Celebration is always a great reason to open something special. The very happy news that my lovely partner Louise, after almost five years of hard work, had qualified as a child psychotherapist a week or so ago gave me a chance to do just that. Whilst many will say ‘the wine makes the occasion’ I can’t help but think that things taste and feel better when you or a loved one have a deep sense of deserving. This time the wine had to be something she would choose so I’d secreted a bottle away a few months before, and not just any bottle either!
Ok, but who’s Hannibal I hear you say, thought you said Louise? Well, it’s Hannibal Lecter to be precise ( bit of a risky dinner guest I admit ) and he gets a mention here for a bit of film trivia and a famous mention of the subject wine. In the excellent film ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Lecter utters the famous phrase ‘ I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti’. Except , in the book, he actually says ‘Amarone’. It was changed in the film to a more recognisable wine. Makes you wonder that if the film had been made last year ( rather than 1991 ) and given the huge rise in popularity of Amarone, they might have stayed true to the book.
So what’s this Amarone stuff anyway? Well, in short, it’s one of the best red wines to come out of Northern Italy. The finest are rich, sumptuous, complex and concentrated wines of great depth. It’s generally made with the varieties Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella grown in Valpollicella. Another grape, Molinara, used to be routinely included in the blend but, probably driven by recent fashion for ‘big’ reds has fallen out of favour due to it’s lighter character. What is notable is these varieties make a range of, in many cases, much lighter wines in the same region. It’s the wine making method that makes all the difference.
Amarone is made using grapes that are semi dried to a point where they have lost up to 40% of their weight. Called ‘Appassimento’ this is an ancient technique that was in fact used by the Romans to make a wine called ‘Passum’. This concentrates the aromas and flavours to make truly complex wines. However , whilst the Romans were doing this 2000 years ago Amarone as we know it today is a very recent phenomenon. The first bottle is thought to have been made in 1938 but the first active sales did not happen until 1953! What’s more, the popular legend has it that Amarone was discovered accidentally. A forgotten barrel of Recioto ( sweet red Appassimento wine – gorgeous by the way! ) got fermented to dryness by mistake. Of course like many ‘legends’ there is no proof to back this up but it does make a good story to tell the tourists.
Traditional Amarone is fermented slowly at cool temperatures and given a long ( several months ) maceration on the skins. The wines are then aged in barriques made of French or Slavonian oak. Recent times have seen lighter Amarone’s , macerated for a shorter period, enter the market. These are softer, fruitier and notably cheaper wines probably aimed at cashing in on the growing popularity of ‘Ripasso’ wines ( which I’ll cover in a future post ) Call me a traditionalist but I like the old style and as for adding Cabernet Sauvignon, which is now allowed in the blend, well I’m not a fan at all. We must fight to stop the homogenisation of wine as it will be no fun if it all tastes the same!!
So what of MASI, MASI Costasera and how did it taste?
MASI Agricola was established in 1772 by the Boscaini family who acquired vineyards in the valley called ‘vain dei Masi’. This is where the name originated and the company is still family owned to this day. Costasera Amarone is the family’s benchmark Amarone. Known as the ‘gentle giant’ it is a fabulous example of a traditional Amarone and still includes Molinara in the blend. With it’s incredible smoothness but rich depth I think this is a great description. Deep black cherry in colour, the wine has a full palate of flavours from a base of fruity morello cherry through to earthy tobacco, raisin, subtle oak and spices. It’s big on the palate and to say ‘long’ would be an understatement.
Not cheap at around £35 but in my view worth every penny. I served it with pan fried duck breast in a blackberry reduction accompanied by dauphinois potatoes and green beans. A fab Italian pairing would be ‘Osso Bucco’ in a rich tomato and white wine sauce. 9/10 and well done Majestic Wine for stocking https://www.majestic.co.uk/wines/amarone-classico-costasera-13831.
Treat yourself to a bottle of a classic wine made within just a few miles of the beautiful Lake Garda. This won’t disappoint.