Masi Agricola, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (Veneto, Italy) “Costasera” 2010 (Kobrand Corporation, $63): With 2015 looming, I find myself looking ahead, but also backwards to years past. Somehow, in my mind, nostalgia suits Amarone. Not that Amarone is a thing of the past, by any means -- but I sense that for such a classic, iconic, great Italian wine, it easily gets lost in the excitement over Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and elite Tuscan estate wines, not to mention prestigious red wines from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Let’s not forget Amarone.
Amarone is that massive red wine produced within the Valpolicella district of Italy’s Veneto region in the northeast (hence the appellation, Amarone della Valpolicella). It’s that wine made from specially-selected, very ripe grapes that dry indoors for several months to concentrate their flavors and structural components, so that the wine from that concentrated juice is big, rich, concentrated and complex. It is probably Italy’s most massive red wine, and yet it is a wine of complexity and refinement, in its best examples.
Masi is an undisputed leader in the community of Amarone producers. The Boscaini family has owned and operated Masi Agricola for more than 200 years, and the company is responsible for numerous winemaking and viticultural innovations within the Valpolicella zone. Despite its search for innovation, Masi is a wine estate that operates with great respect for tradition.
Three points need to be established about Amarone in general, and this 2010 Masi Amarone in particular. The wine is dry. (Somehow the dried-grapes concept has fostered a notion of sweet grapiness, but young Amarone wines taste dryer than many elite California Cabernets.) The wine is built for aging. And Amarone is an important wine that deserves attentive drinking.
Costasera is Masi’s main Amarone. Its grapes come from several sloping, west-facing vineyards in the historic “classico” zone, overlooking Lake Garda. (Masi also produces a Costasera Amarone Riserva, as well as an old-vine, single vineyard Amarone and two limited-production, single-vineyard Amarones.)
The grapes for this wine are a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara --classic local varieties. During the drying process, the grapes lose 35 percent of their weight. The juice then undergoes an extremely long, slow fermentation of about 80 days first in a combination of large Slavonian oak vats and stainless steel tanks and then in 300- to 400-liter barrels. Finally the wine ages for 24 months mainly (80 percent) in large oak casks, along with some smaller barrels of French and Slavonian oak.
Apart from being interesting to wine geeks, this data illustrates the long, elaborate production process, which results in this 2010 wine being released to the market only now, four years after harvest.
This 2010 Costasera has aromas of ripe, dark plum, dark cherry, nutmeg, and herbal notes. In your mouth, the full-bodied wine is dry but packed with concentrated fruit character, suggesting plum, chocolate, baked cherry and spices. Firm but agreeable tannins show themselves at once, bringing character and weight to the concentrated fruit and integrating seamlessly with it. The wine is a huge presence in your mouth and yet it is not heavy but rather alive with flavor. Sip after sip, it holds your interest.
This 2010 is quite young now, although not too young to enjoy. Its pleasure now derives from its fruit expression and the fascination of its tannin-fruit interplay, but over time it will gain flavor complexity of a different sort. This is a wine that welcomes classic meat dishes and hard cheeses. It also welcomes contemplation.