Can’t Afford Amarone? Discover These Great Value Wines From the Veneto
Pinot Grigio and Valpolicella — mostly considered straightforward, simple, easy-drinking wines. Usually correct but often of little consequence. Not so with these two wines which I recently tasted from Masi. Masi Masianico and Masi Campofiorin.
Masi Agricola (commonly known just as Masi) is probably one of the most well-known and oldest wine producers in the Valpolicella region of the Veneto, Italy. The original estate which was acquired by the Boscaini family in the late 18th century, is still owned and run by the Boscaini family over 250 years later.
Amarone and the Appassimento Method of Drying Grapes
Last year I wrote about the Amarone wines of the Veneto, whereby the grapes are left out to dry for around 100 days before fermentation. This is called the ‘appassimento’ stage and technique. As the grapes dry everything concentrates (sugars, flavor, acidity et al). The resulting Amarone wines, which are fermented dry, are incredibly rich, powerful and flavorful. These are wines that need to age for up to ten years before they really start to show their best.
Because they are expensive, for most of us Amarone wines are reserved for very special occasions. Classic Valpolicella, while delightful and juicy, can be a little simple for some occasions or more robust dishes. In between the classic style of Valpolicella and Amarone, there is a style called Ripasso. A dry wine, Ripasso is an interpretation of the ‘appassimento’ method, whereby the young Valpolicella wine is ‘repassed’ (i.e refermented) on the skins from the fermented Amarone.
Masi Campofiorin – An evolution of Ripasso
Masi Campofiorin is not exactly a Ripasso in the traditional sense. It is a special type of ‘double fermentation’ technique patented by Masi. The wine is made from the the local Valpolicella grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara), which are vinified fresh after harvest (no drying). Meanwhile, other Valpolicella grapes are left to dry for a number of weeks. These semi-dried grapes are then added to the newly fermented Valpolicella wine, and a short second fermentation, so to speak, ensues.
The resulting Masi Campofiorin wine is more full-bodied, richer and more complex than the classic Valpolicella, yet more accessible and drinkable when younger than an Amarone. It seems to combine freshness and elegance with power and concentration. I find that the drying process also magnifies the sensation of minerality and place in the wine. All that for a fraction of the price of an Amarone!
• Masi Campofiorin retails for between $18 and $20. The current release of Masi Campofiorin is the 2007 vintage.
Masi Masianco – a type of ‘Supervenetian’ Pinot Grigio
Masi Masianco is a white wine, which is made predominantly from Pinot Grigio (circa 75%) grapes. While semi-dried grapes are also used in its production, it does not go through a double fermentation. For Masianco the Pinot Grigio grapes are harvested and vinified fresh, much like any young, unoaked white wine. Meanwhile, another local grape Verduzzo is harvested later, when it is sort of ‘super-ripe’. These ultra-ripe Verduzzo grapes are left to dry on mats for a few weeks, then they are vinified separately on their own. The Verduzzo fermentation starts in stainless tank and finishes in small oak barrels, which gives it a rounder, richer texture. After about three months the two wines are blended and bottled.
The resulting wine is beautifully aromatic, richly textured with great flavor intensity and depth. The Verduzzo adds complexity and body to the delicacy and youthfulness of the Pinot Grigio.
• Masi Masianco retails for about $14-$15. The current release on the market is the 2009 vintage.
Until nest week enjoy some Veneto Valpolicella and Pinot Grigio wines.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
(Images: Mary Gorman and Masi Agricola)