Valpolicella stalwart Sandro Boscaini, president of Masi, flew in the other week and gave a vertical tasting of Masi Costasera Amarone and the Amarone from the associated house of Serego Alighieri, which I visited earlier this year.
Amarone is a unique wine, made in a zone where the temperature is moderated by establishing the vines on elevated sites within reach of the cooling influence of Lake Garda.
It is high in alcohol, rich and full bodied but acidic enough to make it unfatiguing to drink. Grapes destined for Amarone are the last in Valpolicella to be harvested, being allowed to get as ripe as they can before mould and rot set in.
The sugars in the grapes are then concentrated by being kept in purpose-built drying rooms for three to four months. During this time more than a third of the water is removed as the grapes shrivel into raisins. This method of production is known as passito.
To Sandro Boscaini's father goes the credit for, in the late 1950s, conceiving the idea of ripasso, a new style of Valpolicella, and introducing it to the region. With this technique, the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from the fermentation of Amarone -- and sometimes the dessert wine Recioto -- are introduced to the Valpolicella wines for a period of extended maceration.
The additional food source for the yeast helps boost the alcohol level and body of the wines while at, the same time, yielding additional tannins, glycerine and phenolic compounds that enhance a wine's complexity, flavour and colour.
The innovation changed the face of Valpolicella, turning it from a light, easy drinker into 'serious' wine.
In the region, the quality of Amarone varies widely but the wines we tasted, spanning 23 years, ranged from sound to stunning. The current vintage on offer, the Masi Costasera Amarone 2007 (around ¤35), was still young and developing, replete with rich, dark plummy fruit, altogether an object lesson in achieving the perfect fruit/acid balance. It should age well.
Masi also make the well-known CampoFiorin ripasso (€14.99) I recommended weeks ago. As a 'warm-up' to the tasting session we drank Masianco 2010 (€14.99), a smart white that masked the limitations of the Pinot Grigio grape with ripe fruit, sensitive vinification and a generous dollop of the more characterful Verduzzo grape. Easy drinking but with some finesse
Masi wines are available from good off licences including Redmonds, Sweeneys, Mitchells, Dunnes and Supervalu.