Last night we tasted the 2008 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso Valpolicella along with an assortment of six others, all of which paled next to it. The Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz had a comparable richness with the Ripasso but lacked depth and structure.
Valpolicella, along with being the name of the wine, is the viticultural region in the province of Verona east of Lake Garda. The name first appears in print in the twelfth century but it is believed to go back to the times of the Greek Empire. Winemaking records in Greece date to 10,000BC, the Neolithic period, with expansion into Italy around 6,000BC. That expansion was largely concentrated in southern Italy but the name, Valpolicella, incorporates Greek and Latin terms perhaps meaning the "valley of the cellars".
In modern times Valpolicella began its world appeal in the 1960s and had a rollercoaster sales (and quality) record for the next forty years. Better producers stopped making the wine when both profitability and quality standards flagged deepening the existing problem and it wasn't until the 1990s that world demand for Amarone persuaded the better producers back into the Valpolicella business. Amarone is the flagship wine of the region made using the traditional "appassimento" method of laying grapes out to dry on bamboo racks in lofts for weeks or months before making a rich dry red wine from them. The second elite wine from the region is Recioto, a sweet red wine made from those same dried grapes.
Valpolicella is made from Corvina grapes primarily, but also Rondinella and Molinara which are used for their commercial (bulk) value. This light red table wine has a predominant cherry flavor. In the 1980s Masi is credited with making the first Ripasso Valpolicella in which the passito grapes are "re-passed" (re-fermented) with the fresh grapes from harvest creating a richer red wine than standard Valpolicella. Masi did not label the wine as Ripasso in the 1980s and do not do so even now with the proprietary name, Campofiorin, distinguishing it from the company's regular Valpolicella.
Passito grapes are dried grapes with resultant concentrated sugars. When added to fresh grapes for Ripasso, they may actually be "pomace or Marc", that is, left over grape skins or other solid remains after making Amarone or Recioto. Either way the resultant wine is less bitter and higher in alcohol than standard Valpolicella.
This Friday (5-7pm) our weekly tasting will continue as always but I will be absent. The fellas who are subbing for me have promised to behave themselves and set out some good stuff!