• The Reynas


Citrus peels are incredibly flavorful. In the cocktail realm, bartenders rub the side of glasses with a citrus peel and squeeze a citrus peel to extract the oils and enhance the beverage. Both practices are good home-bartending skills to add to your repertoire. But this post is about another technique that results in a citrus flavored syrup named oleo-saccharum.


While the name oleo-saccharum might seem like a daunting technique that is best left for the most talented bartenders, it's fairly easy to make. But what does oleo-saccharum mean?


It roughly translates to oil-sugar. Oleo meaning oil, and saccharum meaning sugar. See mom and dad, two years of Latin in high school paid off!!!


If you’d rather watch Shen and I present the following information instead of reading, then please check out the videos below and subscribe to our YouTube channel, Teakwood Tavern. Both videos include the same background material regarding oleo-saccharum, but one video focuses on how to make and use lemon oleo-saccharum, and the other focuses on grapefruit oleo-saccharum. We recommend watching both!!!


Lemon oleo-saccharum video. Drink: Philadelphia Fish-House Punch.


Grapefruit oleo-saccharum video. Drink: Paloma, Teakwood Tavern style!


Classic ingredient for a legendary beveragePunch


Historically, oleo-saccharum was a necessary ingredient of Punch. Author and drinks historian, Dave Wondrich has traced oleo-saccharum back to at least 1707. In The Bon Vivant's Companion, first published in 1862, Jerry Thomas wrote, "to make punch of any sort in perfection, the ambrosial essence of the lemon must be extracted, by rubbing lumps of sugar on the rind.”


In Wondrich's definitive book Punch, he states that, "the lemon oil adds a fragrance and a depth that marks the difference between a good Punch and a great one . . . ." Wondrich writes about the four pillars of Punch, with oleo-saccharum being Pillar 1. When you add juice (or vinegar) to oleo-saccharum, you get a shrub, which happens to be Pillar 2 for Punch making. If you've been following us, you know we love a good shrub.

While this post is not about Punch, it would be remiss of me if I did not share a Punch recipe. Not quite yet, however. First, comes the process of making oleo-saccharum.


Goal: minimum white pith


The original way to make oleo-saccharum


Going back to Jerry Thomas' The Bon Vivant's Companion, his method for preparing the oleo-saccharum is "by rubbing lumps of sugar on the rind, which breaks the delicate little vessels that contain the essence, and at the same time absorbs it." According to Wondrich, modern sugar is not abrasive enough to break down the citrus skins. He "tried it with every kind of modern sugarloaf, cube and crystal [he] could procure and only ended up with a mass of crumbled, faintly scented sugar and a lemon undimmed in its yellowness." Since he's gone through the painstaking research, I'll take his word for it and move to a more modern technique.


The standardbut pain in the assway to make oleo-saccharum


I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this because it's not our preferred method. But there are a lot of recipes online recommending this method so it's important to be familiar with it.


Basically, you peel the citrus—avoiding the bitter white pith as much as possible—and muddle with sugar. Let that sit on the counter (covered) for an hour or so. The sugar will draw out the citrus oil, and and you'll have oleo-saccharum.

Wondrich himself claims that "[t]his process is admittedly time-consuming and to some degree a laborious one." But what is one to do if we can't follow the traditional method and this standard method still sucks?


Enter Jeffrey Morganthaler!


Vacuum sealed oleo-saccharum


Ready to use grapefruit oleo-saccharum


Before diving into this method, I want to share my upmost adoration for Jeffrey Morganthaler. From 2009-2021, Mr. Morganthaler was the Bar Manager at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, which was consistently one of the best cocktails bars in the US. Shen and I had the privilege of enjoying libations at Clyde Common before its unfortunate demise in March of 2021. Morganthaler's bar program was special.


Beyond making incredible beverages, he is also a published author, educator, and advocate. He generously shares his knowledge with the next generation of bartenders. Hell, I even use his beverage cost formulas when teaching beverage management at UNT Dallas. And he provided those FOR FREE on his website! Further, he advocates for a better beverage industry.


Jeff, you probably won't ever read this, but if we cross paths, there are some free beverages coming your way.


Ok . . . why did I just go on a rant about Jeffrey Morganthaler?


Easy. The following vacuum sealed oleo-saccharum recipe is based on his recipe. And I'm not going to take credit for something that was someone else's idea.


According to Morganthaler, he wanted a method for preparing oleo-saccharum "that didn’t require any stirring or tending, a method that could be prepared ahead of time without fear of spoilage or evaporation, so that a delicious punch could be prepared quickly by anyone with a recipe." He indeed found that method.


Below, we've tweaked Morganthaler's lemon oleo-saccharum recipe to provide precise weights, but you don't have to be this exact. Oleo-saccharum is very forgiving. For example, Wondrich recommends two ounces of sugar per lemon. While that's not our preferred amounts, as reflected below, it's a great guidepost if you don't have a food scale.



Lemon oleo-saccharum (makes approx. 1.5 oz)

55 grams of superfine sugar (just under approx. 1/4 cup)

65 grams of lemon peels (approximately 6 small lemons)

  1. Place the sugar and lemon peels in a vacuum seal bag and seal according to manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can use a zipper style bag (e.g., Ziplock) and use the water displacement method.

  2. Once sealed, set the bag on the kitchen counter and walk away for 4 to 8 hours.

  3. After that, place in the refrigerator and use within a week.

  4. To use, strain the oleo-saccharum off the peels. Give the peels a good squeeze to release any remaining oils.



Grapefruit oleo-saccharum (makes approx. 1.5 oz)

68 grams of superfine sugar (just under approx. 1/3 cup)

80 grams of grapefruit peels (approximately 2 large grapefruits)

  1. Place the sugar and grapefruit peels in a vacuum seal bag and seal according to manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can use a Ziplock style bag and use the water displacement method.

  2. Once sealed, set the bag on the kitchen counter and walk away for 4 to 8 hours.

  3. After that, place in the refrigerator and use within a week.

  4. To use, strain the oleo-saccharum off the peels. Give the peels a good squeeze to release any remaining oils.

You likely noticed that these two recipes result in a tiny amount of oleo-saccharum. While true, our decision to make a small batches of oleo-saccharum was based on what we needed for the drinks below. Oleo-saccharum is super concentrated so a little goes a long way. And both oleo-saccharum recipes can be scaled up if you desire more.


Now that we have the oleo-saccharum process down, let's make some cocktails!



We begin with one of our favorite Punches from Wondrich's book, the Philadelphia Fish-House Punch. We've revised the recipe to include the vacuum sealed oleo-saccharum and to make quite a bit less. The original recipe makes 25 cups, which is perfect when entertaining a large group.

Philadelphia Fish-House Punch (makes 28.5 ounces)


1.5 oz lemon oleo-saccharum (see recipe above)

2.5 oz aged rum

1.5 oz white rum

2 oz Cognac

0.5 oz peach liquor

1.5 oz Laird’s applejack (or other apple brandy)

16 oz water

3 oz fresh lemon juice (use the previously peeled lemons from the oleo-saccharum)


Combine all ingredients into a punch bowl with a giant block of ice.

Ladle into small punch cups. If you don't have a punch bowl,

you can mix everything into a large mason jar or other glass container.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.


If you joined Teakwood Tavern for our guest appearances with the National Liberty Museum's Cocktails with a Cause series, then you might remember the Philadelphia Fish-House Punch. It's definitely a favorite of ours. Very smooth and incredibly flavorful. And not too boozy with all that water. Perfect as a welcome beverage when entertaining guests.

Next up, a classic tequila cocktail with a Teakwood Tavern twist—the introduction of grapefruit oleo-saccharum.



Paloma


2 oz blanco or reposado tequila

1.5 oz fresh grapefruit juice

0.75 oz fresh lime juice

0.5 oz grapefruit oleo saccharum (see recipe above)

2 oz Topo Chico


Salt (or Tajin) half the rim of a Collins glass, then add the Topo Chico and set aside.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake 12 times.

Strain into the Collins glass. Add ice to fill. Garnish with a dehydrated lime wheel.


Generally, you won't find oleo-saccharum in a Paloma. Rather, a citrus soda, like Squirt, or simple syrup provides the sweetness. We find the grapefruit oleo-saccharum to be a game changer for this drink. It provides the right amount of sweetness plus the freshness of the grapefruit peel. Delicioso!


Last Call


While oleo-saccharum is mandatory in Punches and useful in cocktails like the Paloma, there's another reason to master this technique: zero-proof beverages. Oleo-saccharum brings a citrus bomb wherever you were already planning to use sugar, which comes in handy when making non-alcoholic beverages. Seriously, try it the next time you make lemonade!

Ready to use lemon oleo-saccharum


Also, oleo-saccharum is a perfect way to use up citrus that is on its last leg. Instead of throwing away old citrus, make oleo-saccharum.


And a few last tips:

  • We prefer to make it a day ahead so we can extract as much oil as possible.

  • Select citrus with thick skins. You will likely have less of a chance to peel the white pith because of the thickness. If you only find small, think skinned citrus, then you might be stuck using a paring knife to remove as much of the white pith as possible after peeling the citrus. It's not a fun task.

If you make oleo-saccharum, and we hope you do, please let us know how it came out!


Sending the ambrosial essence of love,


John


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  • The Reynas


Vermouth is an incredibly important cocktail ingredient. And you'll find it everywhere from your local dive bar to craft cocktail houses. But it's highly misunderstood. Seriously, the next time you walk into a bar, take a look and see if the vermouth is sitting in the well or if it's refrigerated. Hopefully, it's the latter because that effort reflects the respect that should be given to vermouth.


If you'd rather watch our video about Dolin, here's a video on our YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure:


Vermouth is made all over the world so we can't cover all vermouths that you may encounter. Narrowing down to French vermouth, there are two brands that you are likely to find in your local store: Dolin and Noilly Prat. Every vermouth uses it own secret recipe and choice botanicals, so I am not going to say one brand is better than the other. You should try them all, and some may be better in certain cocktails. For this article, we will focus on Dolin. But first . . .


What is vermouth?


Vermouth is a fortified wine aromatized with a variety of herbs, roots, spices, and other aromatics. Fortified means that a spirit, often brandy, is added to the wine. It is more shelf stable than your everyday wine, but should still be kept in the fridge and used within a few months of opening. If your vermouth has been open a while, be sure to try a spoonful before using it in a cocktail. Over time, it will start to turn to vinegar, and then works great for cooking.


You should try vermouth on its own. The complexity of flavors from the mix of wine, fortifying spirit, and botanicals is truly delicious by itself. This is why it is worth spending a few extra dollars and purchasing quality vermouth.


And if you take one thing away from this post: PLEASE REFRIGERATE YOUR VERMOUTH ONCE OPEN.


Quinquina and Americano


We can't discuss vermouth without acknowledging Quinquina and Americano, which are two other types of fortified and aromatized wine. Closely related, we've discussed Quinquinas in our post about Lillet, which adds quinine to the mix. We will cover Americanos in a future post. Not American, but instead based on the Italian word "amer" for bitter. These aromatized wines, like Cocchi Americano, add extra bitter components like gentian root.


History of Vermouth


In 1786, Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created an aromatized wine and called it “Wermut.” While aromatized wines had been around since 6200 BC, Carpano is credited with creating an incredibly complex and high quality infusion that was available to the general population for the first time. It's speculated that the name comes from the German word for wormwood—wermut. However, according to Adam Ford, whose book Vermouth: A Spirited Revival, with 40 Modern Cocktails provides a historical exploration of this fortified wine, "Carpano's Vermut wasn't a wormwood wine . . . [but] played off the name of the most popular Mediterranean plant at the time." The Carpano company "itself takes the position that 'the origin of this name is not certain, but it probably derives from the German word for absinthe.'"


Today, most vermouths use wormwood as a formality. You don’t really taste the wormwood. Still, Carpano’s use of the word “wermut” stuck and slowly morphed into a category of aromatized wines called “vermouth.”


Types of vermouth


There are three types of vermouth you are likely to find:


1. Rouge vermouth: Often called sweet vermouth, it is a staple for a Manhattan, negroni, martinez and so many more. In classic cocktail books, references to Italian vermouth mean rouge (rosso in Italian) vermouth. Dark red or brown in color, you enjoy a complexity of floral, fruit, citrus, nut, and herb aromas.


2. Dry vermouth: In classic cocktail literature, dry vermouth may be referred to as French vermouth. In the mid 1800s, dry vermouth was all the rage. No drink symbolizes dry vermouth more than the king of cocktails—the martini. The color is clear or straw-colored. While dry vermouth is technically dry, many versions have a touch of sweetness but are still drier than rouge or blanc vermouths. You may find tropical and stone fruit flavor along with the floral bouquet you get on the nose.


3. Blanc vermouth: This vermouth is clear or straw-colored like dry vermouth, but the sugar content is more similar to a rouge. You’ll find this in many cocktails like the white negroni and corpse reviver #2. Every bit as flavorful as its two siblings, blanc vermouth may actually be the most versatile. Seen as more herb centric and less spicy than rouge sweet vermouths. Dolin is credited with creating the first blanc style vermouth.


One last note about vermouth's color. Almost all these vermouths have a white wine or mistelle base. Mistelle is the result of adding alcohol to the juice of crushed grapes rather than fermenting them to produce alcohol. The vast majority of red vermouths achieve their coloration through other ingredients rather than the wine itself. Yes, you read that correctly. Most rouge vermouths are made from white wine or white mistelle base. Use that knowledge at your next dinner party or happy hour! Generally, caramel coloring (burnt sugar) provides the red hue to sweet vermouth.


Dolin, Vermouth de Chambery


© Dolin


There are a lot of vermouth brands out there, and in the future we plan to explore many of them. For this first installment into vermouth, we want to showcase a brand that is easy to find and incredibly delicious—Dolin.


Dolin produces world-class vermouth in Savoie, located in south eastern France. (As a side note, don't sleep on wines from Savoie. Very tasty. But that's for another post.) Dolin vermouth has been produced since the 1820s using a secret recipe composed of over 30 botanicals foraged from the foot of the alps. Focused on bringing out the terroir, Dolin proudly utilizes only local ingredients.


History of Dolin


© Dolin


An absinthe distiller and liquorist, Joseph Chavasse, began playing with an aromatized wine in 1821 after trying Italian 'vermout'. He was initially inspired to get into the liquor business from the nearby Grand Chartreuse monastery, but saw a great future in aromatized wines. By 1830, his vermouth was commercially sold and business began to take off. His son-in-law, Louis-Ferdinand Dolin, became involved and purchased the distillery in 1852.


When Louis-Ferdinand died, his wife, Marie Dolin-who was the Chavesse’s daughter-took over the company in 1869. The vermouth craze of the late 1800s was beginning. She thought big and took on the challenge of crossing the Atlantic to win the gold medal in 1876 at the Philadelphia World Fair. Many awards and marketing campaigns followed, exposing Dolin worldwide.


Dolin went through hards times during WW1, American prohibition, and WW2. The company was purchased in 1919 by two local brothers who kept it afloat. The Sevez brothers were family friends who owned a nearby grocery chain. Dolin is still independently owned, which is not so common these days. Plus, it is easy to find at your local liquor store. And at ~$15, it’s worth every penny.


Vermouth cocktails


You can use vermouth in cocktails to highlight other ingredients. You can also make cocktails that highlight the vermouth. Yes, it is that good.


These vermouth based cocktails often fall into the larger category of aperitif cocktails. They are simple and low in alcohol. This makes them the perfect weeknight or Sunday funday sipper. They are also a great way to stimulate your appetite in preparation for your meal.


Cocktail time!

Adonis


1.5oz Rouge Vermouth

1.5oz Fino or Manzanilla Sherry

1 dash orange bitters

Add all ingredients into a Mixing glass. Add ice and stir. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.


The Adonis first appeared in print in 1887 to celebrate the Broadway burlesque musical, Adonis. Adonis became the longest running Broadway show of its era, with over 600 performances. The Waldorf Astoria is credited with creating this cocktail in its honor at 500 shows. Enjoy our cocktail demonstration here:


Next up . . .


Bamboo


.75oz Dry Vermouth

.75 Blanc Vermouth

1.5oz Fino Sherry

1 dash orange bitters

1 dash angostura bitters

Add all ingredients into a Mixing glass. Add ice and stir. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.


The Bamboo is a lighter, but equally fun cousin of the Adonis. First appearing in the early 1900s, the Bamboo was made with dry vermouth. Harry Craddock of Savoy's American Bar first played with making it “perfect” (i.e., equal parts sweet vermouth and dry vermouth) in the 1930s. We tried a lot of options and enjoyed this version the best. If you desire a dryer cocktail, remove the blanc and up the dry vermouth to 1.5oz. Watch a video demonstration here:


Last Call


While we love some boozy cocktails, low-proof cocktails, like the Adonis and Bamboo, are flavorful drinks that won't knock you off your barstool. Plus, finding other uses for vermouth besides the Martini and Manhattan will help you burn through that bottle of vermouth before it oxidizes.


Enjoy that vermouth; it’s the gift that keeps on giving!


Sipping low alcohol cocktails,

Shen


P.S. Don't worry, mom. A sherry article will come soon!


P.S.S. My mom's name is Sherrie, and she's a fan of the Adonis!


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Updated: Jun 30



We’re traveling to Verona, Italy, in this post to discuss the wines of Valpolicella. I’m positive you’ve heard of Verona before . . .


Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

—William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue, Romeo & Juliet


Whether this passage reminds you of skimming CliffNotes before 9th grade English class or young Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio falling in love, we hope you’ll stick around to learn about the amazing red wines of Verona, in particular the wines of Valpolicella. I promise that will be the last Shakespeare quote. Let’s get back to wine. There’s a lot to unpack with Valpolicella so we recommend to go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.


Ok, I couldn’t resist one more Romeo & Juliet quote. But it’s a fitting quote for Valpolicella, which is confusing. Well, that is until you read this blog post!


If you’d rather watch Shen and I present the following information instead of reading, then please check out this video and subscribe to our Youtube channel, Teakwood Tavern:



Verona, Italy


Verona is both a province and a city located in Veneto, Italy. Veneto is a region located in northeast Italy. The city of Verona is the capital of the province of Verona.


© Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Famiglia Castagnedi


Valpolicella zone and subzones


The overall Valpolicella DOC extends roughly 16 miles from west to east and about 8 miles from north to south. The zone includes a complex system of valleys that flow from Monti Lessini in the north down to the plains in the south. From west to east, the valleys are: Fumane, Marano, Negrar, Quinzano, Avesa, Valpantena, Squaranto, Marcellise, Mezzane, Illasi, and Traminga.


©Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Veni


The historical production area of Valpolicella DOC Classico is comprised of the Fumane, Marano, and Negrar valleys as well as the townships of Sant’Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano.


Classico region © Brigaldara


Within the broader Valpolicella DOC is another area that was given its own denomination, Valpolicella DOC Valpantena. Valpantena lies east of Classico and directly north of the city of Verona. Its wines are generally distinguished by a greater freshness and elegance, but also great longevity.


Climate


Verona is located in the far west of Veneto. Overall, Valpolicella’s climate is continental, but it does vary depending on the location of the vineyards. In the north, cool Alpine winds are prevalent. In the west, Lake Garda provides a warming effect that creates a Mediterranean microclimate.


Soil


Since there are valleys, it only makes sense that there are mountains. The soil types vary depending on the altitude, which ranges between valley floors at 200 feet above sea level and mountain ranges around 2,100 feet. The hills are comprised of igneous rock (e.g., volcanic) and sedimentary rock (e.g., marl and chalk).


Chalk © Geology.com


Marl © Geologyscience.com


Grapes


If you want to drink wines produced from native grapes, then you should seek out Valpolicella wines. Approximately 97% of grapes grown in the greater Valpolicella area are indigenous varieties. Corvina, Rondinella, and Corvinone are the three major varietals, which together comprise about 94% of all plantings in the area.


Corvina’s moniker is the Queen of Valpolicella. An apt nickname since Corvina accounts for 60% of all plantings. Corvina, with its dark skin, provides aroma, tannins, structure, and acidity to the Valpolicella blend.


Corvinone provides many of the same qualities to wines as Corvina. The grapes themselves are physically larger than Corvina grapes. Interestingly, and confusingly, Corvina is not genetically related to Corvinone.


What Rondinella lacks in aromatics, it makes up in acidity and tannin. It too is a dark grape.


After the big three varietals, you’ll also find small plantings of Molinara, Oseleta, and Croatina.


©Recchia


Valpolicella blend


Italian law dictates what percentage of certain grapes can make up a Valpolicella blend. There are a few key rules to remember.


Corvina must make up between a minimum of 45% and maximum of 95% of the Valpolicella blend. There must be a minimum of 5% and a maximum of 30% of Rondinella in the blend.


Well, the laws changed recently and authorized Corvinone in the same 45% minimum and 95% maximum as Corvina. The same 5–30% rule for Rondinella applies when Corvinone is swapped in lieu of Corvina.


© Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Famiglia Castagnedi


Appassimento


In Italian, the word for the process of drying grapes is appassimento (aka passsito method). Grapes that were harvested between September and October dry out (raisin) until January or February. Traditionally, grape bunches were poured into racks made of water reeds or bamboo and stacked on top of each other in attics. Now, many wineries stack grapes in boxes made of plastic or wood. There is great care given to ensuring minimal handling of the grapes. Any damage to the grapes can result in rot or mold. Some wineries leave windows open to assist with the drying process. Other wineries store the grapes in special drying rooms equipped with A/C and humidity controls.


During appassimento, grapes can lose between 30-40% of their weight. Concentrated flavors and high sugar content are the byproducts of appassimento. According to Jancis Robinson, appassimento metabolizes the acids in the grape itself and polymerizes the tannins in the skin. I’m not sure what that means exactly. But Jancis is the boss, and it sounds cool.


Appassimento is performed more in Valpolicella than elsewhere in Italy. Three of the four styles of Vapolicella involve the process of appassimento in some manner.


Styles of Valpolicella


Now that you’ve mastered blends and learned about appassimento, it’s time to learn about styles of Valpolicella. Yes, you read that correctly, there's still more to learn about Valpolicella.

Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.


There are four distinct styles of Valpolicella. All four are made from the same blends that I discussed above. The four styles of Valpoilicella are as follows: Valpolicella DOC; Valpolicella Ripasso DOC; Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG; and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG.


Valpolicella DOC


These are your basic Valpolicella wines. But not basic in taste. It is the only style that doesn't involve appassimento in some form.


We love these wines. Big sour-cherry flavor with sprightly acidity. Generally, there is no oak aging, and the wines are medium bodied. The wines are approachable in their youth, and many can handle a chill. Jancis Robinson has compared these wines to Beaujolais, and I see the resemblance.


These wines are super affordable for the quality. You should hop on the Valpolicella train before the prices increase. It’s especially important to buy now since the commercial success of Amarone, which we discuss below, has reduced average production of this style of Valpolicella in almost half between 2005 and 2013. The shortage of grapes being produced in this style will also send prices up.


Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG


I purposely jumped from Valpolicella DOC to Recioto della Valpolicella because the latter is a sweet wine. If you master Recioto, then Amarone and Ripasso are easier to remember and distinguish.


Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG is a historic sweet wine that is made using appassimento. Sweet wine has been made using the appassimento method dating back to the Romans. Yet, Recioto della Valpolicella didn't earn its DOCG status in 2009. Sadly, this historic wine is produced less frequently. That’s partly because sweet wines are a hard sell, but also because Amarone and Ripasso have stolen the show.


If you’re at a quality Italian restaurant, take a look at their dessert wine list. If they sell Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, grab a glass. Or split a 375ml bottle amongst friends. These sweet wines burst with powerful red fruit flavors and high alcohol. If you’ve ever wanted a full-bodied dessert wine with tannins, seek out a bottle of Recioto!


Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG


Of all the wines we are exploring, this is likely the one that you are most familiar. It’s a staple on most higher end Italian restaurants as well as steakhouses.


Now take everything you read about Recioto della Valpolicella, and let’s apply it to Amarone della Valpolicella. In general, the grape growing and the appassimento methods mirror each other. The big difference between Recioto and Amarone is that, for the latter, the grape juice is fermented to complete dryness or off-dryness.


If you’re into Italian wine, it might surprise you that Amarone is not a traditional Italian wine. It was not commercially produced until the 1960s. Before then, Amarone was considered a flawed Recioto since it was a completely dry wine. Amarone della Valpolicella earned its DOCG status in 2010.


Wineries go through serious painstaking efforts when producing Amarone. Usually, the best whole bunches are selected from more mature vines. Since appassimento results in massive water loss, making Amarone requires more grapes than a typical wine. Wineries often age Amarone onsite for many years before releasing to the public for retail. All of these efforts are why Amarone comes with sticker shock.


These wines are full bodied with high alcohol. The tannins are generally medium to high. The wines are cherished for flavors of concentrated red berry and baking spices.


Valpolicella Ripasso DOC


We saved Valpolicella Ripasso for last because Ripasso is a lovechild of Valpolicella DOC (i.e., basic production) and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG. To understand the beauty of Ripasso is to appreciate what both Valpolicella DOC and Amarone bring to the blend.


Ripasso is produced by running Valpolicella over Amarone skins. Winemakers drain Amarone off the skins slightly before fermentation finishes. The Amarone skins, which are not pressed, are added to a vat of completely fermented Valpolicella. Yeasts, which are present on the skins, ferment the remaining sugar on the Amarone skins. That’s why it’s important to pull the skins before fermentation is complete. This extra fermentation aids the Amarone skins in providing flavor, color, and tannins to the normal Valpolicella wine.


The resulting wines are medium to full bodied with flavors and aromas of stewed red and black fruits. Tannins are medium to high and the acidity from the Valpolicella is still present. These impeccable wines are often called Baby Amarones because of the use of Amarone skins. They also cost a fraction of Amarone so they are worth exploring before making the splurge into Amarone.


And that’s it for the four wine styles. Phew, I need a drink. Or maybe four.


Wine tasting



Brigaldara Valpolicella DOC 2018


This bottle is everything I love about Valpolicella DOC. On the nose, bright strawberry and cranberry burst along with violet and lilac. On the palate, red fruits were still at the forefront but balanced with anise, eucalyptus, and black pepper. Acidity was medium plus and tannin was medium. The abv came in at 13.5%, and the body was medium. The finish was in the low 20s (number of seconds desirable flavors remain in your mouth after swallowing). This is a delightful wine that can be drank alone or paired with food. The fresh fruit flavors, high acidity, and medium tannin combine to form an easy drinking wine for all occasions. It’s both elegant and unpretentious. At $19, buy a case and drink often. No need to age.



Lenotti “Le Crosare” Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Classico Superiore 2015


This Ripasso packs a punch and reminds you that you’re not drinking normal Valpolicella. It still retains the acidity from the Valpolicella base, but the Amarone skins provide high tannin, high alcohol (14.5% ABV), and a full body. Aromas of smoke, chocolate, blackberry, and jalapeño are present. Flavors of red cherry, leather, mint, tobacco, and mushroom dance on the palate. Tertiary flavors are already present in this 2015 vintage, but there’s still plenty of aging potential to lay this wine down for a few more years. The finish was in the mid-twenties. At $32, this is a great introduction into the apassimento method. Again, Ripassos are a great value when compared to the price tag that Amarone charges.



Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone della Valpolicella 2015


Compared to the Valpolicella and Ripasso, this Amarone had the darkest color—a deep, opaque ruby. On the nose, we found aromas of mushroom, violet, nutmeg, fig, and chocolate. On the palate, there were lovely flavors of black plum, coffee, wet leaves, and cedar. Acidity was medium plus, and the ABV was 15%. The tannins were high and the overall body was full. Shen’s immediate reaction to this wine was to call it chewy, not in a bad way. Just a different sensation on the palate. The finish was in the high twenties. If you love big, red wines with tertiary flavors, this would be a dream wine for you. At $50, this is a splurge wine to buy when making a hearty meal at home. You’ll likely pay quite a markup at a restaurant so we recommend buying Amarone at retail and determining whether you enjoy this style. It’s delicious and unique, but the cost is no joke. Still, this is a quality wine and a treat to drink for the right occasion.



Recchia “La Guardia” Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2015


This wine was incredible. It was full bodied with a 13.5% ABV. Aromas of fig, raisin, leather, and wet leaves leaped from the glass. The wine bursted with flavors of strawberry rhubarb pie, fig, tobacco, and dates. Acidity was racing. The finish was in the low 30s. We will buy this bottle again if we see it.


Last Call


I realize this is a lot of information to digest, but Valpolicella is worth learning about. You'll find great wines throughout all four styles, which is not something that many wine regions can boast.


While we enjoy all four styles, we really appreciate the elegance and approachability of Valpolicella DOC. This table wine might not receive the accolades of Amarone or Ripasso, but your wallet and senses will thank you. So grab yourself a bottle and enjoy! And when the time is right, explore the other three styles.


Sending unburdened love from which I don't sink,


John

P.S. If you made it this far, you earned this bonus:



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