I can't tell you how many times I've sought a nice, easy-drinking Valpolicella on a wine list and found only big, alcoholic Amarone, the dried-grape-based wine also made in this Italian region from the same grapes (mainly Corvina). For some reason, Amarone seems to get more respect than Valpolicella's straightforward table wine version, but to me, Amarone is tough to drink before or during a meal—except perhaps with a mellow, hard-textured cheese.
On a recent warm spring day, I spied Tenuta Sant'Antonio Valpolicella Superiore Monti Garbi Ripasso 2005 on one wine list for a tidy $40. Ripasso, a technique particular to this region of the Veneto, adds some of the skins and lees left over from fermented Amarone to beef up the lighter wine as it ferments. The result is a wine that's less frivolous than "regular" Valpolicella, but not nearly as dense or alcoholic as Amarone.
The Monti Garbi made a perfect foil for my goat cheese ravioli and for my friend's lamb burger. Soft in texture, the wine got an extra bass note from something meaty or gamy running as counterpoint beneath the melody of fresh cherry fruit in its flavor profile. Its deft balance kept all the pieces humming through a long finish. I gave it 87 points, non-blind.
Sometimes you want a red wine that just glides easily over your palate. It doesn't have to challenge you with tremendous personality, just offer enough to keep things interesting as the wine makes itself an amiable companion to sip before, during and after lunch or dinner. That Monti Garbi hit that target.
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