Quintarelli effect & a secret of Ripasso revealed (Nicola Ferrari’s Monte Santoccio)

“Wealth is determined not by how much money you have but by how you manage your time… One of my goals is to offer my clients traditional wines at reasonable prices.”

This was how young winemaker Nicola Ferrari, founder and owner of Monte Santoccio in Valpolicella, described the ethos of his wines and his approach to winemaking when he and I tasted his wines together in the Veneto a few weeks ago.

Nicola is the second Valpolicella producer to emerge from the Quintarelli bottega. The first was Luca Fedrigo of L’Arco (see my thread on Luca and Quintarelli here).

Both spent the greater part of their formative winemaking years working side-by-side with Quintarelli, while Valpolicella master “Bepi” (as he was known affectionately to all) was at the peak of his career (Quintarelli succumbed to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease in January of this year).

It’s unusual to hear a young Italian winemaker describe her/his wines in such socially conscious and ideologically aware tones. And it may be even more surprising to some in the light of the fact that Quintarelli’s wines are among the most expensive on the market today, accessible only a small subset of wine lovers who have the means to afford them.

But Nicola (like his counterpart Luca) is no ordinary Italian winemaker: he’s a member of a dwindling number of producers who have been anointed by the “greatest generation” in Italian wine — the “masters” who oversaw the Italian wine renaissance of the last three decades (I’m thinking of Dante Scaglione, Maria Teresa Mascarello, Augusto Cappellano, not necessarily in that order).

I loved the wines, across the board: old-school, large-cask aged Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, and Amarone, perhaps not as finely focused at Quintarelli from the 1990s and early 2000s but gorgeous and brilliant, with a nervy (if sometimes unruly) acidity that will serve the wine well in the cellar.

And Nicola is true to his word: according to WineSearcher results, you can find his Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso for just $25 at Wine House in LA (and the Amarone for $62; thank you, Lance Montalto!).

The stunner for me was the ripasso.

“The secret that Bepi taught me,” said Nicola, “was to age the wines on the Amarone lees for an extended period of time. Most [commercial] producers use short aging times. As a result, they get extremely bright fruit in the wine. By using longer aging on the lees, the lees actually start to reabsorb the tannin and some of the fruit. That’s the secret to the elegance in Quintarelli’s Valpolicella.”

But Quintarelli doesn’t write “ripasso” on his label, I pointed out.

“He never wrote ripasso but he always used ripasso for his Valpolicella,” Nicola told me.

Nicola studied education and community activism at the University of Verona before he turned to winemaking and our conversation spanned from his favorite memories of Quintarelli to his first experience with the writings of Primo Levi (one of my favorite Italian authors).

I couldn’t help but think of the enormous disconnect between the way Quintarelli’s legacy is perceived in the U.S. and the way that young people view him “on the ground” in the Veneto. Regardless of the elitist ethos projected on to Quintarelli by his north American purveyors, he is still considered a populist winemaker in the Veneto and is only spoken of in adoring and affectionate terms.

Perhaps by (direct) osmosis, Nicola’s managed to capture some of that soulfulness in the bottle…