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OK, you caught me. Here's a selfie with winemaker Claudia Benazzoli, who just poured me some of her Valpolicella Ripasso 2013.

I’m with fourth-generation winemaker Claudia Benazzoli, enjoying her Valpolicella Ripasso 2013.

Benvenuti, amici miei – welcome, my friends!

I hope you enjoyed my earlier #FlashbackFriday post, featuring the little-known, yet delicious white wines of Italy’s Lugana region.

As I mentioned then, I got to know these wonderful whites – and their producers – during an industry-only tasting at San Francisco’s venerable #StFrancisHotel.

 
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Beautifully organized tasting at the St. Francis Hotel in SF.

Beautifully organized tasting at the St. Francis in SF.

BTW, my friends, I’m following through on my promise to smuggle you into cool “insider” wine-and-food events with me!

At this walk-around tasting, hosted by the wine consortia (associations) of #Lugana and #Valpolicella – neighboring wine-growing regions in northern Italy – I was able to talk one-on-one with the dozen or so winery owners and winemakers from both areas.

(I trotted out my trusty (but rusty) college Italian, but all of the winery principals spoke excellent English.)

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Unlike the white-wine-centric Lugana region, Valpolicella features reds, in several different, widely varying styles.

Selected wines from #Lugana and #Valpolicella

And also unlike Lugana, which America has only recently discovered, Valpolicella is already firmly established here. Several of its wines, in fact, fetch prices well above $100.

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The lighter style of Valpolicella has much in common with Nouveau Beaujolais, including an early release, soon after harvest.

The lightest style of Valpolicella; fresh, fruity, unaged; has much in common with Nouveau Beaujolais, including an early release, mere weeks after harvest.

The three main grapes grown here are Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. “Basic” Valpolicella – fresh, fruity and unaged, and the region’s best-known style – compares to a nouveau Beaujolais.

The Valpolicella Classico style, aged for at least a year, is fuller bodied and more complex.

Next, the #Amarone style amps up the weight and concentration of Valpolicella, due mostly to a unique, labor-intensive technique that dates back to the ancient Greeks.

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My first Amazon of the day – from Ca' dei Frati. Definitely a sign of good things to come!

My first Amarone of the day – from Ca’ dei Frati. Definitely a sign of good things to come!

After harvest, carefully chosen bunches of grapes are spread out on straw mats to dry.

As they shrivel, and the water evaporates, their sugars, acids and aromatics concentrate.

These raisined grapes are pressed, the juice is fermented completely, and the resulting dry wine – exceptionally rich and complex – is then aged in oak barrels.

 
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When I saw "Tinazzi" as this winery family's name, my eyes must have blurred a bit – because it looked like "Tinari," my maiden name...

When I saw “Tinazzi” as this winery family’s name, my eyes must have blurred a bit – because it looked like “Tinari,” my maiden name…

As you may imagine, Amarone is often quite expensive – $50 and (way) up. It’s not surprising that Amarone has acquired a bit of a “cult wine” status.

For a less pricey alternative, though, there’s the Ripasso (twice-passed) style, sometimes referred to as “baby Amarone.”

The #Ripasso process adds the pomace (grape solids that remain after pressing) from the Amarone production to Valpolicella wine from the same vintage, and the second fermentation this kicks off builds in extra layers of flavor.

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I enjoyed sipping both the Amarone and Ripasso wines from Scriani.

Amarone and Ripasso wines from Scriani.

Unlike the ancient Amarone method, this technique was just developed in the 1980s.

Though noticeably lighter than Amarone, Ripasso wines, thanks to the dried grapes that both styles are based on, share a “family resemblance.”

And their price tag – often only $15-$25 – is far more approachable.

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Wonderful cheeses (tiny mozzarella balla balls in pesto, Humboldt Fog, red wine-soaked cheddar) and other assorted nibbles. to keeper palates fresh throughout the tasting. Delicious!

Wonderful cheeses (tiny mozzarella balls in pesto, tangy-smooth Humboldt Fog, red wine-soaked cheddar, great brie) and other assorted nibbles. to keep palates fresh throughout the tasting. Delicious!

Finally, a dessert version of Amarone, called #Recioto and made using a similar drying technique, has a lower alcohol content (because the fermentation is stopped before it’s complete), and retains a generous amount of residual sugar.

It’s dense and inky, with berry-jammy, dark cherry and chocolate flavors – and wonderful on its own or alongside not-too-sweet chocolate desserts.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this freewheeling tasting of Lugana and Valpolicella wines, my friends.

Come back soon, and we’ll explore more great flavors together!

Until then,
Cheers and happy tastings,
Rosina

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