Returning from last weeks buying trip to Sicily, we were greeted with torrential rain and miserable grey skies. Therefore a little interactive, spontaneous fun was needed; before you could say Valpolicella, three vintages of Alpha Zeta’s Valpolicella Ripasso were dancing in their glasses.
Alpha Zeta is one of New Zealand wine maker Matt Thompson’s Italian wine projects. Along with a number of other regions, Matt has chosen the Veneto in the north East of Italy as a region capable of delivering wines in his trademark clean, fruit forward style.
We opened the 2008, 2009 and 2010 and almost unanimously concluded that Matt had achieved what he set out to do. Ripe, plummy fruit dominated all three vintages and in fact left room for only very subtle observations. To delve deeper and understand the quirky differences in these wines involves looking at the climatic characteristics of the Veneto. This is easier said than done as most wines in this price bracket are made with purchased fruit from numerous growers spread throughout the region.
In 2010 cool, wet springs reduced yields in north east Italy but a cool summer allowed the fruit that survived to ripen. Lower temperatures and rain ultimately ensured wines with aroma and elegance rather than power and body. Richly textured reds are not the norm in the Veneto although the Ripasso style sees the addition of pommace and leftover grape skins (from the production of Amarone) being added to the fermentation process. Consequently Ripasso wines are always fuller in body than standard Valpolicella wines.
2009 was slightly different. Warm summers, although not excessive, with hints of rain meant that many producers declared excellent harvests in the north east of Italy. In Valpolicella the wines were of average structure and average alcohol accompanied by typically warm red fruits and a dry finish.
2008 was a tricky year; not tremendously hot and therefore many wines, especially Amarone, lacked the power of other vintages. Sugar levels were down also resulting in a fresher style of wine than previous Valpolicella vintages. This was reasonably evident in the Alpha Zeta Ripasso as both an extra year of maturity and the slightly lighter style was often lost against the more structured and rounder 2009.