Masi Wines Masterclass

At Botleigh Grange Hotel with Pier Guiseppe Torresani of Masi Wines

On Monday 3rd June 2013 I was lucky to attend a wine tasting seminar, hosted by Pier Guiseppe Torresani, the Export Manager for Masi Wines.  The tasting was designed to show the differences between wines made from “fresh” grapes with those made with semi-dried grapes using either the Doppio Fermentzione (Double Fermentation) or Appassimento wine-making techniques. The afternoon was organised by the UK agents for Masi Wines, Berkmann Wine Cellars.

Masi Wines Background

Masi Wines is named after the “Vaio dei Masi”, the little valley acquired by the Boscaini family in the late 18th century. Their first vineyard was established in 1772 and the Boscaini famaily have been the owners ever since and the current head of the family is Sandro Boscaini. Masi Wines have always been proud of their Venetian roots and traditional wine-making methods but they are also one of the most innovative and forward thinking wine producers. Wine-making techniques (roles of yeasts, methods of vinification etc.) are constantly being improved and updated by the Masi Wines Technical Group who have also been rediscovering, and replanting, ancient Venetian grape varieties such as Oseleta. However Masi are probably most famous for the wines that they make using the Appassimento and Double Fermentation methods (and previously the Ripasso method, more on that below) which Masi themselves have developed.

Masi Wines Tasting at Botleigh Grange Hotel

Masi Appassimento Wines

Appassimento is the technique of drying grapes prior to crushing and fermentation. This is a method of wine production that the Romans were using nearly 2000 years ago, drying grapes in the sun to make sweet red wines, probably not too dissimilar to the sweet red  Recioto wines of today. One might notice that Masi Wines Appassimentos are actually labelled as Appaxximento with the XXI in the middle signifying their expertise in the Appassiemento method in the 21st Century. This is a company trademark!

The Appassimento Process

1. There is careful selection of grape bunches at harvest.
2. The grapes are carefully laid out by hand onto bamboo drying racks.
3. Grapes are dried in warehouses with help from NASA – the Natural Appassimento Super Assisted system. Essentially this is computer controlled ventilation by either opening windows in the warehouse or circulating air within the warehouse depending on local climatic conditions. The development has led to a minimal loss of grapes through mould. Obviously someone at Masi Wines has a sense of humour, I wonder if they told the other NASA about this system!
4. The grapes are left to dry for a period (usually  3 to 4 months) which can go through the winter prior to crushing and wine production.

Effects of Appassimento

1. The main effect of the Appassimento method is the loss of water resulting in a 30 to 40% loss of weight of the grapes.
2. Therefore there is a subsequent concentration of colour, sugar, aromas and tannins.
3. Noble Rot (Botrytis cinerea) affects some of the grapes. This can produce higher levels of glycerol and gluconic acid which contributes smoothness and roundness to the wine. Some varieties, Corvina for example, are more susceptible to Botrytis. Typical levels of Botrytis are <5% in Rondinella, arround 25% in Molinara and 45% plus in Corvina.
4. In general, there is an evolution of aromas from fresh and fruity to give much more complexity and dried fruit characteristics.
Masi wines made using this technique include all their Amarone wines, including the Masi Costasera Amarone, their single vineyard Amarone and Recioto. Masi also make an Appassimento style wine in Argentina called Masi Tupungato Corbec.

Ripasso versus Double Fermentation (Doppia Fermentazione)

The Ripasso (literally re-passing) technique was developed by Masi Wines in the 1960s and the first commercial release of a Ripasso wine was in 1964 with the now world-famous Masi Campofiorin. The Ripasso technique involves adding the pomace (leftover grape skins and seeds) from the production of Amarone and Recioto to a batch of Valpolicella wines for an extended period of maceration. This has the effect of providing more food sources for any remaining fermenting yeast, thus restarting fermentation, which boosts the alcohol levels and the body of the wine. There is also additional leaching of additional tannins, glycerine and some phenolic compounds that all contribute to a wine’s complexity, flavour and colour. However, as described by Pier Guiseppe, this is akin to making one cup of tea with a tea bag and then re-using that same tea bag to make another cup of tea – the resulting cup of tea is not good, lacks flavour and is usually quite tannic – a useful analogy for Ripasso wines. Eventually this led to Masi developing the Double Fermentation (Doppia Fermentazione) method.
Double Fermentation essentially means that, in the case of the Masi Campofiorin for example, 75% of the wine is made as normal with fresh grapes. The remaining 25% of the grapes used to make the wine are also harvested and then left to dry for around 6 to 8 weeks. This concentrates the grapes as for the Appassimento method described above. After 6 to 8 weeks of drying the grapes are crushed and the juice is added to the original 75% wine made from “fresh” grapes. The high sugar content and yeast in the dried grapes causes the wine to start refermenting i.e. the wine undergoes a double fermentation. This method introduces aromas and flavours of dried fruits, body and more power to the wine but it is a less harsh process than Ripasso.

Masi Wines Tasting

A very interesting tasting consisting of wines made from “fresh” grapes and wines made from semi-dried grapes, as well as the finished products.

Masi Wines Tasting Sheet
Masi White Wine Components
The following are components for the Masi Masianco White Wine.
Pinot Grigio 2011 – Really fresh, dry and clean with aromas of green apple and lime.
Lightly Dried Verduzzo 2011 – lightly-dried – dried for just over 2 weeks – aromatic, good golden colour, rich, creamy and touch of smokiness.

Masi Red Wine Components
Fresh Wines
Molinara 2011 – light red ruby colour, sweetish nose, soft and round with very fresh acidity. Spicy, cloves and a slight salty tang.
Rondinella 2011 – medium red colour, fresh red fruits and slight smokiness. Touch of farmyard. Good tannins.
Corvina 2011 – Dark red colour with purple hints, darkest of the three wines. Cherries, damsons and fruity soft tannins.

Semi-Dried Wines<
Molinara 2010 – Appassimento 3 months – darker colour, higher alcohol, nose is much more coffee / mocha than the fresh wine. Spicy pepper and violet characteristics.
Rondinella 2010 – Appassimento 3 months – dark colour. Full, rich and quite tannic with lots of dried fruit character (prunes, figs etc.).
Corvina 2010 – Appassimento 3 months – full and round with lots of cherry aromas and flavours, nutty hints.
Essentially the semi-dried wines are richer and display more dried fruit characteristics. The are fuller, higher in alcohol and have a broader and more velvety, silky mouthfeel. There are notes of dried cherries, prunes and figs starting to creep in which combine with the fresh red fruit characteristics of the “fresh” wines. A balance of elegance and freshness with power and complexity.
Masi Wines Fresh and Semi Dried Samples

So How Do These Combine in the Finished Wines?
Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio & Verduzzo Delle Venezie IGT (Verduzzo Lightly Dried)
The two ripe grape varieties are blended in ratio of 75 / 25 Pinot Grigio / Verduzzo for this wine and all smokiness disappears. The wines is fresh and floral but the Verduzzo just gives the blend more structure that isn’t in a 100% Pinot Grigio. Full , fresh and sherbety with good length

Masi Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico DOC (Fresh Grapes)
This wine is a 70 / 25 / 5 blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara and is essentially a blend of the three “fresh” wines. This is a modern style of Venetian wine and is full, round and creamy with lots of fresh red fruit, cherries. Medium to light-bodied.

Masi Campofiorin Rosso Del Veronese IGT (75% Fresh / 25% Semi-Dried Grapes)
This is Masi Wines unique speciality wines made with the double fermentation technique. This is a 70 / 25 / 5 blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara but with 25% of the blend reintroduced to the other 75% of the wine after it has undergone Appassimento – the 25% wine is made from grapes that have been semi-dried for approximately 3 months. The semi-dried component add roundness and a velvety mouthfeel to the wine. The wine has plenty of red fruit and floral notes but is characterised by freshness and elegance but with a certain power. Campofiorin is rich and full-bodied and could easily last 10 years or more in celared correctly.

Masi Costasera Amarone delle Valpolicella Classico DOC
This is a full Appassimento wine made from a 70 / 25 / 5 blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. All grapes are semi-dried on bamboo racks for 3 to 4 months prior to vinification. Masi Costasera Amarone has a good, deep, dense red colour. It is powerful yet elegant with roundness and silky mouthfeel. There are plenty of dried fruit notes, cherries and prunes and flavours and aromas reminiscent of dark chocolate. It also has a slight hint of bitterness. A great wine.

All in all, a very interesting exercise and a very rare opportunity to be able to try the various component of these great Masi Wines. It is clear that Masi Wines have managed the happy marriage of Venetian wine-making tradition and family history with the forward thinking development and introduction of new wine-making techniques by the Masi Wines Technical Group.

Masi Wines Samples

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