Since the world caught on to Amarone, we have been inundated with massively increasing volumes of that wine. Amarone can be great, and I was an early enthusiast for it (perhaps on account of my first bottle ever of Amarone having been from Quintarelli…), but it all too frequently is rather poor, particularly these days.
In Amarone’s footsteps came the beefed-up category of Valpolicella Ripasso. Ripasso – often called the poor man’s Amarone – aims to pull off the trick of being both fresh and weighty, and almost always ends up being neither (I am being grossly unjust, there are lots of good Ripassos, but I have fallen victim to great tiredness of the category). Ripasso wines have caught on like a wildfire, and in Denmark no self-respecting supermarket has less than three “ripasso type” wines. Sales are enormous, provenance frequently doubtful, and fraud undoubtedly frequent. And most wines of the supermarket category are dire.
One wine has been left standing still amidst the Amarone-Ripasso craze, and that is the pure, straight Valpolicella normale, whether from the Classico zone or outside, and whether Superiore or not. Volumes of this wine have fallen dramatically in recent years, and that is a great pity. While thin, sour and fairly undrinkable straight Valpo may have been the norm, the best producers of this wine often committed pure magic in the bottle, with light, fresh, zingy and quintessentially drinkable red wines. These were perfect summer drinking, but equally enjoyable in winter, where their goood acidity was tailor-made for cutting through rich food.
Fortunately, a few producers have kept on making fantastic straight Valpo, and I would even dare to say that the best examples these days are probably better than they have ever been. Made from a majority of corvina and corvinone, with additions of many other grape varieties, including the classics rondinella and molinara, straight Valpo is not made from grapes that have been dried or in other ways tampered with, and ideally reflects the freshness and primary fruit character of the vineyard fruit. While simplicity, freshness and liveliness are the name of the game, the best examples manage to marry these characteristics to a wonderfully pulpy fruit and hints of terroir complexity. These wines are made to be drunk young, and while they do not go bad after a couple of years, they do gradually lose some of their immediacy and charm.
The following are recent tasting notes from my three present favourite straight Valpos:
Monte del Frà Valpolicella Classico Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2011
Totally lovely, seductive nose of sweet perfumed cherries, juicy, with touches of light oriental spices, dry leaves, humus and bark that in no way disrupt the incredible immediacy of the nose, but merely accentuates it. Light, elegant and super juicy in the mouth, lovely acidity, clear sweetness of fruit, dry and with a lovely, lively balance. Long and lovely, redolent of sweet cherries and the highlights from the nose, leaving the palate fresh and perfumed, with slight spice. Weightless perfection, can Valpolicella be better than this? A revelation of immediacy coupled with sophistication.
Allegrini Valpolicella Superiore 2010
Lovely, fresh, lively, juicy nose with dark sour cherries, light spice and a touch of sweet meat. Light to medium weight, super juicy, elegant, with good acidity coupled with soft ripe fruit and a hint of grape tannins. Good length with juicy ripe cherries, light spice, violets and the merest hint of coffee and charcoal. Delicious.
Stefano Accordini Valpolicella Classico 2011
Delicious, juicy nose with sour cherries, fresh violet, light spices, minerals and a tiny hint of bark. Light in the mouth, juicy, acidic and lively fruit, light and fresh grape tannins. Good length with juicy cherries, violets, light spice, minerals and hints of bark and humus. Juicy, delicious, consistent wine.
I simply adore wines such as these, and you would too, if you took the time to meet them on their own terms. Once you have gotten the bug, you will not be able to stop buying them by the case and drinking them in large, thirsty gulps.