Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Lineup: Amarone, Mastrojanni, Montes

The 12 Families of Amarone

Amarone has long been a friend of mine. Names like Masi, Thomassi and Speri have been hanging out in my cellar for decades, getting mellow until I can wait no longer - and I pull the cork.

Amarone's little brother, simple Valpolicella, was one of the wines that got me interested in the wine business many years ago. At that time, I was given a three pack of Verona-region wines, so I wanted to find out more about these weird-sounding wines - the others being a Bardolino and a Soave. Amarone is grown in the same region and uses the same grapes as everyday Valpolicella, but there the similarities disappear. Amarone employs more of Corvina, the chief regional red grape, it is grown on better hillside plots, and its grapes are dried in bunches until the alcohol from the concentrating sugar produce wines hovers at 15% or more. Finally, it gathers and somewhat tames tannins while spending several years in the oak. The finished product, to my palate, is arguably the best high-alcohol red table wine, possessing some of the rich flavors of Port without the sweetness.

Recently, I was in New York at the Public Library to check out recent vintages (mainly 2000 to 2006) being poured by a new group of 12 families of Amarone producers formed less than two years ago and now on its first U.S. tour.

All of the families sell their wines in the U.S., although some are much more familiar - and available - than others. Alphabetically, they are: Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant'Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini and Zenato. Of course, all these people make very good wines, so, in tasting them, it comes down to personal preferences and small degrees of difference.

I did notice that the Musella wines seemed to be slightly richer than the rest, and that the Tedeschi bottles were the most tightly knit and concentrated for their ages. So my first wine of the week is:

2005 Musella Amarone Riserva (about $56). Brilliant blueberries in the nose and mouth as well as the traditional dark red/purple fruits, a long richness of fruit on the palate with integrated oak and loads of dusty tannins for aging a couple of more decades.

Illy Intros Newly-Purchased Mastrojanni

Riccardo Illy at Mastrojanni

Mastrojanni is a Tuscan brand I have drunk and followed for a couple of decades - I have some Rosso di Montalcino from the late '80s in my cellar - so I was especially intertested when I heard that Riccardo Illy would also be in New York this week. Illy is head of Gruppo Illy, a family-owned business that is famous for Illy brand coffee (you can't seriously travel to Europe without drinking lots of Illy espresso, and my wife Ella bought me an Illy machine for Christmas) and has broadening into producing tea, chocolate, various formed of preserved fruit, and now wine - all the basic food groups.

I have a couple of assignments to write articles about Illy and Mastrojanni, so I won't use all my material here. Let me just say that Riccardo Illy is charming and witty, a very astute businessman and politician (he was a member of the Italian parliament and mayor of his native Trieste, where Illy is located) and is fascinated by Mastrojanni, which the family purchased in 2008.

One of Riccardo Illy's business tenets is to retain management when you buy a company, so Andrea Machetti has stayed on as managing director of Mastrojanni. All of the wines I tasted were delicious - the 2005 Brunello, the lovely, dark, somewhat meaty 2004 "Vigna Schiena d'Asino" Brunello, and the 2007 IGT Super Tuscan "San Pio" (80% Cab, 20% Sangio) with it's lovely raspberry fruit and violet aromas. But, because it is the first vintage released since the Illy purchase and because it's a great value wine, my second wine of the week is:

2008 Mastrojanni Rosso di Montalcino ($25). Bright, lively fruit up front with a dark, rich fruit in the finish to add length and complexity. It has moderate tannins, so the wine is very drinkable now.

Montes: Let Them Drink Kaiken

Aurelio Montes has a phrase: "We had some more energy." He established, with partners, Montes as the first all-premium Chilean winery, then "we had some more energy," and Montes leaped across the Andes to make wine under the Kaiken label in Argentina. Further energized, he went north to Napa for NapaAngel. Then, propelled by his love for Syrah, he nosed around in Paso Robles for the right grapes and created StarAngel.

In some ways, Montes is a half-mystic like another brilliant winemaker, the Italian Alois Lageder in that both play music for the wines slumbering in the barrel. But Montes is the only winemaker I know who created a winery - the Montes facility at Apalta - according to Feng Shui principles. So it isn't surprising that Montes named the Paso wine StarAngel after former business partner Douglas Murray, who recently died and who loved the concept of angels and brought the motif to Montes.

So there was no way I'd miss Aurelio Montes' presentation yesterday afternoon of 12 of his red wines before and over lunch at Aureole in mid-town Manhattan. They are all big, bold but very drinkable wines from Bordeaux blends to Malbecs to Syrahs to Carmenere - all different but with a similar touch.

The wine I want to feature as my third wine of the week, however, is the one that Aurelio came to show us as the new Kaiken on the block, "Mai," the first Montes icon wine from Argentina:

2007 Kaiken "Mai" ($90). Mai is 100% Malbec, but a blend of three Mendoza regional vineyards. It has ripe berries and spices, with dark cherry being the dominant flavor, well-balanced with loads of tannins. It is long on the palate, but still very tight. Aurelio recommends it with wild boar and other game, but if I were going to have it this evening with pork sauvage, I would decant it around noon.

Recently Published Articles:

In the October Beverage Media, I explore how the classic producers of sweet wines are updating their profiles and portfolio - or not - in "Still Sweet - but Not Old-Fashioned."

In the October Sommelier News, I visit the vineyard Mer Soileil, "The White Jewel of Monterey."

And for four years I've been choosing a representative 12 bottles of wine from Southeastern Pennsylvania producers. Read about the "2010 Case of the Brandywine" in the Oct/Nov issue of Signature Brandywine.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

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