Italian road trip 2016: exploring Dante Alighieri’s legacy

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.

Masi Logo

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.

Valpolicella region Valpolicella by amaronetours

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 🙂 )

Passimento 1 Passimento 2 Passimento 3 Aging 1

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.

Campofiorin

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.

Brolo

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 🙂

Oseleta

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.

Gruppo Technico

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.

Serego Alighieri Serego Alighieri 2 Serego Alighieri 3 Serego Alighieri 4 Serego Alighieri 5 The Serego Alighieri Villa

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 :-).

Corbec

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

Masi Tasting Masi Tasting 2

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 🙂

MASI 7 MASI 6 MASI 5 MASI 4  MASI 2 MASI 1

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?

In case you would want more information about Masi wines you can check their website. For my Belgian readers you can contact Young Charly.

Up to the next stop in my Italian winetrip…Guiseppe Quintarelli

Italian roadtrip 2016: 1st stop and already beyond the clouds

It had already been almost a year since my last wine trip, so it was about time to do another one. My idea to do one again actually came during a meal with Raffaele Bosciani from Masi who said he hoped I would pass by one day… let’s call it the trigger 🙂 The only problem I still had was to convince or better find the perfect time to tell my wife I was going on a wine trip… AND Then it happened, as if the gods were favorable to me my wife told me she was thinking of going on a weekend with her sister 🙂 🙂 In the time she was still thinking I had already planned 2 trips 🙂 (one wine trip with by buddy Carlos and one with my daughter to visit my grandparents in Italy). Deciding which vineyards to visit was quite difficult as I wanted to visit lots of them, but I must say I had my mind made up pretty quickly. This wine trip brought us to 3 different Italian regions, we started in Alto Adige with a visit to the Elena Walch vineyard. We continued our trip in Veneto with visiting Masi and Guiseppe Quintarelli (and surprise stops at Farina and Bulgioni). To finally end our trip on what we called white wine Saturday at Ca dei Frati in Lombardy and Sandro de Bruno in Veneto again (Soave).

Route trip

What I love about travelling to Italy, is the fact that no matter where you go or how big the vineyard is they still receive you as you are part of the family.. I guess that’s the southern hospitality…

On the road

After a looooong drive we finally arrived in a little town of Termeno that is a few kilometers from Bolzano and from the Austrian border. What you notice when you are in this region is the Austrian influence in the housing, but also the fact that I think around 80% of the people speak German as first language (but all of them also speak very good Italian). We also couldn’t have imagined a better way to start our trip/holiday then in Termeno, we started it with a wonderful lunch at  Ansitz Romani outside in the open air with a nice bottle of Pinot Bianco from the Elena Walch estate… to already get familiar with the vineyard we were about to visit after the lunch  😉 FYI believe it or not, but the picture of the wine was taken with a smart phone camera (Huawei P9 –  with Leica lens)

Pinot Bianco Elena Walch

Ansitz Romani

Normally it was Julia Walch who would be showing us around, but unfortunately she had to travel abroad… but she had found good substitutes, her mother aka Elena Walch herself 🙂 and Lena a lovely young lady (oenology student) who was doing a internship at the vineyard and who I can say was very passionate about wines.

Elena Walch and daughters

Azienda vinicola Elena Walch was only founded in 1985 but the Walch Family already makes wine under the the name Wilhelm Walch that make ‘table wine’( or everyday wine or however you prefer calling it) since 1869 but it was not until Elena’s husband took over the family estate that he together with his wife Elena (who until then was architect) decided to start making next to the Wilhelm range of wines also wines of a higher quality or better ‘Cru’ wines from the grapes of their best parcels which they would make under the name Elena Walch. Eventhough Elena stopped working as an architect in 1985  when they founded the Elena Walch estate, you can clearly see that once an architect – always an architect 🙂 you see the influence of an architect in the newest part of the estate (the buildings that is) . You just know these are details only an architect would think of (I know Elena didn’t design it herself, but I’m sure she influenced it) like special lightning, the shapes of everything, etc…

It also seems like the next generation is getting ready to take over the torch as both daughters of Elena Walch recently joined the family estate and work in the Marketing department and took over most of the travelling from their parents.  When I asked Elena if it was difficult to work together with her daughters she said: “It is not difficult, but you do notice the difference with a regular employee. When you tell a regular employee something he’ll just do it. My daughters on the other hand 🙂 :-)”  But was very happy they were around and helping and continuing the business.

Elena Walche Estate 1 Elena Walche Estate2 Elena Walche Estate3 Elena Walche Estate4 Elena Walche Estate5 Elena Walche Estate6

The vineyard does use the most modern techniques and machinery , but they do still try to respect tradition. This you mainly see in the older part of the vineyard. What I personally love is the big decorated barrels… something they only back in the day as nowadays making the decorating  would cost too much

Elena Walche Estate 7  Elena Walche Estate 9 Elena Walche Estate 10 Elena Walche Estate 11 Elena Walche Estate 13

The philosophy of the estate is dedicated to its ‘terroir’. They have the idea that wines must be the expression of the grounds, climate and even of the cultivation in the vineyard that like mentioned gets done according to the most modern techniques and to principles of sustainability. The two main territories (where the grapes grow)  of the Elena Walch estate are Castel Ringberg (the ‘regular’ top wines. In France they would call it premier cru) and Kastelaz (the absolute top or Grand Cru) that today have a surface of almost 55 Ha. Where other estates in the region might mix grapes from multiple territories, at Elena Walch they handle the grapes separate (something similar like they do at the Bollinger Champagne estate).

Castel Ringberg that was once owned by the Hapsburg dynasty is located on mostly steep chalky soil, but with some sandy and loamy parts (basically a quit unique combination as mostly it is one of the 3). Because of the diversity of soil  it allows the estates to be very flexible and grow a very wide range of grape variaties: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein, Schiava. Again something very unique. I was really surprised about the amount of varieties as I thought in the mountains (even-though the Elena Walch vineyards are only up to 400m altitude above sea level) were very difficult and only a few grape varieties were strong enough to grow here… but that’s why I like to visit vineyards as you always learn news things you don’t always learn in books 😉

Castel Ringberg

What makes Kastelaz more special for Elena Walch or maybe even for the whole region is the southern location of it that creates micro-climatic conditions. Most other pieces of land in Alto Adige follow the valley and therefore get less sunshine. In difference with Ringberg, at Kastelaz there are only 3 grape varieties grown Gewürztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Bianco. This is due first of all because the soil here is chalk with raw rock like granite which isn’t the ideal soil for grapes, only a few can survive in these conditions

Kastelaz

It is of course all nice to know that they separate all of this, but how does it reflect in the glass.  Well we obviously didn’t try all the wines they have as that is I believe 31 different wines. From the wines we did try you can actually draw a line or find a red wire in all the wines (and it seems that most guides like Robert Parker, Gambero Rosso and Wine spectator agree on this when I read their comments about the wines they tasted). The Elena Walch wines are full bodied yet very elegant with a harmonious acidity where needed and a long length/finish (that I personally like a lot) and on top of all that every wine (because of its grape variety and location where it came from) adds that own specific mark on the identity.  Every taster we were served asked for more… I mean even the heavier red wines had that fresh part in them and want you to have more 🙂

Just FYI another piece of modern architecture at the estate is the Bistrot where we tasted the wines… not to speak about the view

Elena Walch Bistrot

One of our favorites (and I do think I speak for myself as for Carlos who joined me during this trip) was the Castel Ringberg Sauvignon with its fresh nose of minerals and green apples that definitely do not disappoint once you taste!! You’d be surprised how often a wine has a wonderful nose, but when you taste it its not what you hoped for… but in this case the taste was everything you’d hoped it to be 🙂 that’s also why we brought a box home :-). I do realize I can buy all those wines here in Belgium or anywhere else in the world for that matter…but you just get caught up in that moment that you just have to have it then and there 🙂 🙂 (a feeling we had quit a few times during this trip 🙂

Sauvignon

Another wine that got our immediate attention was the Pinot Nero ‘Ludwig’ Aged for 14 months in half new oak and half old oak, its power is discreetly brought to the surface by subtle tannins and lively acidity. Perfumed, complex, elegant, it is drinkable now, but I guess a bit of aging wouldn’t hurt… so we’ll have to try not to touch those bottles we brought back home 😦

Pinot Nero Ludwig

I can say for a fact that we couldn’t have imagined a better first day! A great lunch (with great wine), being around lovely beautiful ladies a whole afternoon (I don’t remember seeing to many men working at Elena Walch‘s estate) and finishing the day with a good piece of meat and some great red wine at the Schwarz Adler 🙂 What more do we need?? We also slept like babies as it had been a very very long day.

dav

Next stop VERONA!!!

In case you would want more information on Elena Walch wines or where to buy them in Belgium you can contact Young Charly. For the rest of the world you can check the Elena Walch website or contact the Elena Walch estate directly