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Why I love Italian Reds



This week sees the christening of the latest wine club case (see the Wine Club section of the site for links to the wines should you wish to try them yourself). The theme of the case is 'Covers'. In short, each wine has been chosen due to some similarity with the top scoring wines of all time (in the WNP Wine Club - if this makes no sense go and read the introductory blog on the site and all will become clear!).


We will be opening the 2016 Castel Serranova, a negroamaro and susumaniello blend made by Vallone, in the Salento region of Puglia. Therefore, it seemed right for the bulk of this article to be an ode to Italian reds.


Just before Christmas 2020 the group were smitten with The Wine Society's Valpolicella Ripasso and so I thought it would be an easy win to put a different V.R. in the case. Except the issues of availability and meeting our desired price point meant this wasn't possible and so we've got a different grape from a different part of Italy that's made in a different, non-appassimento style. Perhaps this one is not a cover as such and more a modern dance hit with a looped sample of Valpolicella Ripasso in the background!


 



Truth be told, I think Italian reds are my favourite. If I could only drink from one nation ever again, it would be there. My love affair with Italian booze began as an over zealous and inexperienced teenager when a friend suggested ordering a Bacardi and coke as my youthful taste buds were not yet acclimatised to beer . However, I got confused, panicked and ordered a Martini and coke, doubling down on my error even after the barman checked three times that I really meant Martini and suggested it would be 'rank'. Not wanting to lose face I pretended it was delicious and it became my tipple of choice for at least the next year!


Later, a sixth form Classics trip to Italy saw an aggressive and intense dalliance with novelty shaped bottles of Limoncello, whose deliciousness cannot be overstated. The university years that followed were synonymous with a that beautiful, sticky, aniseed laden Italian nectar as I single-handedly kept Luxardo in business.


Then onto Italian reds. A nation of immense wine tradition and heritage with a wonderful array of grapes that reach absolute perfection on its soil: Sangiovese in a Chianti Classico; Corvina in Valpolicella and Amarone (or the delicious Rose we had a few weeks ago!); Nebbiolo in Barolo, the Godfather of Roman reds. Montepluciano (Abruzzo),  Nero d'Avola (Sicily), Primitivo (Puglia) and Barbera (Piedmont and Lombardy) are also grapes of distinction that help highlight the divine offering from this oenology heavyweight.


Due to the variations in Geography, geology and climate there is enormous variety in styles, meaning it can be hard to characterise the entire nation's offerings. However, sweeping generalisations are what we Brits do best, so I shall try! Many are full bodied, full of intense/concentrated fruits, but with the perfect lift of acidity that means you can drink something with face slapping, ball kicking flavour that almost feels delicate and sprightly. Its like listening to thrash metal that creates a sense of tranquil serenity or eating a palate cleansing steak. Italian reds are incredibly moreish and, when paired with half decent Italian food, are the stuff dreams are made of. When tasting something as good as an Italian red you can see why Bacchus was the god of wine and ecstasy - the two are very much the same thing!

Valpolicella Ripasso in particular is a formidable drop and a great shout for wine emergencies – the most serious of first world problems. You know the feeling, thrust into the limelight when eating with friends and tasked with choosing a wine for the table. Everyone expects to have their tastes catered for, despite actually saying ‘Oh don’t worry about me, I’m easy. You know me – I’ll drink anything!’. Yet twenty seconds later the same middle-aged, bearded American friend yells in your face ‘IF ANYONE ORDERS MERLOT I AM LEAVING, I AM NOT DRINKING FUCKING MERLOT!’...Herding feral cats on a speed binge would be an easier task. You have no idea what people prefer in a wine and quizzing the entire noisy and thirsty group is fruitless. Let’s not forget the minefield of price point—how much does everyone really want to spend? Striking a balance between taste preference and wallet size is like being blindfolded during a darts game—someone is gonna get hurt.


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Fear not, for this is where Valpolicella Ripasso comes in. This is the younger, fresher expression of the same world-class Northern Italian terroir that gives us the highly-concentrated dense Amarone wines. In fact, it is often referred to as Baby Amarone; it never disappoints and always succeeds in making you look like a wine genius—especially when people note the relatively modest price. So, why is this humble wine is such a crowd-pleaser? You will be seduced by the juicy black cherry and raspberry notes and the alluringly soft, yet rich character. It is voluptuous and vibrant but when you wake up in bed with it the next morning you won’t scratch your head regretfully and wonder what on earth you were doing last night – a Valpolicella Ripasso is as stonkingly sexy in the cold light of day as your beer goggles first suggested.


What makes Ripasso (which translates as ‘repassed’) a little different is that it is made with 2 fermentations, the first one with fresh grapes and the second one in contact with dried Amarone pomace/skins. This is like an awesome cheat code to your favourite Xbox game and an inexpensive way to create a wine that has more depth, concentration, character and richness than it really should. It’s almost as if the ripasso process is like valpolicella quickly reading up on a couple of political and historical ‘Dummies Guide to…’ and then spouting a few hot takes about how Brexit was really caused by Cuba and the breakup of the USSR was actually directly linked to the beheading of Anne Boleyn – it won’t fool Robert Parker into thinking it’s a Masseto but it’s convincing enough to fool a bunch of laymen that it’s just got tenure in the social sciences department of mid-ranking American university.



So why have we gone for the Castel di Serranova negroamaro? Its individuality and friendliness unite to form a sumptuous southern blend that is late-harvested and full-bodied. Lots of black fruits, flanked by touches of cherry and a distinctive peppery note. Intensely ruby in colour, with purple reflections, the nose is complex and intense. Thinks cherries, blackcurrants even balsamic. It’s a delightful wine that scored very highly at The Wine Society's 2021 Wine Champions tasting - but how will it fare when it steps up a division and is tasted by The Wine Giant's Wine Club?!


After drinking please submit your scores in the comments section below using the updated scoring system - images below






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