Recioto della Valpolicella
It is obtained from dried grapes left in grape-drying buildings for 100/200 days. Its fermentation is stopped to preserve the sugar percentage necessary to grant the typical structure of this wine.
Recioto is the heart of the history and tradition of Valpolicella. Like Amarone it is a wine with a great structure and good alcoholicity; the sugar residue makes it sweet or pleasant.
The grape-drying process lasts 100 to 200 days after the vintage and it is carried out in grape-drying buildings (fruttai) usually located in the hills for better weather conditions. The most noticeable effects occur with the drying and the consequent increase of sugar content and extracts.
Such concentration is only one of the many transformations that involve the composition of the berry; during the drying an intense metabolism of the main constituents of the grape takes place. In particular, sugars are processed, above all glucose, leading to a modification of the glucose/fructose ratio. Malic acid re-balances the acidity of the future wine and part of the proteins turn into aminoacids. This metabolic process is very similar for different cultivar (Corvina, Rondinella). The modifications which occur during surmaturation of the phenolic substances are also very interesting.
Some researches demonstrated that, in the course of surmaturation, the phenolic fractions present in Corvina cultivar change in different qualitative and quantitative ways if compared to Rondinella.
As a matter of facts during the drying process the values of the monomeric phenolic fractions and lower molecular weight fractions, anthocyanins included, basically don't change in Corvina, while they can decrease up to 30% in Rondinella. Thus after the drying Corvina shows a phenolic composition more suitable to the making of great red wines apt for ageing.
No doubt that surmaturation obtained with the drying process carried out in grape-drying buildings leads to a substantial modification also of the organoleptic notes that, together with the distinctive features of the grapes from Valpolicella (Corvina in particular), gives unique charactetistics to the wine.
Dried grapes are also used for the "ripasso" technique. This traditional practice can be carried out in two different ways: through maceration of fermented lees deriving from dried grapes used to make Recioto with a percentage of Valpolicella wine or the re-fermentation of the wine on dried grapes. The "Ripasso" techniques are generally used for the elaboration of "Valpolicella Superiore"; dried grapes are also used in the making of this wine, though to a certain limit and in different ways in comparison to Recioto and Amarone.
During the drying period grapes might develop botrytis bunch rot, able to seriously damage the quality of grapes; according to recent experiences, this parasite even in the disguised form of noble rot, doesn't seem to have an important positive role on the sensory appreciation of Recioto and Amarone wines.
Surely the development of botrytis bunch rot is often out of control, above all in situations of high humidity due to the environment and it is the cause of drying failure. For this reason only grapes selected with special care by skilled pickers, and whose proved soundness is certain, are intended for drying.
In any case it is always useful to check the grapes, also the Recioto ones, after the drying just before the crushing in order to remove rotten bunches.
It is worth pointing out that grapes used to make Recioto come from Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone varieties. Only the sparser and riper bunches (recie, dialect for "ears") are intended for the production of Recioto. The name Recioto originates in the dialect "recie", word that has a remarkable meaning in Latin: "recis" is bunch. Long time ago, more than nowadays, they used the wings of the bunch (they were also called "recie" for their lateral position) or the tip of the bunch.
Today the grapes are still dried on swamp reed racks put on a special scaffoldings that support them. The latest most wide spread trend is to preserve them in small wooden or plastic crates (called plateaux) to be stacked one upon the other: less rational but surely cheaper and more practical. No longer in use, or less used, is also the practice of hanging the single bunches on hooks placed on beams or ropes hanging down or across the building. In the past the bunches were hanged upside down with their tips up so as the distance between the berries was larger and they could thus benefit from better air circulation and dry in the best conditions possible. This practice is recorded in the letter Cassiodorus (6th century AD) wrote to the Veronese Landowners: "in Autumn, once selected from the domestic pergolas, the grapes are hanged upside down...".
The grape-drying buildings (fruttai) must be placed in dry and airy locations, better if in the hills, far from the fog of the valley and in superelevated spaces (granaries or attics) with appropriate doors, windows and shutters.
Mild temperatures (around 15-20°C) and a relatively low humidity rate (65-70%) make the drying easier and play an important role above all at the beginning of the process. In many cases 50-60 days are enough to obtain a good drying, in ideal conditions and with ripe grapes. In other cases, on the other hand, the grapes must be left in the grape-drying building for a period up to 100-120 days and more.
The grape weight loss at the end of the drying is around 30-35%. Recently special equipment has been proposed in order to implement the air, temperature and humidity conditioning in the drying buildings or in suitable movable units.