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 www.wine- searcher.com)
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, www.slurp.co.uk 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.”
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.