After tasting Tuscan wines Saturday morning, the Wine Experience audience revisited Italy in the afternoon, turning their attention north to Valpolicella in the Veneto region.
More specifically, to Amarone della Valpolicella, the rich Italian dry red wine made from dried grapes. Masi owner Raffaele Boscaini, the seventh generation to run his family's estate, brought four vintages—all wines from the Classico zone.
"What’s impressive about Amarone is that it's a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth—it's very personable—and it also has the capacity to age, and a lot of that has to do with the production technique appassimento," said Wine Spectator senior editor Alison Napjus.
Amarone is based on the Corvina grape, along with other local varieties such as Rondinella and Molinara. With appassimento, the grape bunches are put in bamboo trays to dry for three to four months in a location that is windy and not humid, explained Boscaini. "Not every bunch is suitable to this delicate process."
"The grapes lose 35 to 45 percent of their original weight, losing water," Boscaini continued. "You get concentration of sugars and tannins, color compounds, acidity … a transformation of the flavors, not just concentration." Amarone is fermented completely dry, ending up laden with fruit and spice, along with nuances such as dried fruits, dark chocolate and nuts.
Starting with the Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 1978, sourced from multiple vineyards, Napjus noted the wine's drinkability at nearly 40 years of age: "There's so much flavor on the palate … very elegant, mineral and savory." Boscaini added that it offered a "sensation of cooked dried mushrooms and cigar." Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews, who couldn't help but join in at the end of the seminar, said simply that it "tastes like heaven."
Jumping a decade, the Serègo Alighieri Vaio Armaron 1988 (90 points, $55 on release) comes from one of Valpolicella’s most historic vineyards, originally planted in 1353. Masi was among the early advocates for single-vineyard Amarone, with experimental cuvées dating back to the 1950s. “We take responsibility for the great history of this vineyard,” Boscaini said. “The ’88 is more baroque, rich in elegance.”
Masi first vinified Campolongo di Torbe as a single vineyard in 1958. The 1997 bottling (93, $58 on release, 1,150 cases made) shows more fruit character than the older Amarones in this tasting, noted Napjus. “Amarone differs not just as a wine of technique but as a great wine of terroir,” Boscaini said discussing this and the last wine in the lineup. “Campolongo’s soil gives a totally different sensation than the Mazzano.”
The Mazzano 2007 (94, $175, 1,158 cases made)—the current release—comes from a vineyard at 1,300 feet elevation. “The 2007 Mazzano is savory and elegant overall, with fruit character,” Napjus said. Boscaini explained that the high-altitude, dry climate makes Mazzano “much more austere, much more serious … it lasts forever.”
“I’m fascinated by the interaction between the wine and the technique,” said Matthews. “It is a mix,” said Boscaini. “You must know your technique, know your grapes, know your terroir. [Amarone] is a combination of tradition and technology.”