Saturday, 22 October 2011

Wine Review: Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese (Ripasso) IGT (2007)

Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese (Ripasso) IGT (2007) Review:
Price: £10 per bottle
Availability: Limited in the UK, widely exported to America, Some availability in Europe.

Often on the Independent Wine Review, wines are featured from small producers, producers that often get overlooked by some of the international wine competitions and awards bodies. Cantine Riondo (the owner of the Villa Vinea brand) is a little different to this typical producer profile though. With a headquarters just east of Verona in the town of Monteforte d’Alpone (in the heart of traditional Soave producing territory) Cantine Riondo, as part of a conglomerate of wine companies owns nearly 7,000 hectares of vines in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza. To put that in perspective, that amounts to 15% of the total production of wine in Veneto (Italy’s fertile north eastern corner) and 2% of the entire wine production of Italy. Hardly a small producer!

Owning several brands, Cantine Riondo produces numerous wines including Venetian classics such as Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicella (at least four separate Amarone della Valpolicellas when I last checked!) and several varietal wines from both indigenous Italian grape varieties and international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Villa Vinea seems to have a range of four wines – this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese IGT, a Villa Vinea Merlot, a Villa Vinea Cabernet Sauvignon and a flagship air-dried, Amarone-style Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. Sitting as the “2nd wine” of the range (the traditional position of Valpolicella Ripasso in Veneto, normally behind a flagship Amarone della Valpolicella amde with air dried grapes) this unusually titled Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese wine is in fact made using the “ripasso” process even though there is no mention of it on the bottle.

Corvina grapes grown on south facing hillsides 100-150 metres above sea level, out to the east of Verona are hand-picked before transportation to the winery. Here they are pressed and fermented prior to being “repassed” (“ripasso”) over the dried grape skins left over from one of Cantine Riondo’s Amarone della Valpolicellas. This kicks off a secondary fermentation which adds alcohol and richness to the wine’s base flavours. Once this has been completed 70% of this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese is fined in large oak “botti” and the other 30% in oak “barriques” (small oak barrels) prior to bottling and release.

The reason that this wine may not be labelled Valpolicella Ripasso, even though it utilises one of the same grape varieties: Corvina (that typically forms the basis of a Valpolicella); and is vinified using the “ripasso” process; is that Italian law specifies that in order to be labelled “Valpolicella” a wine must be a blend of grapes and that Corvina may only account for 70% of this blend. Here the constituent percentage of Corvina is near to 100% (with the only exposure to other grape varieties coming during the “ripasso” process). Hence this Villa Vinea wine is labelled as “Corvina Veronese” rather than Valpolicella.

Looking at the bottle, Valpolicella Ripasso style wines seem to have suffered something of an identity crisis in recent years with producers seemingly unable to decide on whether to bottle them in the same high shouldered, Bordeaux-style bottles as their Valpolicella, or lower and smoother shouldered Amarone-style bottles. With this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese, Villa Vinea have opted for the latter, with this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese bottled in a low and smooth shouldered Amarone-style bottle. A classy looking red label and foil with text picked out in gold belies this wines relatively cheap price. On opening though, this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese has a foil which is a little plasticky and the cork is real, but of moderate quality.

In the glass, this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese is very intense. Normally the blending of Rondinella and particularly Molinara in Valpolicella Ripasso can lighten the colour of the wine significantly, however with this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese being 100% Corvina, the wine is an intense and dark plum to damson colour across the entirety of the surface. There is a very minimal fade to the rim of the wine, although it is tough to pick out this wine’s time in oak. Alcohol is average for the ripasso style with a content of 13.5% shown in the legs of this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese when swirled.

On the nose this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese is slightly more tart in nature than most Valpolicella Ripasso, which illustrates the moderating benefits of Rondinella and Molinara in a traditional blend. Here the nose is relatively restrained and constrained with a just a little under-ripe cherry and a waft of vanilla coming to the fore. The underlying austerity of fruit on the nose of this wine does not necessarily bode well for the taste.

In the mouth in fact, this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese is pleasant if not outstanding. A palate that is moderately long delivers an initially juicy heft of redcurrants, cherries and plums before drying substantially into a surprisingly long finish that is a little overly dry by comparison to some of the examples tasted to date. This tannin influenced dryness is such that the hints of dried and sweeter fruit that raise their head during the finish are almost overwhelmed by it.

In all, it is tough to judge this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese. One of just a few uniquely Corvina “ripasso” style wines made in North East Italy, it is difficult to judge whether stylistically the concept of a Corvina only “ripasso” is flawed, or the execution – in reality it is likely to be a little of both. One suspects the reason that a traditional two or three grape blend for Valpolicella was settled upon historically, is that Corvina as a varietal was a little too astringent at times and slightly richer more nuanced varieties such a Molinara were used to smooth off this occasional harshness. In removing these additional varieties Villa Vinea have made an unusual style of wine and one which will not be to every palate’s taste. By all means give it a try, however in the context of other “full” Valpoicella Ripasso wines reviewed to date, this Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese is not quite up to scratch.

Villa Vinea Corvina Veronese (Ripasso) IGT (2007)

Score: 74/100 – Interesting, but unbalanced.

Value for Money: 6/10 – Cheaper than much traditional “ripasso”, not necessarily a direct alternative.

Other Valpolicella-based wines reviewed:

Masi Brolo di Campofiorin, Rosso del Veronese IGT (2006)
Designed to showcase Corvina as Verona's most important and expressive grape, this "Ripasso" style wine from Masi is one of this historic producer's best wines. Often Corvina can show a harshness if unblended, but not in this wine - stylish and quite exemplary.

Allegrini “Corte Giara” Valpolicella Ripasso DOC (2009)
This Valpolicella is 70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and is a great value Valpolicella Ripasso too. Made by the famed Allegrini winery (in partnership with selected growers) the aim is to make excellent, approachable and affordable wines – in this Valpolicella Ripasso Allegrini have achieved their aims.

Montresor “Capitel Della Crosara” Valpolicella Classico Ripasso DOC (2008)
Over 110 years of Veronese winemaking history has gone into creating this example of Valpolicella Ripasso which is lush, smooth and luxurious. A Valpolicella Ripassp with a style of its own - this is not just a "second wine" to Montresor's "Capitel della Crossara" Amarone della Valpolicella.