Italian Wine News


From Valpolicella to Amarone to Ripasso
Deborah Scoblionkov – The Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist – November 21, 2004

  From left: Masi's Valpolicella dell’Anniversario Serego Alighieri, Costasera Amarone Classico Masi and Campofiorin Masi

When I first started drinking red wine, Italian Valpolicella was one of my favorites. It's perfect for someone easing into red wines. Made in the Veneto region from indigenous Corvina, Rodinella and Molinara grapes, it is light, affordable, and easy to drink.

While many Valpos I've tasted in recent years have been disappointing - either watery or unpleasant - last month I bought a 2002 Masi Bonacosta Valpolicella (on sale for $7.99 in State Stores) and was delighted to discover that it was rich and mellow with charming fruit flavor and a raisiny, tobacco-like character.

Eventually, wine lovers discover Valpolicella's big brother, Amarone. More intense, complex and sophisticated, Amarone is made from grapes that are picked early to ensure high acidity and then dried. It is named for the slightly bitter character of the wine (amaro means "bitter" in Italian).

As cheap and easy as Valpolicella is, Amarone is expensive and esoteric.

In the early 1960s, Sandro Boscaini, the sixth-generation proprietor of Masi Winery in the Veneto, came up with the ingenious idea of crafting a wine that "combines the drinkability of Valpolicella with the structure of Amarone," according to the winery. He experimented by re-fermenting a Valpolicella on the pommace, or remains, of the dried grapes that had been used to make Amarone.

The result was an extraordinary wine that he called Campofiorin, named for the vineyard where the grapes were grown - but which wine critics have dubbed "baby Amarone" or "super Venetian."

Over the years, Boscaini refined and patented his technique. Other winemakers in the region have followed his lead, creating a new category of wine from the Veneto called Ripasso.

These wines are smooth and complex, with dried-fruit flavors so mellow and silky - and so far from the forward, fruit-driven wines of the New World - that for many wine lovers who have grown up on California wines, they can be a revelation. For experienced wine drinkers tired of a steady diet of massive marmalade wines, Ripassos are a breath of old-fashioned, fresh, food-friendly elegance.

The 1999 Masi Campofiorin is soft and aromatic, its heady bouquet tinged with spicy licorice and coffee-infused tones and flavored with leathery, raisiny notes. State Stores sell it for $14.99.

Masi also makes a reserve-style, single-vineyard Ripasso from grapes grown in the original Campofiorin vineyard. The 1998 Masi Brolo di Campofiorin ($28, by special order at State Stores) has deep, rich raspberry and blackberry fruit flavors. Intensely concentrated, it is full-bodied and robust.

I recently tasted two of Masi's Amarones. The 1999 "Costasera" Amarone (on sale at State Stores for $36.99 through Nov. 28) is heavy, brooding and spicy. The 1997 Serego Alighieri "Vaio" Armaron Amarone ($58, by special order), made from grapes grown on the estate of the descendants of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (of Inferno fame), is drop-dead gorgeous with multidimensional, exotic fruit flavors and extraordinary complexity.

Especially now with autumn's cold weather setting in, these warm, hearty wines are a comfort. Masi's Valpolicella is like a cozy old sweater, while the Campofiorin is like a soft Merino wool suit, and the Amarone like a cashmere coat.

Originally published on harpers-wine© 2004
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