Posts tagged ‘masi’

Best Italian Red Wines of the Year – Part One

Pietro Ratti, Proprietor, Renato Ratti, Annunziata, La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Continuing with my lists of the Best Italian Wines of 2011, here is the initial post of red wines, focusing on Piemonte and Veneto. In the next two posts, I will write about last year’s top reds from Toscana, Campania, Puglia, Sicilia and several other regions. Please note that this is a partial list – there are other wines that made the list (see end of post for more information).

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Conca”

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Rocche”

The Renato Ratti winery is one of the most revered in all of Barolo, a benchmark estate named for one of the 20th century’s most influential vintners in this area. Renato’s son Pietro now manages the estate, continuing production of some of the finest Barolos from anywhere in the zone. From the excellent 2007 vintage, there are two single vineyard versions of Barolo that were among the best of the year: the Conca and the Rocche. Both are from sites in La Morra, not far from the winery; both are deep in color with excellent depth of fruit and impressive richness on the palate. The Conca, displaying aromas of black plum, tar and licorice is a bit more forward than the Rocche, which is more classically oriented. Both wines are quite elegant with very good acidity and are structured for 20-25 years of cellaring, with the Rocche probably outliving the Conca by a few more years. The wines at Renato Ratti have been routinely outstanding over the past half-decade – bravo, Pietro! $80

2007 Paolo Manzone Barolo “Meriame” – Serralunga d’Alba is home to perhaps the most classically structured examples of Barolo, wines that are structured for the long haul. There are so many outstanding wines from this commune every year; this was one of my absolute favorites from 2007. Produced from grapes sourced from a 60-year old vineyard, the wine offers beautiful aromas of  bing cherry, orange zest and cedar and has balanced tannins and subtle wood notes along with excellent persistence in the finish. An excellent example of Serralunga terroir, this should peak in 15-20 years. $70

2007 Pio Cesare Barolo “Ornato” - Here is another outstanding example of Serralunga terroir. Pio Cesare, one of Barolo’s most historic producers, sources the grapes for this wine from this beautiful sloping vineyard in Serralunga and ages the wines in a combination of barriques and mid-size casks. Deeply colored with an impressive mid-palate as well as excellent persistence in the finish, this is a powerful Barolo that stands the test of time. This will offer much greater complexity in another 5-7 years and should drink well for 25-30 years from now. The finest Ornato since 2001. $100

2007 Massolino Barolo “Parussi” - For many years, Massolino has been one of the reference points for Barolo from the Serralunga commune. For 2007, the Massolino family produced their first single vineyard Barolo from outside Serralunga, this being the Parussi bottling from the cru in Castiglione Falletto. Beautiful young garnet with aromas of candied orange zest, caraway and cedar, this has a lengthy, well-defined mid palate and a beautifully structured finish with youthful tannins and balanced acidity. There is also a subtle spiciness to this wine and as usual with a Massolino Barolo, the wood influence is minimal. Beautiful complexity and first-rare winemaking in this Barolo, a lovely representation of Castiglione Falletto terrior. This should be at its best in 20 years and will be in fine shape for a few years after that. $85

2007 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo “Monvigliero” – Here is a lovely Barolo from the tiny commune of Verduno, situated at the far nothern reaches of the Barolo zone. This vineyard, at an elevation of almost 1200 feet has south and southwest-facing vines that are 30 years old, resulting in a wine of impressive richness. Aged in a combination of tonneaux and mid-size Slavnonian oak casks, this is an elegantly-styled Barolo that combines richness with finesse. This is a lovely wine that is a beautiful expression of terroir; it should be at its best in 15-20 years and will probably drink well after that. $65

2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco “Rio Sordo”

2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco “Tre Stelle”

This tiny producer in the town of Barbaresco makes some of the very finest examples of Barbaresco. The winery is situated amidst the vines of Rio Sordo; owners Italo Sobrino and Giovanna Rizzolio own a small portion of this great site. Production here is traditional, as aging is done solely in large oak casks (grandi botti), which lends not only a strong sense of the vineyard’s terroir, but also a great deal of finesse. The aromas are lovely – red cherry, orange peel sandalwood and cedar – and there is excellent persistence and a long, graceful finish. These wines will be at their best in 12-15 years. (note” Tre Stelle” is actually a new cru located within Rio Sordo. This is the only winery to use this designation for their wine.) $50

2008 Barbaresco Pertinace “Vigneto Nervo” – While most producers of Barbaresco and Barolo are private firms, Pertinace is a cooperative producer, where the various growers are also members. This is generally the finest Barbaresco from this company, with grapes coming from a cru in Treiso. Displaying currant and orange peel aromas with a hint of fig, this is an elegant, beautifully complex Barbaresco that is an excellent representation of local terroir. This wine will be at its best in 12-15 years and is a great example of what this underrated producer is all about. $45

2008 Ceretto Barbaresco “Bricco Asili” – Here is the flagship Barbaresco from one of the zone’s most celebrated producers. This cru, planted in 1969, delivers grapes of tremendous concentration and character; naturally yields are quite low. 2008 was a true Piemontese vintage, meaning that the wines from this year are more classically structured for cellaring, more so than a warmer year such as 2007 or 2000. Aged in small oak barrels (larger than barriques) the wine has aromas of bing cherry, dried rose petals and vanilla; the concentration is quite impressive and the finish is very long with polished tannins. This is a sublime wine, meant to be enjoyed down the road – it’s impressive now, but wait another 5 or 7 years and if you have the patience, try it at peak in 15-20 years. A great Barbaresco! (and only 500 cases produced.) $75

2006 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Monte Ca’Bianca”- Here is a real gem of a producer, one that delivers the highest quality with all of its wines. Their regular Amarone is quite complex and very nicely balanced; this cru bottling takes things up a notch or two, especially in terms of concentration. Black raspberry, black plum, clove and tar aromas grace this wine and the mid-palate is rich and nicely developed while there is excellent persistence and graceful tannins. Wonderful complexity with this wine- this is approachable now, but will be at its best in 12-15 years. $75

2005 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva – Zenato has been producing superb versions of Amarone for some time now, but without the press you’d expect. Perhaps this 2005 Riserva – from a very good, but not great year, will change that. Deep ruby red with inviting aromas of tar, stewed cherries, damson plum and tobacco, this is a marvelously complex Amarone with layers of fruit on the palate and a long, elegant finish. This is delicious now and will only improve for the next 12-15 years. Very classy and stylish! $100

2004 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Mazzano” - Masi, one of the leading producers of Amarone, produces several versions of this iconic red wine, ranging from a regular bottling and a riserva bottling (both of which offer excellent complexity and beautiful balance) to cru bottlings from older vineyards in the Classico zone. The Mazzano bottling from a spectacularly situated, terraced vineyard, some 1300 feet above the valley floor in Negrar, is a powerful Amarone with a strong note of bitter chocolate to go along with aromas of red cherry, tar and violets. There is outstanding persistence with very good acidity and firm tannins. This should be at its best in 15-20 years, though it may drink well for another decade after that. (Note: if you cannot find the 2004 Mazzano, look for the 2001, which is an outstanding wine and will age for another 20 years.) $140

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This is a partial list of the best Italian red wines of the year. The complete list will be in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers. If you are interested in subscribing to my publication – currently in its 11th year – email me at thomas2022@comcast.net.

January 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm 2 comments

Amarone’s Glory Days

Gian Paolo Speri, Az. Agr. Speri, Pedemonte in Valpolicella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently visited the Valpolicella area for the second time this year and of course, focused quite a bit on Amarone. I am happy to report after tasting examples from 15 different estates that Amarone is now at an extremely high level of quality, joining wines such as Barolo and Brunello as one of the finest, most complex and just as important, one of the most consistent red wines in Italy, thanks to a recent string of notable vintages as well as first-rate winemaking. These are the glory days for Amarone.

Now of course, not every Amarone is outstanding (this is true with famous wines everywhere in the world). There are producers who are doing all they can to make as affordable a wine as possible, but let the buyer beware. Amarone (or more formally Amarone della Valpolicella) is produced by an expensive process known as appassimento, in which grapes are naturally dried in special rooms for three to four months. This is a costly, time-consuming method, but it’s what gives Amarone its unique qualities. This is not a process that can be rushed, so the producers that want to find an easy solution are not crafting the best wine they can. Quite simply, there are no shortcuts to greatness.

In fact, 12 producers recently founded an organization named Le Famiglie dell’Amarone, meant to protect the special qualities of classic Amarone. Members of this group include some of the finest in the area, including Masi, Allegrini, Speri, Brigaldara, Tedeschi, Musella and Tenuta Sant’Antonio. You can read my article about this group here.

Vineyards at Negrar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of the reasons I am so excited about Amarone these days is the shift in style. Amarone has always been a powerful wine and remains such, but in the past, the wine was too brooding, a heavy wine that emphasized strong raisiny and herbal characteristics. But with the experience of the past two decades, the wines as a whole are much more elegant and emphasize fruit and complexity, all the while in a package that is 16% or 16.5% alcohol. Yes, Amarone is a big wine, but it is not a monster.

Recent vintages combined with a more refined winemaking style have given us elegant Amarones; one taste of the 2005 Zenato Riserva is brilliant evidence of this. 2006 was proclaimed a great vintage in the Valpolicella area (where grapes for Amarone are grown) and there are dozens of excellent examples; while many are sold out, the 2006 Buglioni and Masi Costasera Riserva are two first-rate bottlings from this vintage that are currently available.

As for 2007, one generally does not expect two great years in a row, but this indeed appears to be the situation for Amarone. “Early on, 2007 did not look like a special year, but now I think it is a fantastic vintage,” notes Sandro Boscaini, technical director for Masi. Boscaini, truly one of the most influential individuals of Amarone over the past 40 years, thinks 2007 could be one of the all-time great vintages. I’ve tasted a few of the 2007s and find beautiful definition and finesse in these wines; among the finest are those from Allegrini; Tommasi; Tedsechi; Masi (Costasera normale and riserva); Tenuta Sant’Antonio (selezione Antonio Castagnedi); Massimago; Musella and Speri, this last a superb wine.

Semi-dried Corvina grapes at Masi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Then there is the most recent growing season, 2011. This was a slightly cool, rainy year throughout June and July. But then in mid-August, conditions changed as temperatures soared and stayed warm throughout September, assuring “perfect ripening” in the words of Gian Paolo Speri, producer from Pedemonte in the heart of the production zone. “2001 will be a very great vintage,” says Speri.

The wines from 2011 will not be released until 2014 at the earliest, with most being available on the market in 2015 or 2016. Until then, consumers can enjoy the outstanding offerings from 2006 and 2007 with other beautiful wines from 2008 (slightly lighter wines, but with beautiful aromatics and acidity), followed by the ripe, intensely flavored 2009s and the beautifully balanced 2010s. As I wrote earlier, these are the glory days for Amarone.

November 22, 2011 at 9:16 am 3 comments

Amarone – A new found love

Vineyards at Negrar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Collio in the Friuli region as well as the Soave and Valpolicella zones in the Veneto region. I’ll write a bit about all these areas; today I begin my accounts with Valpolicella, where several wines, including Amarone – one of Italy’s most iconic reds – are produced.

One of the purposes of my journey was to research the 12 producers that make up the Famiglie dell’Amarone (Amarone Families) project. I’ll be writing a feature article on this group for the Autumn issue of Quarterly Review of Wines – look for this issue in mid-September.

More on Amarone in a bit, but let me first discuss the Valpolicella zone, located just north of the splendid city of Verona. Valpolicella literally means “valley with many cellars” – it’s a district with hundreds of producers squeezed in a relatively small area. The western half is the DOC area, while there are many fine producers who make wine from the eastern section as well. The western part is comprised of three valleys: Fumane, Negrar and Marano; in addition, important towns for production include San Pietro in Cariano and Sant’Ambrogio. Many of the most famous producers of Valpolicella and Amarone are located here; these include Masi; Allegrini; Begali; Brigaldara; Venturini; Nicolis; Tedeschi and Tommasi. Excellent producers in eastern Valpolicella include Musella and Tenuta Sant’Antonio.

Maddalena Pasqua di Bisceglie, winemaker, Musella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Valpolicella is a blend of several grapes, the most commonly used being Corvina and Rondinella. Molinara is still used in some wines, but it is not as popular as in the past. Other grapes include Corvinone (larger bunches than Corvina), Dinadarella (incorporated in a few blends, but often better used to produce a rosato, as with the example of Brigaldara), Negrara and Croatina. A few years ago, the DOC regulations for Valpolicella were changed and small percentages of non-local varieties are allowed; I sampled two different bottlings of Valpolicella with 5% Sangiovese, if you can believe it!

The major varieties – Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Croatina – are also used to produce Amarone; a final variety that is being used by a few producers today is Oseleta, a grape type that adds color and tannins to the final wine along with good natural acidity. What makes Amarone so special and so different from a normal bottling of Valpolicella is the winemaking process. The grapes for an Amarone are picked one week prior to those for a Valpolicella and these grapes are then allowed to dry in special rooms – either on bamboo racks or in plastic trays called cassette - for anywhere from three to four months. This process of naturally drying the grapes takes place before fermentation and is known as appassimento. During the 90-120 days, the grapes shrivel and lose 20%-30% of their natural water, resulting in extremely concentrated grapes. As the natural sugars increase during this drying period, this means that a typical Amarone will have between 15% and 15.5% alcohol and in some years, even as much as 16%.

It’s not Toscana, it’s San Pietro in Cariano in Valpolicella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A third wine between Valpolicella and Amaone is Ripasso. Literally meaning “repass”, the original production for this wine included passing fresh grapes over the skins of the previous year’s Amarone skins. This would give a more “raisiny” character to a traditional Valpolicella, resulting in something of a “baby Amarone” for lack of a better term. Today other methods are often used and the wines range widely in style, from elegant and fruity (such as the wonderful bottlings from Begali or Brigaldara) to a more powerful, Amarone like wine (such as those from Masi, Allegrini and Tommasi).

Finally, there is Recioto della Valpolicella, which is sweet. This is the traditional wine produced for more than one thousand years in this area; the dry Amarone is a recent innovation, having only been produced since the 1950s. The sweet Recioto – and versions vary from off-dry to medium-sweet, offer gorgeous aromas of black raspberry and dark chocolate and are ideal partners for a variety of foods at the end of a meal, from a chocolate dessert to aged blue cheeses. I love Recioto and drink it whenever I can- it’s really a shame this isn’t a greater success in the market. One producer told me that when producers in the Valpolicella area get together, they all want to try each others’ Reciotos, which should tell you how seriously they view this wine. Among my favorites on this recent trip included Allegrini, Masi (two very different bottlings), Speri, Brigaldara and Tenuta Sant’Antonio.

Gian Paolo Speri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Getting back to Amarone, I entitled this piece “A new found love.” It’s not that I abandoned Amarone, for I’ve always loved it, it’s just that after visiting twelve outstanding producers in four days, my love was rekindled. This was especially true of the 2006 vintage, which the producers there rated as great. Now I have read enough reports of so-called “great vintages” from all over Italy (as well as the rest of the wine world) and I’m usually a bit skeptical. These great vintages often result in wines that are too intense, too tannic, too oaky, etc., etc. – you get the picture. But not so with the 2006 Amarones, as these wines offer impressive concentration, remarkable fruitiness and beautiful balance. Given the press, many of these wines were already gone during my tastings, but I did taste several that I rated as outstanding, the four finest being the ultra-elegant Speri, the beautifully structured Riserva from Musella, the polished and very approachable Zenato and the sublime Begali “Monte Ca’Bianca”.

The 2007s are now upon us and I was very satisfied with the Tommasi, a classic style made in a traditional manner- the tannins are polished and there is excellent acidity- the wine is a beauty! I also enjoyed the more modern, powerful Allegrini as well as the Masi “Costasera”, which is more of a middle ground as far as style. I also tasted a few Amarones from 2005, with the Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Campo dei Gigli” offering the best balance and complexity.

Finally, there were a few special older bottlngs. Everyone knows that with a powerful wine such as Amarone, several years are needed for the wines to display their finest characteristics. This was certainly true for the 1999 Tedeschi “Capitel Monte Olmi” and the 1997 Venturini. For these wines, aromas of molasses, dried cherry and tobacco were among the most common and the wines had a more refined quality about them. But new release or 12 or 14 year-old bottle, my thoughts this past week with Amarone were all about love.

June 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment

Masi – Top 100

Sandro Boscaini (Photo courtesy of Masi)

Think of the wines of the Veneto region and chances are you think of Amarone. Think of great Amarone producers and chances are you think of Masi. This winery, managed by the Boscaini family since 1972 (although this family’s history with local vineyards dates back to 1772), is truly one of the benchmark producers of Amarone, thanks especially to the work over the past 20 years of its president Sandro Boscaini.

Boscaini is a true visionary, one of the individuals responsible for the current style of Amarone – one that reflects terroir and elegance at the same time. He’s also a warm, thoughtful person, always happy to see you and answer your questions. He’s a brilliant oenologist and an engaging speaker, someone who sees his work at Masi at his life’s endeavor; undertakings that will go a long way towards redefining Amarone in today’s – and tomorrow’s – marketplace.

Along with a regular Valpolicella and Ripasso wines (a term coined by Boscaini and his father back in 1962), Masi produces four bottlings of Amarone under their own label and one additional Amarone for the Serego Aligheri estate. The standard Amarone is labeled Costasera (“evening coast”), as the vineyards face southwest and receive the evening sun. This is a perfect example of the Masi style – rich, with a generous mid-palate, good weight on the palate and an restrained finish with moderate tannins. The current 2006 is quite a success and though it will be a much more complete wine in another 5-7 years, it is approachable now. I recently tasted the 1999 version of this wine and it is in lovely condition; it should drink well for another 3-5 years.

There is also an Amarone Riserva, which is a relatively new category. Masi was one of the first producers to release this wine; their initial bottling was from the 2003 vintage. Boscaini has decided to incorporate the Oseleta grape for this Amarone; the variety is not commonly used by most producers of Amarone. But for Boscaini, Oseleta is ideal for producing an Amarone with ideal structure and longevity.  “As oseleta has a higher tannin level than other varieties used for Amarone (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, for example), it is perfectly suited to create a wine meant for greater aging potential than our regular Amarone,” he explains.

But it is the cru bottlings of Amarone that are the most renowned and complex Amarones made at Masi. There are two of these single vineyard offerings: Campolongo di Torbe and Mazzano. Each is full-bodied and towers above the regular Costasera bottling in their richness and intensity. While much of this has to do with smaller yields from single sites, the extra 2-3 weeks of drying the grapes (appassimento) is another factor for the robust quality of these wines.

Boscaini has made the wise decision to ferment and age these wines in large Slavonian oak casks, which helps preserve the local terroir of each wine, something that might not be evident if the aging were in barriques. The terroir is noticeable, as each wine displays very different flavor profiles; the Campolongo has aromas of currant, dates and figs, while the Mazzano has much stronger notes of tobacco and cumin. Both wines are brilliant statements of what a producer can accomplish with Amarone – make a powerful wine with great complexity and yet achieve finesse and balance throughout. The 2004 offerings of these wines have recently been released. I just tasted the 2001 releases of these two wines at a lunch and can report that they are magnificent with rich, balanced tannins as well as ideal acidity, which will assure that these wines will drink well for another 12-15 years; though I think the 2001 Mazzano will be in excellent condition for at least another 20 years.

For Boscaini, aging is especially important for Amarone. “In five to seven years, Amarone yields fruit; after 15 years, older Amarone loses its fruit, but offers greater complexity and concentration and more intriguing spice.” If that isn’t an advertisement for the glories of Amarone, I don’t know what it is. How grateful we can be for the work of Sandro Boscanini and his team at Masi for producing such exemplary bottlings of Amarone!

October 12, 2010 at 10:41 am 2 comments

The Decade’s Best Producers – Part Three

 

Alois Lageder (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Here is part three of my list of the Top Italian Wine Producers from the first decade of the millennium:

ALTO ADIGE

Alois Lageder

One of the most thoughtful and considerate men I have ever met, Alois Lageder has been producing wines of wonderful varietal purity and clarity for the past two decades. His “Benefizium” Pinot Grigio is one of the two or three finest examples of this variety in Italy, while his “Cor Romigberg” is a stunning cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. This past decade, Lageder increased his efforts with organically produced wines. Individuals such as Alois Lageder are rare – his wines reflect his thoughtful nature.

Elena Walch

Elena Walch and her husband Werner continue to dazzle with their lineup of wines, especially with the “Kastelaz” Gewurztraminer, the “Castel Ringberg” Sauvignon and the superb blended white, “Beyond the Clouds.” Consistent excellence is what this estate is all about!

Cantina Tramin

Winemaker Willi Sturz quietly continues his brilliant work at this great cooperative winery. The “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer is one of Italy’s best white wines, while the blended white “Stoan” is another exceptional offering. Also highly recommended are the “Urban” Lagrein and the “Montan” Sauvignon. These wines represent the heart and soul of Alto Adige.

VENETO

Masi

Under the leadership of Sandro Boscaini, this estate continues to be one of the leaders of Amarone. The regular bottling known as “Costasera” is beautifully balanced, while the cru bottlings, “Campolongo di Torbe” and “Mazzano” are more powerful, yet still quite refined. 

Anselmi

It’s a bit of a broken record, but Roerto Anselmi continues to dazzle with his Garganega-based whites, especially the simple “San Vicenzo” and the “Capitel Foscarino.” Then there is the gorgeous dessert offering “I Capitelli.” A benchmark producer, to be sure.

Roberto Anselmi and his daughter Lisa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Stefano Accordini

Modern style Amarone, but with nicely integrated oak, unlike some of his competitors. The “Acinatico” bottling is first-rate and ages beautifully, while the “Il Fornetto” made in the finest vintages, is a classic. Also look for his superb Recioto della Valpolicella.

Pieropan

How nice to know that Leonildo Pieropan still makes one of the classic bottlings of Soave Classico and prices it for everyday consumption! His top bottlings of Soave, “La Rocca” and “Calvarino” are exotic, deeply concentrated and ageworthy.

Ca’ La Bionda

Pietro and Alessandro Castellani produce traditionally styled, elegant, sumptuous bottlings of Amarone that are a sheer pleasure to consume. The “Ravazzol” bottling is outstanding, while the regular bottling of Amarone is excellent. Also worth seeking out are his bottlings of Valpolicella (no Ripasso here).

Ca’ Rugate

Under the winemaking talent of Michele Tessari, Ca’ Rugate has become one of the leading producers of Soave. There’s so much here to love, from the stainless steel-aged “San Michele” (a wonderful value) to the oak-aged “Monte Alto” to the lush; lightly sweet “La Perlara”, one of the finest bottlings of Recioto di Soave, this is a model for other Soave producers. Lately, reds have become a major part of this estates as well including a delicious Valpolicella and a delightful Amarone.

UMBRIA

Antonelli

Beautiful, traditionally made bottlings of Sagrantino di Montefalco, a rich, complex red wine that is one of Italy’s finest and unfortuntely, most underrated. The Montefalco Rosso is also worth seeking out, as is the velvety Passito.

Scacciadiavoli

Always a very good producer, this has become an excellent one, thanks in part to the winemaking talent of Stefano Chioccoli. Round, ripe and flavorful, these are modern offerings, but maintain the character of the Sagrantino grape. The Passito is delicious!


January 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm 2 comments


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