Ripasso, my favourite wine in story of an Italian trio

Alpha Zeta Valpolicella Superiore NV review

I’m often asked to name my favourite wine.

Truth is, I don’t really have one. Yes, I have preferences but what I decide to open at any one time can depend on my mood swings (there are many), what I’m eating (I like eating) and the time of year, even the time of day. Is it to drink with a Sunday summertime lunch or to indulge a late-night snuggle in a winter onesie.

But if I had to have a stab at a favourite red, it would be an Italian ripasso.

There’s a fascinating relationship between a ripasso, a basic valpolicella and a lusciously rich, rounded, fulsome amarone wine – the Nigella Lawson of Italian reds.

I tasted a range from Alpha Zeta and spoke to Master of Wine David Gleave from Liberty Wines, which makes them. Just the name valpolicella – meaning the valley of many cellars – is enticing. The area,  says David, is rich with old techniques, producing wonderful wines “which won’t scare you off”.

Alpha Zeta ‘V’ Valpolicella 2012 (Richard Granger Wines, Corks Out, Ceci Paolo, Bay Tree Wine Company and others, at around £9. Check out their websites or try the useful

David told me: “Basic valpolicella should be drunk young and it will have a good dark cherry perfume. It will be vibrant, with just the expressions of pure fruit. Drink it cool, it is wonderful.”

My notes simply said “moreish cherry crumble and custard on an indulgent Sunday”.

Alpha Zeta ‘A’ Amarone 2010 (Carruthers & Kent, Corks Out, Bentley’s Wine, N. D. John Wine Merchants, from about £25)

Italy has a long tradition of making wines from dried grapes – the process is known as passito and it was introduced to the country by the Greeks 3,000 years ago.

David explains the wine-making process. “Grapes are picked and packed in single layers in plastic crates avoiding excessive handling. They are then stacked onto palettes and taken to the drying rooms direct from the vineyard. They are then dried for around three months but retaining the freshness. After drying, the wine is fermented on the skins for about two to three weeks before moved into barrels where they are aged.”

Alpha Zeta Valpolicella wine review
Alpha Zeta Valpolicella Superiore NV

What a wonderful wine. On the nose, raisins and fruit cake and to taste bitter chocolate with essence of mulled wine. A bold wine but with added feminine sexiness. My words, not David’s.

Finally, the reason why we’re here.

Alpha Zeta ‘R’ Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2011 (stockists as before, prices vary £11-£13).

Skins and grapes used to make amarone are refermented in basic valpolicella. David explains. “Ripasso was born out of frugality – from a waste-not want-not culture. It’s like using a teabag twice – but the grapes are good grapes and still have plenty more to offer.”

So yes, ruby-red ripasso is one of my favourites. It is soft, supple, with both fresh fruit and murmurs of fruit cake on the nose, and to taste is packed with cherry puree and has creamy flirtations with vanilla and chocolate. It’s a baby amarone at half the price.

Hot off the press, an Italian wine won a “best buy” accolade a couple of days ago. The Co-operative’s own-brand Prosecco DOC Special Cuvée Brut has scooped a Which? “best buy” by taking top marks in a consumer taste test in the magazine’s December issue. The award-winner is £6.49 (reduced from £9.99) until January 3.

Published in the saturday extra magazine November 23, 2013

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express


Vinho Verde wines have an accent on freshness

Tescco Vinho Verde

I THOUGHT spring had sprung this week –  then blinked and it was raining again.

In the time when the sun did shine   I sneaked outside with a glass of vinho verde wine.  It is a wine you should try  if you like your wines to be gentle and refreshing. The accent is definitely on freshness from grapes grown in the northern part of Portugal influenced by the Atlantic Ocean.

Don’t expect depth and complexity, but as a midweek spring garden wine, then  it is  a good option. By its nature it has a little sparkle, a trembling fizz. Not full-on bursts of bubbles, but gentle, flirtatious shivers.

Torre de Azevedo Vinho Verde (£7.99, Sainsbury)  is dry, crisp, tangy and slightly Torre de Azevedo Vinho Verdelemon-scented wth some back notes of tropical fruit, perhaps pineapple.

The  bubbles only lasted a few seconds in the glass –  and the glass only lasted  a few moments in the garden, before it was brought inside to partner a plate of  prawns fried in herby, garlic  butter.  With the wine’s lemon hints and gentle sparkles, it was a lovely lunch treat.

Tesco Vinho Verde is a pinch at £4.49 and when poured is an excited little mix of soda-like bubbles and lemony fragrance. Big gluggy gulps may seem a greedy indulgence, but it’s best to taste the freshness of this wine as soon as it is poured. A few minutes later the bubbles have gone, but the lemon tingles remain.

Adega de Monção, Vinho Verde, 2011 (£5.95 is a blend of two grapes, alvarinho and trajadura, both adding body and a citrus tremble. Lemons prevail, but there is a hint of the tropical too.

Adega is produced by a co-operative from the vinho verde heartland in Monção, and the Wine Society has some  online offers on its co-operative wines until tomorrow, April 21.

Another  is a smoky, youthful, red berry-packed Poggio del Sasso Sangiovese di Toscana, 2011, £6.95. The grape masterminds the pricier Brunello di Montalcino wines.

Also in my glass this week … First, a simple, fruity red. Cuvée Chasseur Red 2012 (£4.79, Waitrose) is a vin de France with no allusions of grandeur. It is a  blend of carignan, grenache and merlot, grown on old  vines  from poor, dry   soils. Doesn’t sound a great start in life  but for wines this can be perfect. Spiced red fruit and plump plumminess.

In the New World, New Zealand has made sauvignon blanc  its own. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cast your eyes around elsewhere. Zondernaam Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (£9.99,  Co-op) from Stellenbosch,   includes 5% barrel fermented semillon. It adds a  slightly fuller feel in the mouth than you would normally expect, a little nuttinness to boot, alongside herbs, grass and a green pepper bite.