From there we descended to a couple of unassuming rooms that contained some of Masi’s experimental endeavours. Scores of bottles, both in racks and boxes, were tagged at their necks with hand-written labels and containing ancient grapes resurrected and unusual varieties vinified in various ways.
Oseleta is one such grape that Masi has ‘resurrected’ after having being forgotten or ignored for decades. In typically Masi fashion they have raised this baton and carried it proudly. This is a grape historically disregarded for its difficulty, producing tannic and harsh wines, but Masi have been unafraid to take the bull by the horns and have been experimenting in a multitude of ways in order to coax the best out of what they have come to see as something of a prodigal son returned.
These experimental bottlings sat beside square barrels, another Masi trial but one abandoned given the difficulty of keeping the multiple corners watertight, as well as other regular barrels made of weird and wonderful woods, and cross-sections of a number of soil samples taken at various points in the Veneto in Masi’s effort to identify the perfect sites for their plantings.
From there we descended again to their cellars proper, where hundreds of barrels in various sizes, shapes and woods were spread across a maze of irregularly-sized rooms. These also included walls of bottled Amarone that lay ageing, tightly packed in dark hulking masses, as well as some mosaics, sculptures and some ornate barrels – one of which, filled with Amarone, was to be signed by the winners of the upcoming Masi Prize ceremony only a few weeks after our visit.
The barrels ranged in size from the regular barriques you see in winery photographs and which hold 225 litres of wine, right up to fusto Veronese which hold 600 litres. I think there were some old-school botte that held 1,000L+, but by now my head was swimming so excuse me if I’ve forgotten a few details!
Needless to say it was a fantastic endeavour, but the best was yet to come.
We emerged, blinking, into the bright reception hall of a modest Masi’s villa which sits next to their workaday offices, from where we were led to the left to a dining room where a full tasting session was laid out for us.
I was aware of a tasting of wines at the end of the tour, but not to this extent: a beautifully delicate room complete with walls adorned with frescos of orange trees and windows framing the beautifully hazy Venetian countryside outside held a long mahogany dining table with each place complete with official tasting mats, booklets, pens, pre-poured glasses of wine and packets of grissini to nibble on. Now this is how you do a wine tasting!
After a short video introduction we began with the Serego Alighieri Posessioni Rosso 2011, a blend of Veneto’s Corvina and Molinara with Tuscany’s Sangiovese. Serego Alighieri was a descendent of the poet Dante Alighieri, he of The Divine Comedy fame, and Masi now produce wines on behalf of the current head of the family, Count Pieralvise di Serego Alighieri. Their property in the Veneto was bought as far back as 1353 by Pietro Alighieri, Dante’s son, who had followed his father into exile in Verona from Tuscany and had stayed in the area after the poet’s death. They don’t do history by halves here in Italy.
Anyway, this wine is their entry-level one, and accordingly is a light, fruit-forward, spiced cherry quaffer for every day drinking. A nice simple start to the tasting.
Next was Masi’s own Brolo Campofiorin Oro 2009, the next step up from Masi’s ‘sort-of-Ripasso,’ Campofiorin. This differs from the regular Campofiorin in that instead of the standard Venetian blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, the latter in this case is swapped out for 10% of Oseleta, the resurrected grape mentioned in my last post.
But I found this to be somewhat ‘hot’ and overpowering, which with a little time in glass gave up some clove and pepper characteristics along with some savoury notes. However this ‘big brother’ of an already powerful wine I think needed some extra time in the bottle to mellow out.
The regular Campofiorin for its part, though not tasted that day, is soft and supple and more easily approachable than the Brolo Campofiorin Oro and is widely available here.
We then moved on again to another Serego Alighieri wine, this time their Valpolicella dell’Anniversario 2009. I had this before and loved it, and this tasting was no different. It’s a really premium Valpolicella, leagues away from the everyday Valpolicellas enjoyed on more casual occasions. Rich, deep and surprisingly aromatic, it had notes of dried fruit due to some of the blend containing apassimento grapes and had fantastic length with a nice bit of subtle grip at the end. On return I got come violet and dried tea. A delight.
Then it was on to the first of two Amarones, beginning with Masi’s flagship Costasera 2008. It has in intensely concentrated nose that with some time reveals tobacco, leather and again some clove and tea leaves. These repeat themselves on the palate which carries an illusion of sweetness due to it glycerine content, which is increased in the apassimento process. A huge, bear-hug of a wine, but one to be approached with caution, both due to its intensity and its alcohol, the latter of which comes in at a whopping 15%.
The next Amarone was the Vaio Armaron 2006 from the Serego Alighieri estate which, though containing the same grapes and undergoing the same apassimento process, spends extra time in wood and bottle, hence the two year difference between this and the Costasera. The result is, if possible, an even more concentrated wine, though more perfumed than the Costasera. However it was slightly rougher, I felt, than the supple Masi Amarone, with more spice and raisin/date notes evident too.
Claudia suggested that while the Costasera is best served with food, the Vaio Armaron is better on its own, but I found myself disagreeing. The Vaio Armaron was that bit more tannic and acidic than the Masi Amarone, which I felt would suit food more, while the smoothness of the latter better befitted sipping on its own.
Finally, we ended the incredible tasting with Casal dei Ronchi 2009, Serego Alighieri’s Recioto, basically a sweet version of Amarone. This was very fruity and generous on the nose with cherry and redcurrant, but it lacked enough supporting acidity to make it that bit moreish. That said it wasn’t cloying, but the end impression was pleasant yet fleeting. Though not available in Ireland, the Italian price of €28 per 500ml bottle meant that the resulting price-quality ratio left a lot to be desired.
In all it was a revealing and worthy tasting, one thoroughly enjoyed, though I didn’t expect half of the six bottle selection to consist of Serego Aligheri wines. Which was no hardship, of course, especially given that we were staying on the incredible Serego Alighieri estate itself, of which more in the next post…