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Posted: May 18, 2012

Rockin’ my wine world

Seven days of debauchery

Cathie Beck—The Wine Wench

Panzano’s Executive Chef, Elise Wiggins, and her Umbria, Italy-born colleague, Gennaro Villella, changed my wine-drinking life last week.

Under nights filled with a full moon, deep and delicious vineyard wanderings, and Verona, Italy third-and fourth-generation winemakers, Elise and Gennaro introduced me to days filled with Amarone, a wine I’d only knew vague knew about (read: I never really knew at all).

I drank this deep wine a dozen times last week and it was seven days of absolute debauchery. In addition to becoming so spoiled, so satiated with extraordinary wine and dining, I learned more about Italy’s Amarone wine culture than probably most sommeliers know.

Eight million bottles of Amarone are produced every year. That’s a lot of one kind of wine. It’s made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes which are harvested in October and then carefully dried over the next three to four months. The grape skins, during this drying time, bring forth the color, the intensity and the tannins to the wine.

Fermentation takes place for another one to two months and then the wine is aged in oak barrels — and size matters. Some centuries-old, Verona-area wineries house beautiful, 17,000 liter barrels (think: one-car garage) for this process; others use more dog-house-sized barrels. The larger the barrel, the less oak per liter of aging wine and, as Gennaro said (in the silkiest of an Italian accent), “Some winemakers don’t want the oak so much anymore, or at least, they want less of it.”

Sometimes fermention is stopped early, leaving more sugar in the wine, and making it sweeter. That leads to a Recioto della Valpolicella, which is also used to make a sparkling wine.

Now comes my favorite: Ripasso — a wine produced when the partially aged Valpolicella is contacted with the lees of the Amarone, including the unpressed grape skins.

Still with me? The wine undergoes a second fermention, usually in the spring and into the fall. The final wine is more tannic, deeper in color and higher in alcohol content. The Ripasso (literally: re-passed) signifies both the technique and the wine.

The Ripasso from the Recchia Vineyard (www.recchiavini.it) is at the top of that Amarone heap. The vineyard’s run by a young woman who fed 20 people a huge — and I mean HUGE spread of meats, cheeses, tomatoes, bread, salads and wines, and then, spontaneously decided to run to the kitchen and prepare Amarone-infused risotto for everyone.

I am back to salads and Diet Pepsis now. There’s no great wine and the food’s pretty bland. I look out onto a busy street and listen to cars honking their way through central Denver.

But my heart is still in the lush green hills of Verona, amidst vines, grapes, winemakers who do little else, and that low and lovely Italian language.

One Winning Wine Tasting

On May 22, from 5:30 to 7:30, Argonaut Liquors and Park Hill Golf Course will host a Napa Valley wine tasting, one of the best attended of the Argonaut tasting series.

Guests will have the opportunity to taste premium wines provided by some of the top winemakers in the valley. Cost is $30 advance $35 the day of event, and admission Includes a tasting of hundreds of wines and generous appetizers.

The event is a benefit for The Positive Project. Visit www.thepositiveproject.org or www.argonautliquor.com for further information.

Weird Wine Trivia

Not so much trivia as a fact: Some winemakers are starting to pull back on the “oak aging” process, at least in Italy. How this bodes for the whole “oak aged” marketing verbiage and selling tactic remains to be seen – and who knows if other countries are doing the same.

But in the Verona, Italy wine culture, different wine makers use different sized oak barrels and carefully monitor how long a wine ages. A larger barrel makes for less oak-infusion. One wine maker had very small barrels that two men could lift. Another had mammoth, hundreds-year-old barrels that reach to the ceiling — proving once again, that wine-making is, indeed, a very individual and specialized art form.

Cathie Beck, a/k/a The Wine Wench, can be reached at: TheWineWench@comcast.net. Please forward any and all wine events, wine-related news items directly to her.

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