Tenuta Sant'Antonio Valpolicella Superiore (Veneto, Italy) Monti Garbi, Ripasso, 2005 (Dalla Terra, $20): My husband Ed is the cellarmaster and sommelier in our family. Every night he's the one who decides what might be fun to drink, and he usually serves his selection to me blind. After months of choosing mainly California wines as research for our upcoming book (California Wine For Dummies), he surprised me one evening with this thoroughly delightful Valpolicella. It was a complete change of pace from our recent norm, and a real discovery.
But in calling this wine "delightful," I fear that I don't do it justice. That descriptor is apt praise for a basic Valpolicella that you drink when it's barely a year old -- a light-medium-bodied wine whose main asset is freshness and straightforward fruity flavor. This wine is something more than that. It's much fuller in body (verging on full-bodied), with tannin enough to make it serious and acid enough to make it Italian, and its flavors are riper and richer than any basic Valpolicella. Nonetheless, it delights me.
Tenuta Sant'Antonio is a fairly new wine producer, founded in 1995 and exporting to the U.S. for less than a year. It is run by four brothers whose father had founded a local cooperative winery where the family sent the grapes from its vineyards. After years of consulting for a local nursery, the brothers expanded the family's vineyard holdings to 50 hectares, planted the new vineyards with a higher than traditional density of vines, and began their own winery specializing in Amarone production.
Monte Garbi is the name of the winery estate. Situated on the eastern end of the Valpolicella zone, it is outside the original, classico Valpolicella area and its sandy, calcareous soil is distinct from the clay-dominant soils of the central area. This thin, crumbly soil reportedly imparts high acidity and bold cherry fruit character to the wines. The wine is 70% from Corvina and Corvinone (a local grape with larger bunches and berries than Corvina and said to give wine more color and tannin), 20% from Rondinella and 10% from Croatina and Oseleta.
This wine is a ripasso, the product of a double fermentation. One fermentation takes place in October and the second, instigated by the addition of the skins and lees from the winery's Amarone fermentation, occurs in January. The wine ages in 500-liter tonneaux of French oak (about twice as large as a barrique), 30% of which are new, for about 15 months.
Here's what to expect when you taste this wine. It has a deep ruby color that immediately suggests that the wine is not your basic Valpolicella. The nose has medium-plus intensity and suggests ripe black cherry but also dusty and very slightly herbal notes. In the mouth, the wine is truly dry and yet richly fruity with black cherry flavors and velvety texture. The fine-grained tannin grips the tongue (but in no way overpowers the fruitiness) and lends definition to the wine, while freshening acidity energizes the wine's round structure from within. Great length of flavor across the palate continues into a long, satisfying finish.
This is a wonderful wine for $20, and you might just find it a welcome change of pace.