After a good night of rest and a large breakfast we were ready to set sail to one of my favorite wine regions in Italy aka Valpolicella located just outside the city of Verona. First stop Azienda Agricola Masi aka the trigger for me coming on this winetrip. You might have already noticed I have a slight preference for full bodied wines that are still easy to drink. Well this is exactly how I would describe the Masi wines (or maybe even the Valpolicella wines in general). Before I continue talking about the estate I will first tell you a bit more about the Valpolicella region.
The Valpolicella region is located as I mentioned before just outside of the city of Verona and even more important right next to Garda lake and close to the Adriatic sea. Why do I say “more important”, I say it because the proximity of the lake and sea have a very big impact on the climate (mild continental climate) and therefore also on the winemaking in the region. There are 3 main grape varieties used to make Valpolicella wines: Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. Some vineyards might add other variaties like Corvinone, Rossignola, Negrara, Barbera and even Sangiovese (that you mostly known from Tuscan Wines), but it will always be in combo with (at least 1 )the 3 mentioned before. The most well known wine of the region is the Amarone which is considered one of the 3 great Italian wines next to Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.
What I find funny is that Amarone is yet another example like lots of other great things (Tarte Tatin, etc…) in this world Amarone was also discovered by mistake. The story goes that many many years ago people in the Valpolicella region had left Recioto wine (sweet dessert wine) untouched for a longer period of time which resulted in a longer fermentation and in new wine that we know today as Amarone 🙂 Obviously the Amarone we drink now is much more refined as the ones from back then, but the basic principales for making the Amarone stayed the same… One thing you can say is that the winemakers of the Amarone are patient people as the process for making it takes a lot of time… (an important keyword in good winemaking – time/patience) but they get rewarded with a very unique and wonderful product. To make the Amarone, the grapes are put on wooden shelves or bins (in case of Masi after lots of studies and tests they have discovered that for their way of working bamboo bins seemed best) and are left to dry naturally for x months (I think the minimum period was 3 months) which will make that the ‘juices’ and ‘flavors’ left in the grapes are much stronger/intense. In the next step they will gently press the grapes to get the best juices out. If they wouldn’t do it gently the bitter flavor of the stalks would come into the wine. Finally the ‘grape juice’ is put to wrest mostly in Veronese barrels (that are bigger then the regular/ traditional barrique/barrel and specific for the Valpolicella region) to become the perfect Amarone. (FYI, this is it explained in a few words, otherwise my blogposts would become a book 🙂 )
As they only pressed the grapes gently, there is still juice left in the grapes… this is how the Ripasso/Ripassa gets born. They basically press the left over juice out of the grapes and make another wine out of it… you can call it a ‘Amarone light’ :-). This is where the Masi story starts to detaching itself from the other wineries (around 1964) after years also making Ripasso wine, to Masi it somehow felt like when you use a teabag for a second cup of tea… it will be good, but it could be better… + they also noticed that many wineries in the area with the aim of quantity instead of quality and therefor a more “negative” vibe came over the Ripasso (Although it must be said there obviously also some great Ripasso/a wines circling around). This made them think that they could lift the Ripasso up by adding ‘fresh’ grape juice (that had lesser time on the wooden shelves ) and this is how the Campofiorin or THE showpiece (after the Amarone) of Masi Agricola was born.
What I like about the Campofiorin (and about the better Ripasso’s) is (I’ll be honest) first of all the price/quality ratio… you get a wonderful full bodied wine for a affordable price + a wine that most people will like for sure… whereas the Amarone does require a bigger budget and is a more complex wine . Don’t get me wrong I love Amarone and I do have some great bottles in my personal collection, but let’s say I won’t open it for everybody 🙂 (only for people who appreciate a refined product like Amarone). Do also try to taste the Campofiorin Riserva or better the Brolo Campofionin Oro, which is an even a more refined version of the campofiorin.
The Masi estate also re-discovered/introduced a grape variety that had almost disappeared entirely out of the Verona area. I’m talking about the Oseleta grape which means ‘little bird’ in the local Veronese dialect. The name actually refers to small grapes that ripen late in the season and are often still hanging after the vine has lost its leaves. Lots of years the grape variaty was seen as non important grape due to it low yields (because of being such a small grape). What the Oseleta does in the wines where it is added, it give it more backbone and creates more tannic structure, minerality and dark berry notes. This is in very big contrast with the other grape kinds in the Valpolicella wines like Corvina that are light, more gentle and have low tannins. FYI they added the Oseleta to the Campofiorin Riserva, the Toar and the Riserva di costasera (Amarone Riserva). In the Private collection of Masi they also have a wine 100% Oseleta grapes, the Osar (which mean ‘to dare’ in dialect). In contrast with the other wines in this case the grapes are not dried, but harvested later… it has a beautiful perfume of black plum, berries and cherry, with a subtle spiciness 🙂
The re-discovery of this grape variety might been luck, but at the other side it’s not! Masi is a company that with lots of respect for the past also always looks forward and wants to innovate. Masi created half way the 1980’s a specific department for it called the ‘Masi Technical Group’. The Technical group is basically a team of experts dedicated to quality control, research, technical analysis and experimentation of everything that has to do with wine to in the end create new/better wines (also think/work more ecological). This also the reason of Masi’s high quality products (going from the ‘intro’ wine to their Amarone riserva’s). It has also come this far that the Masi Technical group now also does consultancy to help out other wineries to improve their wine making process.
You might have noticed that there are quite a few names linked to the Masi wine estate, the most famous will the name Serego Alighieri. Unlike other big colleague wine estates, Masi doesn’t buy other wineries, they collaborate with other wineries. Mostly in other wine regions like cantine Conti Bossi in Trento (Spumante)…with as exception the neighboring estate Serego Alighieri. Most of the wineries are smaller wineries of which Masi believes that have great potential and are a very good added value. Most of those wineries want to grow and innovate, but don’t always have the possibilities to make this happen. What Masi offers them is the use of the Technical Group which basically means the Masi expertise. In return Masi gets a new high quality wine assortment in their gamma (FYI, the wineries keep their name on all bottles, there is only a small mention of Masi). In the case of the Serego Alighieri might seem strange as the estate is literally right next to Masi. This collaboration started over a talk between Sandro Bosciani (CEO of Masi) and the Serego Alighieri family who’s estate (still family owned) already exists since the 13th century and was the residence of the one and only Dante Alighieri ( the most famous Italian poet). As you can imagine knowing the estate is already in this area since the 13th century, is has some of the best and most unique piece of land with coincidentally vines on them :-). These vines or the wine made from its grapes was only for own/personal use and not for sale. To make a long story short, Masi was interested in the great vineyard locations and Serego Alighieri to make their wines better and maybe even start selling them… the rest of the collaboration is history. I do recommend you if you ever have the chance to visit the winery and castle of Serego Alighieri… like a walk through history.
A very interesting project of Masi is their winemaking project in the Argentina (Mendoza). They describe it as “Argentinean Nature, Venetian Style” 🙂 After research Masi had discovered that the Mendoza region (Tupungato to be more precise) has the perfect climatic and conditions to do the “appassimento” technique used to make the Amarone. I can say for a fact that it lead to some great wines like the Passo Doble as intro wine(although Intro wine is maybe a understatement) and the Corbec as the Argentinian Amarone if you will. The Corbec (as the name might reveal) is a mix of the Corvina (70%)and Malbec (30%) grapes or as I would call it a wonderful marriage. Bursting with aromas of raspberry and roasted cherries … a deep and mysterious wine are the first that come to mind. You do feel the wonderful balance of structure and body, with well rounded tannins but smooth like butter. Definitely one of my favorite Masi project wines :-).
To get a clear view on how the Masi wines are all in the same line (crescendo that is) we had a wine tasting of their wines starting with their “base” wine the Bonacosta that has a lot of character for intro wine. The reason they wanted me to taste the whole range is because you don’t always get the chance to do this… We continued with my beloved Campofiorin wines that are the best of two worlds if you ask me (I’m also pretty sure Carlos agreed)… we ended with what is sometimes called ‘vino di meditazione’ (meditation wine) a wine that requires silence because it is just that good aka Amarone Costasera and Amarone Riserva
I could keep talking about Masi (or about their collaborations) as there is still so much to tell, but one has to stop somewhere. Also this way you have a reason to visit the vineyard 🙂 (to find out more) I know it also seems like I’m always very positive when I write my articles, but I only write about things I like… I’m also all about the people behind a winery (or restaurants, etc…). When there is a good connection between me and the people (especially after visiting the vineyard) and if they have a wonderful product I am the biggest ambassador they can imagine :-)…and I guess by the size of this article you can say I’m a big Masi fan 🙂
I know I might be repeating myself, but what I like about the Masi wines that no matter if you drink younger or very old vintages… the red wire in all the wines is the freshness of full bodied wine! Once again we couldn’t resist ourselves from taking some souvenirs for our wives 😉 😉 or was it just 1 for them 10 for us 🙂 as their biggest will for sure be having us back by their side… and when we’re happy they’re happy right?
Up to the next stop in my Italian winetrip…Guiseppe Quintarelli