasso is called Ripassa to avoid copyright problems with the use of the term Ripasso.

The Zenato winery is in San Benedetto di Lugana, which is on the Veneto side of the southern shore of Lake Garda, about 16 miles west of Verona. Founded in 1960 by Sergio Zenato, the Azienda Zenato today consists of 180 acres in Lugana and the Valpolicella Classico area and is run by Sergio’s children, Alberto and Nadia.

The 2006 Zenato Ripassa consists of 80 percent Corvina Veronese, 10 percent Zenato, Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa 2006Rondinella and 10 percent Sangiovese that is harvested in mid- to late-September. After fermentation the Valpolicella wine is aged in steel and then large wooden barrels. When the dried grapes used to produce the Amarone are crushed in February the following year, the Valpolicella wine is then “repassed” over the Amarone pomace. After ten days fermentation the wine is drained off and part of it is then aged in small oak cases and part in large oak barrels. After 18 months the wine is bottled where it spends 6 months prior to release for sale.

The 2006 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa has a deep, brooding, red-purple color that borders on black with intense perfumed aromas of a dried fruit compote. It is full-bodied and loaded with clove, raisin, dark fruit and balsamic flavors. It is rich and round with soft, controlled tannins and an intense, lingering earthy finish.

It is an intense wine that is best reserved for foods such as braised meats, grilled barbeque, roasts, game and strong cheeses where the Ripassa’s intense flavors complement rather than overwhelm the food. It is also great for post-dinner, meditative sipping, what Italians call a vino di meditazione.

Where can I buy this wine?   Available at Wine Specialist, Total Wine & More, MacArthur Beverages, Circle Wine and Liquor, Schneiders on Capitol Hill (2007), Calvert Woodley, Corridor Wine and Spirits and other stores.

Note – prices indicated are averages of generally available retail prices and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed.  It is best to call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis
May 12, 2009



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