In many ways, the rich dessert wine Recioto della Valpolicella is the region’s dark secret. Not everyone internationally is familiar with the wine, even those for whom Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso are regular guests at the dinner table. This is a shame, because not only is Recioto della Valpolicella a splendid and unique wine in its own right, it is also the oldest-attested wine in the region, with written evidence dating back to the 6th Century, when it was a favourite of Ostrogothic kings. Sweet wines were the most highly prized in the ancient world, and the famous grape-drying method was one of the more reliable ways of producing them.
Tastes change, however, and over the last century Recioto has become less famous than its illustrious – and accidental – offspring. Amarone della Valpolicella is in fact a Recioto whose fermentation is allowed to continue until all the sugar from those dried grapes isç gone, whereas a Recioto is racked (where the wine is poured or filtered carefully to separate it from its yeast) so as to stop fermentation. And the result really is like a dessert Amarone: rich, powerful, deep, but also capable of ethereal, haunting flavours and aromas that really demand the drinker’s care and attention. Like Amarone, it doesn’t usually come cheap, but it is worth it for wine as special as this, a red rival to the great sweet wines of the world like Sauternes and Tokaji, and to fortified wines like Port, Madeira or Pedro Ximenez sherry. One of the real hidden gems of the wine world.
Alcohol: at least 12%.
Colour: deep purple, with increasing transluence when aged.
Aroma: trademark bitter cherries, but with added cocoa powder, coffee, even touches of mint.
Palate:deep, dense red and black fruits but generally with rather delicate sweetness and balancing acidity; lingering plumminess is common, with mixed baking spices and that lingering cocoa finish.
Food Pairing: here it is, the honest-to-God chocolate dessert pairing. Try with dark chocolate especially to accentuate the bitter-sweet contrast. In addition, as with Port, try with some really full-on blue cheese.