Saturday, 15 October 2011

Wine Review: Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (2009)

Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (2009) Review:
Price: £11 per bottle
Availability: Limited availability outside of Italy

Allegrini’s “Corte Giara” project began in 1989 when famed Venetian vintners Allegrini began working in partnership with a number of selected winegrowers from around Veneto and the town of Verona, in North East Italy. The aim of the Corte Giara project was to showcase Veneto’s traditional winemaking styles and practises, whilst broadening their appeal by producing easy drinking styles of wine at an accessible price point.

Today Corte Giara owns 33 hectares of vines to the west of the town of Verona, in Cavaion Veronese. Whilst this is outside of the traditional Valpolicella “Classico” zone of production, here Corte Giara’s vineyards are closer to the shores of Lake Garda (which has a moderating effect on the weather and produces warmer winters than in the Valpolicella “Classico” zone) and are still located on hillsides, which are known to produce better wines in Veneto than the more fertile plains that sit beneath them.  The south-facing slopes of Corte Giara’s vineyards have a variety of soil types and traditional Veronese grape varieties are planted by location where the soil will best suit them.

Typically, for a Veronese winery, Corte Giara produces three Valpolicella derived wines: a Corte Giara Amarone della Valpolicella, a Corte Giara Valpolicella Ripasso and a Corte Giara Valpolicella itself. Unusually for a Veronese winery, which is allowed to use up to 20 grape varieties in the production of Valpolicella (most wineries use 3 – Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara), Corte Giara uses just two grape varieties to make these wines. Consisting of a majority of Corvina (70% in the case of this Corte Giara Valpolicella Ripasso) and 30% Rondinella, this Corte Giara Valpolicella Ripasso is grown on south-facing slopes 180-250 metres above sea level (within the Valpolicella DOC area – although not the prestigious “Classico” zone).

Harvesting of the grapes is done by hand at the end of the summer, with grapes carried in small crates to the Corte Giara winery, where the stalks are removed and a gentle crushing occurs. This gentle crushing is significant, because if grapes are over-pressed (normally done by winemakers attempting maximise the volume of production with only one eye on quality) fruit flavours can become dilute (the last 10% of juice squeezed from a grape is essentially water) and additional tannins (a chemical from the grape skins that causes bitterness and dryness in the resultant wines) can be forced into the wine.

Initially a “standard” Valpolicella is made by a short fermentation period in steel tanks, before the wine is then “passed over” (“re-passed” = “ripasso”) the dried skins of the grapes left over from Amarone della Valpolicella production in February. This “re-passing” kicks off a secondary fermentation that adds flavour and alcohol to the resultant Valpolicella Ripasso wine. This Corte Giara Valpolicella Ripasso is then aged in stainless steel tanks for 4 months and large Slavonian oak barrels for 11 months, prior to a two month resting period in the bottle before release.

Looking at the bottle of this Corte Giara Valpolicella Ripasso, the bottle is a Burgundy shape (i.e. with low, sloping shoulders) and a rather plain looking black and red label. Shaped to match Corte Giara’s Amarone della Valpolicella’s bottle (and the majority of Amarone produced) the intention is clearly to draw similarities between the two wines. However, by comparison to some of the other Valpolicella Ripassos reviewed so far this month, this rather plain and utilitarian Corte Giara bottle design may well confirm this Corte Giara Valpolicella Ripasso’s “entry level” status (it is one the cheapest wines to be reviewed this month). The foil is relatively thick encasing a (real) cork of surprisingly good quality that is stamped “messo in bottiglia nella nostre cantine”.

In the glass, the colour of this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso is a little less intense than much ripasso, which may be indicative of a lighter, less concentrated style. Cherry at the heart of the wine, this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso fades to a more translucent ruby at the rim. The influence of 11 months in oak is obvious in the colour of this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso with some rusticity also apparent. The legs of this wine are moderate, displaying an alcohol content of 13.5% abv.

On the nose, this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso is soft and approachable but relatively closed. Semi-sweet cherry leads with a slightly raisined prune also present. Whilst not particularly complex, nor as complex as some ripasso already reviewed, this is nonetheless an appealing bouquet.

In the mouth, this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso is medium bodied, fairly simple, with a moderate length of flavour. Smooth cherry which is neither too sweet nor too tart is the main flavour, with a hint of prune and a little plum too that comes in towards the finish of this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso. The tannins on show are soft and well integrated with a little grip coming on during the aftertaste, which is of an acceptable if not exceptional length.

In all, this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso is a very easy drinking style of ripasso (with no real structure or heft to it), smooth, pure fruit with a hint of Veronese charm simply shines through. Whilst not troubling the best ripasso wines of Verona when it comes to complexity or depth, this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso is very approachable and enjoyable with or without food. Likely to pair well with cured meats and antipasti (as well as more “serious” meat dishes), this Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso is a wine that accomplishes its aims of approachability and value remarkably well.

Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (2009)

Score: 83/100 – Simple but very enjoyable. Well executed.

Value for Money: 8/10 – Cheaper than much ripasso, better than most at the same price.

Other Valpolicella-based wines reviewed to date:

Cesari “Mara” Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC (2008)
Made from the fruit of vineyards sitting outside the traditional area of Valpolicella production (like the Allegrini Corte Giara" Valpolicella Ripasso) this "Mara" Valpolicella Ripasso has gone a long way towards proving that less traditional vineyards can offer top quality fruit too.

Tedeschi “Capitel San Rocco” Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC (2008)
Released in a year when the Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella “Monte Olmi” will be held back for additional aging before release, this Valpolicella Ripasso has a significant responsibility to bear. A gutsy and structured style.

Masi "Campofiorin" Rosso del Veronese IGT (2007)
Masi's Valpolicella Ripasso is not even labelled as such due to the Boscaini family's belief that Valpolicella's reputation has been damaged by the considerable expansion of the region within which Valpolicella may be produced. This Valpolicella Ripasso is the perfect example of what can be achieved within this expanded zone.