By Ray Spaziani
Winter is upon us and it is time to try some appassimento. Or perhaps we should try some ripasso wines. In the region of Valpolicella north of Verona, these terms are common.
Appassimento is a process of making wine by drying out the grapes. Ripasso is refermented on the lees (deposits of dead or residual yeast) of a wine made using the appassimento process. There are two famous wines made this way: Amarone, and a sweet dessert-style wine Recioto della Valpolicella.
The grapes are dried for two to six months before being pressed. Then young Valpolicella is refermented on the lees and made into one of these two wines.
There is a third wine made using this method called sforzato. In Italian this means strained. This wine is made in the Valtellina region in Lombardy. In the Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG, the wine must be a minimum 90 percent nebbiolo grape and have at least 14 percent alcohol.
These wines are pricey and difficult to make. During the drying process it is easy for the grapes to rot or acquire mold. The grapes are traditionally dried on straw mats or bamboo racks. The drying process concentrates sugar in the grapes and increases the alcohol. Invariably, using this method causes the loss of some grapes.
However, there are some inexpensive wines made using these methods. One I like is Appassimento Salento Bonari. It is from Apulia in Italy and costs around $14. This is a smooth full-bodied Italian red blend. It has lots of red fruit, spice and some light tobacco. It is a great introduction to appassimento.
Italians love their wines so much that they eat it. Red wine pasta has many variations and can make a great meal for Valentine’s Day. One I came across a few weeks ago contains pancetta and chestnuts. The chef recommended a smooth cabernet, but I would try some appassimento.
The ingredients you’ll need are: two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil; six ounces of pancetta sliced 1/4 inch thick and 1/2 inch long; two cloves of garlic sliced thin; a 12-ounce jar of pealed chestnuts cut in half; four leaves of sage, chopped; one bottle of red wine; one pound of fettuccine; one tablespoon of butter; 3/4 of a cup of grated parmesan; and salt and ground black pepper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is warming up, heat the oil over low heat. Add the pancetta until lightly browned for about seven minutes. Then add the garlic and sage, raise the heat to medium-high and cook it for one minute. Then toss in the chestnuts, add the wine and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it halfway. Then drain it and add the pasta to the boiling wine. When the pasta is about cooked, add the butter and 1/4 cup of cheese. Toss it, serve it and use the rest of the cheese for the table.
Ray Spaziani is the chapter director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He is on the wine tasting panel of Amenti del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award-winning home winemaker and a certified wine educator. His fall classes were sold out but have been canceled due the coronavirus. He hopes to return to them in the spring. Email Ray with wine questions and anything wine at firstname.lastname@example.org.