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January 16, 2020

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Valpolicella ideal to toast Chinese New Year

I’ll be enjoying a range of lovely wines during the Chinese new year holiday. Some bubbles at the moment the Year of the Pig transitions into the Year of the Rat, some acidic whites and tannic reds to enjoy with my meat roasts and some very special sweet wines to enjoy with popular Chinese sweets.

One of my favorites is tanghulu, a sweet snack food that comprises hawthorn fruits covered in hard candy served on a skewer. The taste is a wonderful combination of sweet and sour flavors with crispy, snappy and soft textures.

Choosing a wine to accompany these sweets can be a challenge.

The ideal solution is a balanced sweet wine with a level of intensity that matches or surpasses that of the fruit and sugar. The wine should also feature good acidity to offset the sweetness.

This holiday season my choice is a unique sweet red wine that comes from one of Italy’s premier wine producing areas.

Sweet vino history

Viticulture has been practiced in the Veneto region of modern Italy since the time of the ancient Greeks, though the exact beginning of winemaking in the Valpolicella area remains a mystery.

The tradition of using partially dried grapes (seen today in the modern Valpolicella wines of Amarone and Recioto) was known as the “Greco” or “Greek style” of winemaking, with its origins dating back 3,000 years or more.

In the sixth century, the wine-loving Roman writer Cassiodorus praised the area’s sweet wines mentioning that they were the beverage of choice among the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy’s noble connoisseurs.

From the eighth century through the Renaissance, the Republic of Venice was a vital trading port in the Mediterranean, linking the Byzantine Empire with the rest of Europe.

Merchants’ records document that one of the most traded items that passed through the port of Venice was local sweet red wines originating from the sloping valleys around Verona.

While the exact etymology of Valpolicella is unknown, many scholars hypothesize that the name is derived from Greek and Latin phrases that meant “the valley of many cellars.”

Today, Valpolicella wines are crafted from the red grapes Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella along with minority contributions from up to 15 other local varieties.

One of the most intriguing contributing varieties is the indigenous grape Oseleta that’s growing in popularity as an enhancer of color, body and structure to the wines.

Each producer has his or her preferred Valpolicella blend and in all cases the final blend must follow the stringent regulations of the Valpolicella Consortium, the official organization overseeing production and promotion of all Valpolicella wines.

The Valpolicella DOC/DOCG wine region only makes red wines. Most famous is Amarone. This king of wines has become a global ambassador for Italian wines and recently has increasingly become a widely recognized symbol of Italian wine excellence in China.

Complementing the noble Amarone, the more affordable Ripasso and Valpolicella DOC reds wines offer some of the wine world’s best quality-price ratios. However, with my Chinese new year sweet treats this year, I’ll savor the elegant sweetness of Valpolicella’s most historic wine.

Recioto della Valpolicella is the modern version of an ancient-style sweet red wine that’s truly one of the world’s most unique wines. It is made from air-dried grapes that after harvest rest in specially designed aeriated lofts for 100 or more days. Unlike dry Amarone wines, the fermentation of Recioto wines is stopped to preserve the sugar percentage necessary and bestow the required structure and texture.

The wine then rests for several years in small barrels. Making these wines is a time-consuming and costly process, but the result is well worth the extraordinary effort and expense.

On the palate, Recioto wines are sweet with wonderful concentrated red, raisin and dark fruit flavors with well-rounded, mouth-coating tannins that bequeath an enticing velvety texture.

The finish is persistent and clean. These wines are also quite heady for sweet wines, at least 14 percent alcohol; therefore, I suggest serving them nicely chilled or about 10-12 degrees Celsius.

The combination of abundant sweet fruit and good acidity makes Recioto della Valpolicella one of the wine world’s most food-friendly sweet wines that pair nicely with everything from Hawthorn treats and other Chinese new year holiday sweet delicacies to strong cheeses and Shanghai-style stinky bean curd. Yes, a Recioto della Valpolicella sweet wine makes a perfect partner to stinky tofu as the rich and fruity sweetness of the wine appeases the pungency of the fermented bean curd while the wine’s freshness facilitates digestion.

The good news is that Recioto della Valpolicella sweets wines are wonderful Chinese new year wines that will bring delicious joy to your holiday.

After all, red is the preferred color of the holiday.

The bad news is that they are relatively difficult to find outside of Italy and this is especially true in China.

Some top Valpolicella producers with Recioto wines available in Shanghai are Bertani, Zenato, Tommasi, Viviani, Masi and Allegrini.

All these producers also offer wonderful dry Valpolicella reds.


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