I was recently on vacation with my wife. Together we sat under the stars, a small fire pit going in front of us and a glass of Amarone in hand. It was a wonderful moment in time that two working parents seldom get to enjoy. I spoke in utter contentment, “The stars are so beautiful.” My wife looked at me, and I looked at her, and she said, “I love… Amarone.”
So maybe it wasn’t as romantic as I may have expected, yet I nodded in perfect agreement. The fact is, with all of my talk of Barolo, Sangiovese, Aliganico and the amazing white wines of Friuli, I really do love Amarone.
Amarone is a wine that is made by the hand of man through processes such as Recieto (Appassimento), where the harvested grapes are left to dry for months before being pressed.
This raises sugar (hence alcohol) levels and gives the wine a haunting level of depth, complexity and the ability to age. There is also Ripasso, which is a process where the newly fermented juice (usually Valpolicella) is passed back over the lees of an Amarone fermentation, which adds depth and complexity to an otherwise fresh and easy drinking wine. Be warned, however, that in the hands of some producers, these techniques are used to cover up an otherwise inferior wine. But in the hands of quality producers, they can create works of art. The Veneto is the perfect wine for a lover of big, bold Italian taste, especially when you are in the mood for decadence instead of austerity.
When speaking of Amarone however, these can sometimes be hard wines to understand. Some Amarone are big, rich and with a level of residual sugar that comes through in the finished product. Others are fermented to be completely dry and show a bitter quality marked by high alcohol. This can make it difficult to know what you're going to get when you purchase a bottle. And then there is the most common issue with Amarone, what foods to pair with it.
So what's a wine drinker/collector to do? First, it is important to understand which style you prefer and, once you know, to stick with like-minded producers. As for pairing, most people will offer pungent cheeses (such as blue cheese) or desserts with intense flavors but moderate sweetness. In many cases, Amarone ends up being a wine that is enjoyed on its own, simply because it can be so difficult to fit into a meal.
So imagine my interest when I heard about a tasting hosted by Masi Agricola called “The Risotto Rendezvous.” In this tasting, Masi placed a number of their Amarone against multiple risotto preparations to showcase just how well these wines could pair with this common Northern Italian preparation. At first I was surprised, I simply never thought to pair these two things from Italy that I love. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to attend the event.
Not only was I blown away by how well the Masi Amarone paired with the risotto, I was even more amazed by how balanced the Masi Amarone was on its own. I’ve had Masi Amarone before. In fact, the 2001 Masi Vaio Armaron Serego Alighieri Riserva was one of the wines that made me fall in love with Italian wine. Yet, as I think about the two styles that I outlined above, I come to realize that Masi somehow manages to walk a fine line between both, and the results are stunning. Raffaele Boscaini, son of the Sandro Boscaini and the president of Masi Agricola, led the tasting. Listening to Raffaele talk about these wines gave great insight into why there is such quality in the glass: passion. Raffaele shares a passion for these wines and the entire process of production, from grape growing through bottling. To see such a large company, by Italian fine wine standards, be so in touch with the product is refreshing, and it shows in the wine itself.
I’m very happy to present my tasting notes from the event, as well as two recipes, courtesy of Michelle Lawton of Joyful Plate.
2006 Masi Costasera Amarone Classico – The nose showed dark fruits, black cherry and espresso bean. On the palate, it was beautifully balanced and fresh, something I don’t often expect from an Amarone, yet the Costasera had it in spades. Rich red and black fruits swept across the palate with hints of spice and perfectly integrated vanilla. The finish was long with dark fruit and a hint of bitters. 90pts
2003 Masi Vaio Armaron Serego Alighieri – The nose showed ripe black cherry, herbs, minerals and a hint of barnyard. A truly Italian wine in that earthy, wild and sexy way that makes so many of us fall in love with Italy. On the palate, it was smooth and bursting with spicy cherry jam and cherry wood, dry but with velvety tannin, which promises over a decade of development. The finish lasted for over 30 seconds and added cocoa and aged wood to the canvas. I truly loved drinking this wine. 93pts
2001 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Mazzano – The nose showed rich black cherry, spice, dark chocolate and a hint of old wood and tobacco. On the palate, it was full-bodied and balanced by juicy acidity with firm tannins wrapped in sweet raspberry fruit, plum and hints of cinnamon stick. The finish was long with sour cherry and chocolate flavors. 92pts
2001 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Campolongo di Torbe – The nose showed raisins, bright cherry, tree bark, herbs, leather and a hint of citrus. On the palate, it had gripping tannins, but was perfectly balanced by rich red fruit, dark chocolate and sweet spices. The finish was long and elegant with sweet red fruits and slight drying tannin that promises long-term development in the cellar. 92pts
2007 Masi Casal Dei Ronchi Recioto Classico – The nose showed dark chocolate covered cherries with cinnamon and earth. On the palate, it was plush and mouth coating, as flavors of macerated cherries, Christmas spices and vanilla saturated the senses. The finish lasted for over a minute with sweet ripe cherries and clove. 90pts