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!