A few months ago we had lunch at an Italian restaurant in Alicante. Taking a look at the wine list, one of them stood up, away from the typical Chianti or Nero d’Avola you can find everywhere. It was a Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC wine, in this case a Ripasso produced by Zenato Winery. We were back then unaware of this style of wine, but we wanted to give it a try. And it was superb. It was the 2012 vintage, marking the 20th anniversary of this wine for the winery. A Ripasso is a wine that goes through a second fermentation in contact with the skins of the grapes used for producing the Amarone wine once they have been pressed. Sergio Zenato, the founder of the winery in 1960 and the first producer to elaborate a Ripasso wine decided to call it Ripassa. We were so impressed by this wine that we wanted to taste the other wine they had available at the restaurant of this winery so we bought a bottle of the Zenato Amarone 2010.

One day we were in the vicinity of the winery, we saw light inside and decided to pay them a visit.

The winery has 100 hectares of vineyards, 35 of them are in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and the remaining 65 hectares are in San Benedetto di Lugana, on the shores of the Garda Lake, in Veneto. After the passing of Sergio Zenato the winery is run by his wife Carla, their son Alberto and their daughter Nadia. In Valpolicella they produce some outstanding wines: the Valpolicella Superiore, the Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore, the Amarone Classico, the Amarone Classico Riserva Sergio Zenato and the Recioto. In the Garda Lake is where they also produce an array of really interesting wines. They also elaborate two red Veneto IGT wines and one Corvina Veronese IGT wine. In Lugana, however, they produce the Lugana S. Cristina and Lugana San Benedetto, and the Lugana Riserva Sergio Zenato.

Carla and Nadia are also running a personal project they started in 1997 where they produce four wines, two white and two red. It is called Sansonina and it is a 13-hectare vineyard near Sirmione, also on the shores of the Garda Lake. The first wine was Sansonina, produced by carefully planning the revival of an old Merlot vineyard, an international variety to create a red wine in a land with a vocation for white. Then Lugana came to life and, since 2016, the two new labels: Evaluna, a Garda DOC Cabernet, and Vigna del Moraro Verde, a spontaneously fermented Lugana.

Alessia is in charge of the Marketing Department and she took really good care of us. She drove us around the facilities. First through the vineyards, where we could see the difference in the training systems and the density of the Trebbiano di Lugana plot and the Cabernet Sauvignon one. Then we went through the fermentation room, the ageing room and the underground cellar, where they store about 1,500 oak barrels.

At the end of the cellar you can find the Wine Library, that special room where any proud winelover would love to be left alone inside. In one side, the red wines room, and in the other side the white wines room, with samples of every vintage produced by Zenato. Both doors tightly closed to keep prying eyes and hands at bay.

Nearby, the tasting table, where Alessia set everything up for our amusement. With Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and an olive oil they also produce, she started pouring the best selection of their wines.

We started with two white wines.

The first one was the Sansonina Fermentazione Spontanea 2014. 100% Trebbiano di Lugana, aged in steel tanks. A smooth wine where the acidity and the fruit are very well balanced. Fresh and tasty. Good wine and also very interesting.

The second wine was the Lugana Riserva Sergio Zenato 2014. 100% Trebbiano di Lugana. 70% of the wine ferments in oak barrels and the remaining 30% in steel tanks. Once they are blended the wine ages in oak barrels for six months and twelve more in bottle. The wine is incredibly silky and balanced, with a good structure and a long finish. It was a really really good wine.

Our first red was Sansonina Merlot 2013. I was expecting a wine high in tannins but to be honest it was a big nice surprise. Smooth and silk in the mouth, with a very good structure, the fruit was really well balanced. Impressive wine.

Next came the Ripassa 2013. We love the Ripasso style and this wine was really amazing. We just love it so all we can say about this wine is that it is simply great.

Cresasso 2011 is Corvina Veronese 100%. The Corvina grape is the main variety used in both the Amarone and the Ripassa. The wine resembles the Ripassa. Very well balanced, good fruit structure and a good and long finish. One of those wines you can drink so easily with or without food.

Big brothers coming. The Amarone Classico 2012 was the first one. Amazing wine, with the soft touch of the Corvina and that smooth structure coming from the grapes being passified for almost 100 days. The wine is just great. The Amarone is a superb wine and this one produced by Zenato is a clear example of it.

Our last wine was the Amarone Classico Riserva 2010. The Riserva is only produced in years where the quality of the grape is exceptional. The result is, of course, an exceptional wine.

The wine selection made by Alessia was simply terrific. We are aware that we are describing each wine as “great,” “amazing,” or “fantastic,” but the truth is we loved all these wines. We love Italian wines and the ones from the Valpolicella are among our favorites. This time we discovered the Lugana and Valpolicella wines and they were really great wines. We have talked in the past about Italian white wines from other DOCs and now we have discovered these ones. We are falling in love with all of them.

Alessia asked us which wines we preferred. In this case it was a tough question. None of the seven was easy to say “not this one.” The two whites were really good and we chose the Riserva Sergio Zenato 51 to 49 over the Sansonina because the silkiness and structure coming from the oak was fascinating and it gave the wine a wonderful mouth.

As for the red wines, well, we love the Ripassa and the two Amarones were outstanding wines. The Cresasso was really good too. And the Sansonina Merlot was such a special wine. Tough call. All of them were great wines. All five are really enjoyable wines on their own. Sorry, we can’t choose only one. This is one of those occasions where a five-way draw is the best solution.

We want to thank Alessia for her hospitality and her patience for bearing all our questions.

Soon we will talk to Nadia Zenato, the company’s winemaker about their wines and especially about her Sansonina project, which we believe it offers great wines.

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