What is a Ripasso?
In order to answer this very simple yet seemingly complex question, we should start with, “What is Valpolicella”? Valpolicella is a viticultural zone in the Veneto region of Italy. It is also the name of the style of wine produced there. Yes, stay with me, it’s like Champagne in France. It is a viticultural zone and it’s a style of wine. Simply put, Valpolicella is a red table wine from Veneto Italy. It is made from three main grape varietals, the Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes. These wines are a great value in the $8-10 price range. They deliver easy drinking red wines with dark red cherry and ripe, red cherry fruit characteristics but they lack backbone, there is no umph or muscle behind them.
As you could imagine, the Veneto region was not overly proud of their simple red table wine status–mainly because they are located in one of the greatest wine producing countries on earth and are surrounded by some of the most famous wine regions on all of the earth. Chianti, Piedmonte, Tuscany, and Emilia Romagna are all there, to name just a few. The Veneto is also home to a famous bubbly white wine called Prosecco. So to step up their game they decided to add one more step to the Valpolicilla wine making process.
The Mother of Ripasso, Ricioto
The added step to Valpolicilla is to dry the grapes out prior to fermentation. This produces a sweeter style of wine that is called Ricioto. The Italians are not scared of dessert wines and will proudly serve them as the finale to a long meal. Ricioto was just the thing that Valpolicilla needed to spark excitement for its red wines. But they didn’t stop there. They quickly learned that prolonging the fermentation process allowing all the sugar to be eaten up, produced a very special, dry, red wine and they called this wine Amarone.
The Father of Ripasso, Amarone
Amarone is a dry red wine with an Italian twist. The grapes used in Amarone are picked at full ripeness in early October and then, those carefully hand picked grapes are set out on straw mats to dry out until late January or early February. The dried out grapes are then crushed and fermented until they are dry, similarly to any other dry red wine. The final result is a big red wine with big fruit, raisin, and earth characteristics balanced with high tannin and high acidity. These wines are typically in the $35 and up price range. If you’re interested, check out Le Bessole Amarone.
The little one is born: Ripasso!
So first we covered Valpolicella, which is a dry, red, table wine that costs about $8-15. Next we have Ricoto, a delicious red dessert wine that typically costs around $25-$50+. Then we have Amarone, a bold, hardy red wine that cost about $35-$100s of dollars. But what fills that $15-$25 gap in dry red wines?
The Ripasso fills that gap! After the Amarone process there is still a lot of by-product left over, meaning there are plenty of skins, pips, and seeds remaining. Ripasso is created by taking Valpolicilla wine and fermenting it with the Amarone left overs (called pomace). Letting the Valpolicella pass over the pomace (Ripasso literally means re-passing) gives the wine a little more”umph” and muscle without the long, drying out process needed for Amarone. So the average cost of Ripasso is only around $15-25, bridging that price and quality gap.