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This article originally appeared in the September 2017 edition of Grapegrower & Winemaker.

 

The story of Ripasso is a tad complicated, and starts with three other Venetian wines – one created on accident. The name Ripasso is protected by a registered trademark in Australia, but this hasn’t stopped winemakers from experimenting with the technique. You just won’t see it labelled as such. Camellia Aebischer reports.


Literally translated from Italian “Ripasso” can mean “revision” or “refresh”. In simplistic wine terms, this is true of the technique, but for some winemakers crafting a wine with a Ripasso method is much more than just a refresher.

Ripasso was born in the Veneto region of Italy, as a middle ground between Valpoliacella (a bright fruitful table wine) and Amarone, which is deep, rich and complex. Valpoliacella is traditionally made using Corvina, Rodinella and Molinara grapes from the Veneto region.

This might get confusing, but to get to Amarone, we have to start with a different style called Recioto. Recioto was created out of a desire to produce wines with a richer flavour in a region that didn’t grow the right varieties for full-bodied wines. This led winemakers to partially sun-dry the grapes originally destined for the Valpoliacella, creating a new wine with complexity and depth.

“So in the Italian way of not wasting anything he said ‘well why not juice up another wine with it? Put another wine on top and make a Ripasso?’”

 

Condensed flavours also meant condensed sugars, so Recioto turned out to be a rich, sweet wine. This was no accident – Italians are partial to a sweet red. The accident came when a highly alcohol tolerant indigenous yeast strain would dominate and eat up all the residual sugar in the Recioto, producing a comparably “bitter” result, now known as Amarone. The name Amarone comes from the Italian word “amaro” which means (you guessed it) bitter.

The namesakes for these wines are protected in Italy, and so can’t be used for winemaking in Australia. However, the absence of a name does not mean the absence of tradition.

By the book

At Primo Estate, an Adelaide Plains winery in South Australia, head winemaker Tom Garrett has been passionately producing the prized Moda and Zamberlan wines, made in Amarone and Ripasso style (respectively).

Speaking to Garrett, he explained that The Zamberlan was named after Rinaldo Zamberlan (owner Joe Grilli’s farther-in-law), who would often venture into the winery and say hello.

Primo Estate owner Joe Grilli

“During one of his visits he saw us pressing the Moda. Normally when you press the skins you can see that all of the goodness has come out and it’s just a pinkish hue. But, because the Moda is so concentrated and dry, they still had lots of colour and lots of flavour left. So in the Italian way of not wasting anything he said ‘well why not juice up another wine with it? Put another wine on top and make a Ripasso?’”.

The Moda is an ultra-premium wine, made using dry-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes, chosen for their thick, hardy skins. The grapes are handpicked and laid on to 7kg plastic produce trays (all 14 tonnes of them), then air dried under a shelter at the McLaren Vale cellar door.

“It’s a bit of a logistical hurdle, giving the drying process two weeks and praying that the rain doesn’t come.

“Drying times can vary and you can overdo it or underdo it. It requires a little bit of knowledge on the process. You’re trying to make a dry red wine not a port.”

 

“The carport at our cellar door becomes the drying station during vintage and we just have to ask our guests to park on the lawn. It is mainly undercover, so if we do get rain they’re protected.” But of course, the humidity from rain can throw off coordinating the re-pass.

“Drying times can vary and you can overdo it or underdo it. It requires a little bit of knowledge on the process. You’re trying to make a dry red wine not a port.”

Winemaker Tom Garrett

The process at Primo Estate is all completed in a single vintage, so logistics and timing are a big consideration. When everything goes according to plan, Garrett can line up the pressing of the Moda when the Zamberlan is ready to see some skins.

Because of the single vintage, labelling of the wines is simple, and only requires caution when considering Italian terminology. However, borrowing ideas from the process extends past tradition for some. The experimental nature of winemaker Sam Dunlevy at the team at McLaren Vale Winemakers in South Australia, has produced some interesting results.

A refresher

The winery that Dunlevy works at is owned by Steve Grimley, who used to be a part of Red Heads Studio – a winemaking collective in McLaren Vale. Another in that collective was Andrew Pieri, who now sells his wine out of The Confessional just down the road from McLaren Vale Winemakers.

“Anything we’ve done Pieri gets credit for,” Dunlevy said.

Pieri has spent time in the past making wine at the McLaren Vale Winemakers site, so his style has made a mark.

Pieri is passionate about the Amarone style of winemaking, and enjoys experimenting with drying grapes and producing Australianised styles under the label Pieri Wines. He mainly uses Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for the sun-dried wines, and Italian varieties like Montepulciano and Vermentino for his non-dried wines.

“After a few beers the ideas flow around,” Dunlevy said, when explaining how he ended up with a non-vintage Grenache/Cinsaut/Carignan using Ripasso techniques.

Dunlevy pouring his re-passed wine

Dunlevy and winemaker Kate Petering were both working on a Grenache from a newly acquired vineyard and weren’t feeling satisfied with the flavours.

“It wasn’t a strategic decision or the traditional way of doing it over sun-dried skins, it was just previous vintage over the current vintage skins. The Grenache was marked and put aside to use at a later date on a project, and the inspiration from Pieri kicked in. We just drained the wine out of the fermenter and put the 15 Grenache over the top, then pressed that together.”

When asked how he felt about “sacrificing” the pressings of a wine, to enrich another, Dunlevy responded:

“In this case, the pressings were not what we were chasing. The Carignan and Cinsaut were used for a light red. It was a bit playful. It had its time on skins, and was always a lighter style wine so the pressings weren’t something that we really wanted.”

Business model flexibility

The small batch and experimental nature at McLaren Vale Winemakers means that there are options to have access to spare wine pressings.

“We have the shop where we can release small batches and stuff to sell through and explain to customers.”

Dunlevy references the label’s cellar door that sits on a quiet street in Adelaide’s CBD.

“On a commercial scale it would be quite difficult. From a business perspective, you wouldn’t hang on to a wine if you weren’t sure what would happen to it and trial putting it over skins. We’ve got that luxury that if we have four barrels we can hang on to them.”

Dunlevy and Petering hand bottled their ‘re-passed’ experiment in to 1.5l magnums for sale through the cellar door. The experiment proved a success and the wine sold out before they could even get a proper label on it, so it went out as a cleanskin.

“If 2016 wine is passed over 2017 skins, but those skins contribute less than 15% of the volume of the wine, then it is permissible (but not mandatory) to label the wine as ‘2016’.

 

The wine was labelled as ‘non-vintage’, however, Steve Guy the market access general manager at Wine Australia explained that vintage also falls under the <15% rule.

“If 2016 wine is passed over 2017 skins, but those skins contribute less than 15% of the volume of the wine, then it is permissible (but not mandatory) to label the wine as ‘2016’.

“Once a wine fails the “85% rule” then either all vintages that make a contribution to the final volume must be declared or none of them can be (NV).”

“We should point out that the term ‘Ripasso’ has been a registered trade mark in Australia since 1999 and is owned by Camera di Commercio, Industria, Artigianato e Agricoltura di Verona.”

The only hassle is measuring volumes before and after passing over skins, to determine the percentage of press juice that’s been added. Other than that, winemakers are generally free to experiment with techniques like Ripasso. Just make sure you don’t write it on your label.

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