Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Summertime Red Wine

Even though temperatures are approaching meteorological hell, I refuse to give up the pleasures of sipping red wine with the foods of summer.

Sure, I drink more refreshing whites and rose’s this time of year than I do of those purple monsters, but I still open and enjoy red wines. I just modify that old (and hackneyed) adage that red wine should be served at room temperature. Of course, when the Medieval wine snob who offered that advice did so, room temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

I simply put my red wine in the refrigerator for about a half hour before opening it and then keep it in an ice bucket after pouring a glass or two. I do, though, usually prefer lighter styled reds such as pinot noir and Valpolicella this time of year. The beauty of these two varietals is that – while they are not full-bodied like cabernet or zinfandel- they do stand up to and pair well with picnic foods like sausages, ribs and foods with spicy heat.

Pinot noir like those produced by Elouan and Erath from Oregon, J. Lohr, Buena Vista and Cline Family Cellars from California, Kim Crawford from New Zealand and Cono Sur from Chile are all priced around or below $25 a bottle and make very nice accompaniments to the foods of summer.


However, one of the best warm weather reds is Valpolicella. Produced from a combination of the relatively obscure corvina, rondinalla and molinara grapes, this red wine can be a very pleasant sipper, as well as an excellent accompaniment to barbecue and other warm weather foods.

Producers to look for are Allegrini, Masi, Zenato, Bertani, Tommasi, Farina, Righetti and Mazzi. I am especially fond of Allegrini Valpolicella Classico, but all of the above mentioned wines are exceptional summertime and picnic food accompaniments, and they are mostly priced under $20 a bottle.

Valpolicella becomes something more, though, when the grapes are planted in select vineyard sites and when a process called ripasso is employed during wine making. To make ripasso, new Valpolicella wine is re-fermented by combining it with the pressed skins or pomace from Amarone (which is essentially Valpolicella on steroids).

The resulting ripasso wine is considerably darker and fuller bodied than Valpolicella, but not as powerful as Amarone. And while a ripasso is definitely a step up in weight and intensity from regular Valpolicella, it is still a very nice complement to your favorite summertime dishes.

In the past, I have written about my affection for Palazzo Della Torre – one of Allegrini’s Valpolicella red wines that is made in the ripasso method. Several years ago, I visited the Allegrini estate in the Veneto region of Italy. The winery is located on property where an actual medieval palace – Palazzo Della Torre – has been restored and is used as a tasting facility. On that particular day, I tasted through several vintages of that lovely wine.

Today, you will find the 2016 Palazzo Della Torre ($22) for sale at area wine shops. It is medium-bodied, almost zinfandel-like and chock full of ripe blackberry and cola flavors. It is, simply put, Molto Bene (that means ‘durn good’ in American).

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