There is no winery in my opinion more emblematic of the Veronese style than Masi Agricola. Still family-owned, Masi is one of the largest wineries in Valpolicella, producing over 12 million bottles a year.
47 of those bottles were opened last week at Firenze, one of San Miguel de Allende’s top three restaurants for each of the last three three years in the town’s Smart Awards. The theme was “One Night In Venice”, as six different Masi wines accompanied some of Firenze’s most celebrated dishes.
Now one cannot think of the wines of Masi without thinking of the word appassimento. Appassimento is the method used for centuries in Verona to concentrate the aromas and tastes in their wines.
The grapes are laid out on bamboo racks in drying lofts for up to four months before the crushing begins.
Masi has pioneered the modern methods of appassimento. Their studies of the DNA of Corvina, the most important of three grapes commonly used in Veronese reds, have helped identify how the aromatic properties are created by air drying. Five of the six of the wines that we tasted had some degree of appassimento used in their production.
2015 MASI TUPUNGATO PASSO BLANCO PINOT GRIGIO/TORRONTÉS
We started the evening with an aperitif of Pinot Grigio and Torrontés. Pinot Grigio is certainly the most popular quaffing white in my social circle. The exact origins of the grape, known as Pinot Gris in most of the rest of the world, are vague but there is some evidence that its original home may be Verona.
This Pinot Grigio, however, is a little different. Passo Blanco comes from Masi’s Argentinean vineyards in Mendoza and takes the signature Venetian white grape and combines it with the signature Argentinean white grape Torrontés.
The Pinot Grigio grapes received 15 days of air drying using the appassimento method probably adding to the wine’s peachy nose and possibly to the lemony tang in the taste. Passo Blanco was, simply, a fresh and aromatic way to start the attitude adjustment for the evening.
2013 MASI TUPUNGATO PASSO DOBLE MALBEC/CORVINA
Toasted crostini with artichokes, olives, tomatoes, cranberries was the first course from Firenze’s chef/owner Antonio Arreta and it could have been matched with a white or a red.
We chose Tupungato Passo Doble a wine that’s the red equivalent of Masi’s Passo Blanco and, like Passo Blanco, is made from organic grapes. Passo Doble combines the signature Argentinean Malbec grape with the Venetian Corvina in a 70/30 ratio.
There were hints of cherry in both the aroma and fruity flavor as well as vanilla from the nine months the wine spends aging in oak. The consensus opinion at the dinner was “great value” ($195 at La Europea).
2015 MASIANCO PINOT GRIGIO/VERDUZZO DELLE VENEZIE IGT
The Masi wines for the rest of the dinner all hailed from the Northeast of Italy. For Masianco, Masi takes the traditional lighter-bodied, acidic style of Italian Pinot Grigio and then adds Verduzzo grapes that have been put through the appassimento process to give the wine a structure and complexity unusual for a wine that uses Pinot Grigio as its primary grape.
It still has the freshness and fruitiness of Pinot Grigio yet stood up to the citrusey tangerine dressing on the beet and arugula salad.
Beautifully perfumed, Masianco might actually convert me into a more frequent Pinot Grigio drinker.
2014 MASI BONACOSTA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO DOC
I like what Hemingway said about Valpolicella Classico. He called it “a light, dry red wine, as friendly as the house of a favourite brother”.
Masi now makes their Valpolicella in a contemporary style with more freshness and fruitiness, yet it still has that traditional elegance that’s associated with reds from the region at the eastern edge of Verona.
The Bonacosta had the cherry pie tastes of a Valpolicella with a lightness that reminded me a little of Beaujolais Nouveau.
The Valpolicella Classico was poured with a classic Italian dish: creamy risotto with wild mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano, and white truffle oil. You could call it a perfect partnership.
2012 CAMPOFIORIN ROSSO DEL VERONESE IGT
Campofiorin was the original Supervenetian created by Masi that partially uses the techniques for producing Amarone, combining grapes from the appassimento method with juice produced from traditional methods.
The grapes, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, were exactly the same as those used for the Valpolicella and the upcoming Amarone though the percentages of each varied.
Though Supervenetians have never gained the status of Supertuscans, this, to me, is still one of Italy’s best wines for the price. It’s been around since 1964 and Don Day’s Wife and I have been drinking it since the days we used to sit at a pasta bar called Grazie, all googly-eyed over each other.
I’m not exactly big on inventing Latin phrases and putting them in Olde English typefaces on wine labels but I do like what’s on the Campofiorin bottle: Nectar Angelorum Hominibus, nectar of the angels for man.
I don’t think Firenze could gave paired the juicy pink pork tenderloin, that Chef Antonio cooked using the sous vide method, with a nectar more appropriate.
2011 MASI COSTASERA AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO DOCG
In my opinion, there are three great Italian wines, Brunello, Barolo and the last wine we opened at Firenze, Amarone.
All of the three grapes from the Valpolicella region that go into this wine, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara go through the appassimento process, creating a rich and complex aroma and taste.
The grapes for Amarone are the last ones harvested each year and with three to four months of dessication, the appassimento process intensifies the sugars and removes over a third of the liquid as the grapes shrivel into almost raisins.
You could almost mistake Masi Costasera for a Port which is why, perhaps, it seemed so appropriate to serve it with Firenze’s mixed berries and mascarpone cream.
This Amarone is far beyond my wine budget (it usually runs about $2500-3000 in a restaurant) but, you know what they say, you’re only old once and this was a wine I will never forget.
I’m never sure whether I should write about these almost bacchanal feasts when they’re once-only events but I did this time for a few reasons. There were a few bottles left over of the Masi wines that Firenze will be offering over the next few days; you may even be able to pair them with the same or similar dishes. All of the Masi wines are also available at La Europea though it will almost definitely require a trip to one of their larger Queretaro stores and even then, don’t expect all of them to be stocked at one time. And if you would like to attend one of the wine-pairing dinners, the next one, at Bistro Mi Casa, celebrates the wines of Spain and will be held on February 6; the menu will be announced this week and reservations taken immediately after.
Firenze is located at Recreo #13 in San Miguel de Allende. The restaurant is open from 1:00 pm to 9:30 pm from Monday to Saturday.