There’s a lot to like in the Valpolicella corner of the Italian wine section

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      There’s a lot to like in the Valpolicella corner of the Italian wine section, not least the fact that you can get it from $7.98 to $229.99 in the government stores. But if you thought German wines were fraught with complications, wait till you open the Valpolicella book.

      Hands up anybody who can tell us the difference between a Valpolicella Classico, a Classico Superiore, a Ripasso, a Valpantena, and an Amarone della Valpolicella. Oh yes, almost forgot, there’s Recioto too: full name Recioto della Valpolicella Classico Quintarelli 1995. That’s the $230 job and no, there wasn’t any on hand for this tasting; you’re on your own for that one. Do drop a note and tell me how it went down.

      The primer: Valpolicella is a major red wine area in Italy’s Veneto region north of the city of Verona, ranking just behind Chianti in terms of the country’s total red wine production. The principal grape variety is Corvina; Molinara and Rondinella are also prominent, as are four other, lesser varieties that can go into the mix to the tune of 15 percent and the wine still be labelled Valpolicella.

      A Superiore is a wine that has at least a one-percent higher alcohol content and has been aged for at least a year. Classico identifies the best wines, those that come from the inner Classico zone with its steep vineyards. Valpantena means a wine comes from a separate area known as the Pantena Valley.

      Ripasso refers to the ripasso process: after fermentation, a wine goes into casks containing some lees from previous Recioto wines. This process usually lasts a couple of weeks and adds colour, complexity, and tannin. The term used to not be allowed on the label, so you had to guess or possess direct info, but several of the ones on our shelves now do say Ripasso, so that rule seems to have been relinquished.

      Almost done! Wines labelled Recioto aren’t like the ordinary Valpolicellas because semi-dried grapes are used in their production; they’re usually sweeter and very pleasant. Amarone della Valpolicella describes the dry version: the same process as above, except here the grapes are left to fully ferment. There are also sparkling and fortified versions of Valpolicella, but we have tasting to do.

      If you’re a first-timer, start with the basic cheap version—$7.98 buys you a half-bottle (375 millilitres) of Folonari Valpolicella 2008. It’s fresh, light, bright, and serviceable; there’s a little bite, and it makes a good pizza wine. It’s also a good setup wine, to get the palate into tasting mode.

      Here are three different versions from the house of Tedeschi, which has been producing award- (and Parker-points-) winning wines for generations (documents have come to light only a few years ago showing early vineyard purchases in 1630), the real push coming with the work of Nicolí² Tedeschi in 1824. The house continues as a family business.

      Seven Tedeschi red wines are available in B.C., all being speculative listings. These are the ones we sampled: Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2008 ($19.99), Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Capitel San Rocco 2008 ($29.99), and Valpolicella Classico Superiore Capitel dei Nicalo (Appassimento Breve) 2008. (The latter was a tank sample from the producer, so no price is currently available. If you want to follow up on its travels and, we hope, its arrival in B.C., check with the agent, Stile Wines at

      The $20 wine is the best buy in this tasting: deep purple, soft and stylish, with substantial fruit and a fresh finish. Pasta with meat or broiled fish would welcome it; grilled winter vegetables too. A versatile all-around dinner wine.

      The Ripasso immediately delivered the bright taste of the wind-dried grapes: intense, beefy, leathery, brambly, and very rich—so rich you can feel the 14-percent alcohol, but it mellows into the overall effect with elegance. The total taste experience is heady and intense, and there’s a gorgeous long finish.

      Speaking of gorgeous, that’s the only word for the tank sample to follow. Is this a single-vineyard wine? There was no information to that end. Elegant, with a bitter-almond backbone; very much in the tradition of those big-money super-Tuscans; long and rich on the palate and culminating in a hearty finish. This is a label I want to get to know better.

      Two different models from Secco-Bertani pleased tasters’ palates: Valpolicella Valpantena 2006 ($22.99) and Valpolicella Valpantena Ripasso 2006 (for some reason two cents cheaper, at $22.97). Here’s a big rush of fruit right out of the glass as it’s pouring, revealing a fine “sunshine of Tuscany” aroma and a fresh, bright, fruity taste as you swirl the glass. The super-Tuscans are all very nice, but if it’s my dime I’m here. A slab of the real Parmesan and a drizzle of frantoio extra-virgin olive oil could be dinner.

      On to the Ripasso and more label lore: “blending the typical fruitiness of Valpolicella with traditional ripasso method, over the fresh amarone and recioto”. Darker, richer, drier, showing tobacco and some licorice; satisfying and full; a good dinner wine for all the meat you’re cooking this winter, and maybe fresh blueberries and apricots topped with a dash of Galliano and cream.

      The finale was Ca’Rugate Amarone della Valpolicella 2005 ($69.99 and worth it!). The bottle itself must contribute to the cost: it weighs a ton. Here’s a lot of mellowness, softness, sweetness—a wonderful treat, more of a vin santo, really, than a dinner wine. But along with roast duck or goose with Asian spices and a sugar crust or cider-brined pork chops, it would be delicious. All in all and yes, despite the cost, it’s good value; there are other Amarones out there that can cost twice that.

      One sure thing: after you taste here, you won’t want to go back to the beginning.