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What our expert thought of Passori Rosso




about this wine About this wine
 
This wine is so mysterious that it ought to be wearing dark glasses and a false beard.  For a start it doesn’t have a full name: just a codename - Passori - with no indication whether that’s the producer or the wine.  There’s no grape variety shown.  There’s only the vaguest hint about where it comes from: it’s IGT Veneto Rosso, which tells us it’s a red from somewhere in north-east Italy.
 
Embossed on the heavy glass bottle is an ornate family crest with a shield featuring two mirror-image letter ‘B’s. And there’s an enigmatic latin proverb in small type on the label: LATET ENIM VERITAS, SED NIHIL PRETIOSIUS VERITATIS which means “The truth is hidden, but there is nothing more precious than the truth.” That’s practically a taunt: “I’ve got a secret, and it’s a big one!”
 
Right then, let’s start with where it’s from.  The Veneto produces more wine than any other area of Italy, but mostly white.  The best-known red is Valpolicella, with its big brothers Amarone (“Great Bitter”), made from dried grapes, and halfway-house Ripasso, made by fermenting regular Valpolicella grapes with the skins left over after fermenting Amarone.
 
Wine from dried grapes is called passito in Italian, and our mystery wine Passori has a back label saying it’s a “rich, opulent, smooth red produced from ‘long hang’ late-harvested grapes”, which fits the description of an Amarone quite well.  Passori is also an anagram of Ripasso.  So which is it aiming for?  The back label claims 14% ABV, which is high for Ripasso but low for Amarone.
 
The back label also says the wine was bottled by “I.P. Fossalita di Piave”. I can’t discover what the I.P. stands for, but Fossalita di Piave is a small town about 65km northeast of Venice.  It’s home to one of the Veneto’s biggest family-owned wineries, Casa Vinicola Botter and their noted winemaker, Alessandro Botter.  Among their large range of wines is one called Gran Passione which is a dead ringer for our Passori.  It even comes in exactly the same bottle with the double-B family crest embossed on the neck.  Gotcha!
 
So why the secrecy?  I reckon their U.K. importer decided that ‘Botter’ (stop sniggering at the back there) was not a name that would play well in English-speaking markets, and commisioned a new label that didn’t mention the B-word.
 
Anyway, thanks to Gran Passione we now know the grape blend: 60% Merlot, 40% Corvina.  Corvina is the main grape of Valpolicella, while Merlot is increasingly popular in north-east Italy.  It can produce smooth, ripe-fruited, full-bodied wines even in the relatively cool and wet Veneto - ideal if you’re trying to ape the style of an Amarone.  It’s not a permitted grape for Valpolicella but this wine wouldn’t qualify anyway because it comes from the Botter vineyards around Treviso, about 100km east of the Valpolicella zone.
 
Another reason it wouldn’t qualify is the ingenious method used to dry the grapes.  Amarone grapes are dried in the winery, traditionally on straw mats in the rafters but these days on temperature-controlled pallets.  It’s slow (3 months), painstaking (regular checks are needed to remove any bunches that go bad), takes up lots of space, and is consequently very expensive.
 
These grapes were dried on the vine by letting the grapes ripen fully then cutting the fruit-bearing canes - a technique called taglio del tralcio.  (New canes grow every year, and the old ones would get pruned off during the winter anyway.) The canes don’t fall because they're wrapped around trellis wires, but the cut stops water entering from the roots and the leaves then suck some water out of the grapes to allow photosynthesis to continue.  Meanwhile sunshine and wind cause water to evaporate through the skins.  After just 15 days drying on the vine almost half the water has evaporated and the grapes are sufficiently concentrated to be picked.
 
After hand-harvesting, the grapes were pressed and fermented with long skin contact to extract lots of flavour and colour.  The wine was then oak-aged for 3 to 4 months before release.  Real Amarone is often off-dry and so is this; it has 10g/litre of residual sugar - that’s just 1%.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
Although the wine is clear, its intensely deep ruby colour looks thick, almost viscous.  Swirling reveals obvious ‘legs’ on the glass, hinting at high alcohol.
 
It smells deep, rich and alcoholic, with aromas of prunes and figs, orange peel and sweet spice - very Christmassy!  There's a whiff of dried herbs - bay leaves - and some vanilla oak that’s rather swamped by all the fruit.
 
This is very full-bodied, with flavours of sweet black cherries and blackberries - and they really are sweet because this wine is just off-dry.  Underneath that is a very Amarone-like bitterness.  I’m reminded of cough mixture - “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”!
 
There’s just enough acidity to keep things juicy, and there are lots of velvety tannins but they’re so ripe and smooth that you taste them rather than feel them - they’re bitter but not drying.
 
The finish is long, spicy and warming, almost hot - lots of alcohol here.  But there’s also a fine balance between the tannins on one side, and the slight sweetness and acidity on the other.
 
Assessment
 
I would estimate the ABV of this as 15%, which is typical of Amarone.  EU labelling rules allow quite a lot of latitude on ABVs, and I suspect this one has been massaged down to avoid scaring off the customers.  It does taste remarkably like real Amarone, too.  It isn’t as complex as the real thing, but then it is half the price.
 
Alessandro Botter has employed some extremely clever winemaking here to bring us Amarone on the cheap.  It’s a shame his name couldn’t be on the label, but at least we know who to raise a glass to.
 
(And if you buy some you'll always remember who actually made the wine whenever you look at the bottle.  Those two mirror-image embossed ‘B’s do rather resemble a pair of bottoms…)


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear deep ruby, prominent legs
Nose

Intensity medium++

Aromas dried fruits(prunes, figs), dried herbs(bay leaf), orange peel, sweet spice, vanilla oak underneath

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness off-dry

Acidity medium-

Body full

Tannins medium+, but very ripe & soft - bitter but not drying

Intensity medium+

Flavours sweet black fruits(cherry, blackberry), slight bitterness. Cough mixture!
Finish

Length long

Flavours as palate, spicy, warming - almost hot. Fine tannin/acid/sweetness balance.
Other notes
Tastes like 15% ABV. Very Amarone-esque.


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