Valpolicella Ripasso is a fruity, complex red wine from the Valpolicella viticultural zone of Veneto, north-eastern Italy. Because Valpolicella's wines generally lean towards the lighter end of the scale, for centuries the local winemakers have employed various techniques to improve the depth and complexity of their cuvees. The passito and ripasso methods have been the most successful: the former is used in the Recioto della Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella, while the latter is used to make Valpolicella Ripasso.
For a passito wine, the grapes are dried out for weeks or even months prior to fermentation, during which time their natural sugars and flavors become sufficiently concentrated to produce deeper, more alcoholic wines. The ripasso method is to 're-pass' (re-ferment) the passito grapes with standard Valpolicella wine, creating a deeper, more character-laden result. The style was granted its own independent DOC title in 2007.
Valpolicella is the most famous red wine to come out of the Veneto wine region in north-eastern Italy (Bardolino is the only other contender). The defining character of all quality Valpolicella is its fragrant, tangy cherry aroma, a quality which is carried through into the ripasso wines.
The Valpolicella production area ballooned in the late 1960s when it was granted DOC status, resulting in a dramatic see-saw of quality and quantity which lasted for approximately 40 years. The prices fetched by Valpolicella wines reached their nadir in the 1970s and 1980s, when the low price paid per kilo of grapes led more quality-focused producers, particularly in the finer Valpolicella Classico and Valpantena zones, to abandon their vines altogether. This increased the percentage of Valpolicella which came from the poorer sites, and the downward spiral continued, only to be halted by a sudden spike of interest in Amarone della Valpolicella during the 1990s.
The grapes used to make Valpolicella are Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Corvina is generally regarded as the finest of the three, and is certainly the most traditional. Rondinella proved popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of its generous yields, while pale, over-acidic, oxidation-prone Molinara has declined dramatically since its early surge. Corvina remains the grape of choice for higher-quality Valpolicella, and particularly Amarone della Valpolicella, Recioto della Valpolicella and Valpolicella Ripasso. On warmer, well-drained slopes, Corvina produces wines with more body than is traditionally expected of Valpolicella, which explains the huge quality differential between regular Valpolicella from the plains and Valpolicella Ripasso Classico from the hills of the traditional classico zone.