Will Valpolicella Classico cease to exist? Popularity of Ripasso threatens tradition

valpolicella map vineyards crusAbove: the wrinkled topography of Valpolicella, the “valley of alluvial deposits,” was formed by five ancient river beds. Please click here for my post on the origins of the toponym Valpolicella.

An old friend and colleague from my years in New York, Lars Leicht (now of Cru Artisan Wines), asked me to present a vertical tasting of Amarone this week here in Houston with Andrea Sartori of Sartori and Christian Scrinzi of Bolla.

The flight, stretching back to the mid-90s, was compelling (the 1999 Corte Bra by Sartori was the highlight for me). But the frank dialog with the participants — both of whom sit on the Valpolicella consortium advisory board — was what really sticks in my mind this morning.

“It’s possible that Valpolicella Classico could cease to exist,” said Sartori when I asked him about where the majority of Valpolicella wines are sold in the world (Canada and the nordic countries, he noted, are the biggest markets for the appellation, one of Italy’s most successful wine “brands”).

The problem, he explained, is that the number of bottles of Ripasso — the most lucrative category — are limited by the number of bottles of Amarone and Recioto produced.

Article 5 of the Ripasso DOC regulations (as amended in 2010) states:

    In volume, the quantity of “Valpolicella ripasso” designation of controlled origin wines can not exceed twice the volume of wine obtained from the lees from the categories “Recioto della Valpolicella” and/or “Amarone della Valpolicella” employed in the operations of refermentation/ripasso [ripasso, which can be rendered in English as second passage or second fermentation, refers to the traditional Valpolicella vinification technique whereby wines are aged on the lees from previously vinified Amarone or Recioto; translation mine].

In other words, a given producer may only produce two bottles of Ripasso for every bottle of Amarone and/or Recioto she/he makes.

Ripasso has become such a successful category that more and more growers and bottlers are using their fruit to produce Amarone instead of Valpolicella Classico. Greater volume in Amarone production allows them to bottle more Ripasso.

The issue, said Sartori, will be one of the discussion points at a Valpolicella consortium advisory board meeting to be held next Tuesday in Verona (both he and Scrinzi will be in attendance, he noted).

As a bona fide Venetophile and Italian wine lover, it’s my sincere hope that the board and the appellation in general will work together to protect Valpolicella Classico. It’s a proletariat wine that aligns in tradition and in ethos with Veneto enogastronomy. When vinified in a traditional manner, it’s fresh, food-friendly, and delicious. In terms of price-quality ratio, it can represent one of Italy’s greatest wine values and it’s a sine qua non of Veneto culture.

In other news…steve samsonMy good friend chef Steve Samson (above), whom I’ve known since our junior year abroad in Italy together, appeared yesterday on the morning talk show “The Talk.”

Here’s the link to the clip.

Steve is such a great guy — dad to two beautiful children and a super talented chef — and he is the owner/chef at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I co-author the (nearly) all-southern Italian wine list.

In other other news…

This week, my Italian wine writing colleague Jacopo Cossater launched a crowd-funding project for a new English-language magazine devoted exclusively to Italian wines.

It’s an ambitious project and if successful, it would give the world a much-needed English-language resource — authored by Italians.

You can watch an English-language video describing the initiative here.

Jacopo is a good guy and I have a lot of respect for him and his work.

And lastly for your consideration…

I was profiled this week in the San José Mercury News. Wine blogging has been so rewarding for me, both personally and professionally. But above all, it’s given me a means to express my passion for Italy, Italian literature and culture, and Italian enogastronomy.

As the author of the piece notes, when I realized I couldn’t make a living by writing about Italian poetry, I turned to viticulture…

Here’s the link.

Buon weekend, yall!

3 thoughts on “Will Valpolicella Classico cease to exist? Popularity of Ripasso threatens tradition

  1. I also caught Lars’ seminar in NYC with Andrea Sartori and Christian Scrinzi, and I expressed the same concerns you have about the future of Valpolicella Classico. It’s all about money, Andrea explained to me. Grape farmers make more money producing grapes for Amarone, and Ripasso after that. I love Valpolicella Classico, a fine, everyday red with pizza and pasta. It’s a part of Veneto. I hope we don’t lose it.

  2. Pingback: @DoBianchi: #ColFondo for the summer of 2014 TY @TwGlasgow | Bele Casel

  3. Pingback: Classic Marche dinner at the Villa Marchese del Grillo | Barone Pizzini – Pievalta

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