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“For red wines in the Veneto, the winemaking technique is the protagonist, far more than the grape,” says Raffaele Boscaini, seventh generation member of the Masi family.
The very specific winemaking technique Boscaini refers to is local to Valpolicella, the area of the Veneto known for its deep tradition in making wines in the appassimento method, a way of drying grapes that dates back to ancient Rome.
The Boscaini family is a producer that has been in the region since 1772, when they acquired vineyards in Vaio dei Masi, the valley for which they named their winery. Today, Masi, which is run by the sixth and seventh generations, is considered a benchmark for the complex and majestic Amarone—the indisputable king of Valpolicella wines—as well as other regional stars that speak to the Veneto’s rich history and uniquely iconic wine styles.
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The Method that Defines Amarone
The appassimento winemaking method is rooted in tradition, though it has evolved over time in the hands of winemakers. The goal, regardless of the variation, is always a 30 to 40 percent loss of water, which will naturally concentrate nearly everything about wine: the flavors, color, tannins, and sweetness. Historically in the Roman era, the indigenous grapes that compose Amarone—at Masi that’s Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara—were shriveled in the sun on straw mats for four months. In a newer tradition, they are dried in wooden boxes inside an open barn, ventilated on all sides for cross breezes, such as at the historic drying lofts at Masi. Today, Masi’s winemakers use a tried-and-true modernized method, drying the grapes on bamboo mats called arele in special drying chambers for more than 100 days.
Masi ages its Amarones for three years in barrel before bottling. Its signature wines include Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG, considered a benchmark for the category, and Riserva de Costasera, a special cru version of the Costasera, which is enhanced by Oseleta, a grape once lost but reclaimed by Masi. Boscaini, who serves as Masi’s marketing director, says the Riserva is the best representation of Masi’s historic and regional legacy.
These long-living aristocratic wines feature dense, dark fruits with notes of coffee and cocoa, making them a savory accompaniment to richly flavored dishes, roasted game, and mature cheeses, and also make them a perfect offering for after-dinner sipping.
“The Corvina grape creates one of the most acclaimed wines from Italy,” says Boscaini. “Amarone and its uniqueness is due to its style: a big and generous wine, but at the same time extremely gentle.”
Masi makes a range of Amarones that primarily blend the three indigenous grapes: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, with the occasional inclusion of Oseleta.
Corvina, the low-tannin, high-acid grape, gives Amarone its sour cherry and herbal character. It is typically the highest proportion of the blend, comprising between 40 to 70 percent of the wine. In lesser amounts, Rondinella contributes structure and Molinara acidity.
Beyond Amarone: Super Venetians and More
The same local grapes are blended to make lighter, regional red wine styles. In the Masi portfolio, that includes Campofiorin and its cru version, Brolo de Campofiorin IGT wines, as well as Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico DOC.
Boscaini calls Campofiorin the original “Super Venetian” so named because, like the Super Tuscans, it’s regionally produced but not associated with any of the local DOCs. Masi has made the wine since 1964 and, as such, it is now a signature for the region.
“Campofiorin is unmatched in terms of wine style, and the concept is more closely linked to the Venetian terroir,” he says.
“Although our Costasera Amarone has given us critical acclaim and prestige, Campofiorin is our international star,” says Masi’s U.S. director, Tony Apostolakos. “It has been enjoyed in over 100 countries by more than 300 million people since the 1960s.”
These floral and fragrant wines are approachable and versatile with a variety of cuisines, from richly sauced pasta to grilled meats. The Brolo version of the wine substitutes the Oseleta grape for Molinara, ages in oak barrels, and offers a deeper and more complex profile. Returning to the classic trio of grapes, Bonacosta is the lightest of the the Valpolicellas, featuring a fresh, simple style that plays well with pizza, pasta dishes, or light meals.