Wine's "Z" class

Zenato 2010 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore (L) and Zenato 2012 Lugana San Benedetto. (QMI Agency)

Zenato 2010 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore (L) and Zenato 2012 Lugana San Benedetto. (QMI Agency)

Christopher Waters, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:17 PM ET

In wine circles these days, the Zenato family is closely associated with rich, flavourful Italian reds. Based in the Veneto, the clan has helped turn many North Americans and Europeans on to the robust charms of Amarone and its so-called baby brother Ripasso.

The Zenatos were among the first in their region to use material from its Amarone production to supercharge some of its other red wines. After the grapes, which have been partially dried for a period of months to concentrate their sugars and intensify their flavours, are pressed for Amarone, the remaining grape skins and seeds are introduced to a batch of red wine. That addition adds colour, alcohol, texture, character and complexity to what would otherwise be a less interesting, light and somewhat fruity red.

The method is often described as having the Amarone byproducts “repassed” through the new wine. The Zenatos dubbed their innovative red, Ripassa. Other wineries in Veneto embraced the term Ripasso. The inventive family that owns Masi Agricola chose another path, calling their so-called Supervenetian red, Campofiorin.

Alberto Zenato explains the increased concentration on the red portfolio helped grow an operation based on an earlier innovation of his father Sergio. When the winery was established in 1960, its early focus was on making dramatic white wines from the underappreciated Trebbiano di Lugana grape. Over the years, the family has systematically improved farming and winemaking practices to craft a dynamic mix of red and white wines that range from simple and affordable to compelling and splurge-worthy.

The Ripassa is one of the most significant wines in the history of our company, Zenato explained during a recent tasting in Toronto.

“Amarone is the iconic wine of our production — it is the top wine and as such is a wine for special occasions,” he says. “Ripassa is more versatile, more accessible… It is a wine that lies between Valpolicella and Amarone. It has some characteristics of Amarone, without the complexity and possessing such a full-body, which gives it a wider range of opportunities for enjoyment.”

Sales for the wine have grown in Canada, the United States and Europe and other like-minded wines from the region also have seen increasing consumer interest. To maintain quality standards, Zenato and other quality producers established the regional standard that a winery can only produce twice as much Ripasso as they do Amarone.

“We pay attention to quality as much as possible, starting from the vineyard and the grapes and continuing through the winemaking process and the aging in the cellar and, last but not least, in bottle,” he says. “This is the philosophy that my father taught me and now, my sister, mother and I strive to maintain that consistency and dedication in our production.”

Wines of the Week:


***1/2 Zenato 2012 Lugana, San Benedetto Veneto, Italy ON $14.95 (707158)

Made from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana, this bright and refreshing white showcases the subtle power of the grape, with its floral character and smooth, almost creamy texture. It’s easy going personality makes it a nice sipping wine as well as a no nonsense match with most fish and seafood dishes. Anyone looking to see the thrilling heights that this unassuming grape can attain should check out the family’s 2011 Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva, ON $28.95 (928218), a richer, riper white that maintains its freshness and focus.

**** Zenato 2010 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, Veneto,Italy ON $25.95 (479766)

Well-made Ripasso wines like this one offer full-on aromas and flavours of dried fruit and spice that makes them significantly richer and more rewarding than the simple and affordable regional red wines from Valpolicellas stocked at liquor stores. That robust character works best with grilled game or meat dishes, but can also pair nicely with aged cheeses or baked pasta dishes.


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