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I had lunch the other day with Sandro Boscaini of Masi, the Italian Amarone producer, at Manhattan's Alto restaurant. Boscaini has a bit of that same mischievous twinkle in his eye that the late William F. Buckley, Jr. had (which David Remnick memorably described as "the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat"—so actually it's probably more fair to say that Boscaini has the same mischievous twinkle but without the implied hint of cheerful sadism). In any case, the lunch was terrific—chef Michael White's cooking blew me away—and the wines, a series of Masi amarones stretching back to a 1983 Campolongo de Torbe, were remarkable, too.
Boscaini has a way with a phrase, and I particularly liked this comment: "It's impossible to bring Juliet's Balcony in Verona to New York, but we can bring a bottle of Amarone. Through the juice of the grapes we can encapsulate in a bottle the romance, the culture, the story of a people."
He went on, "In Tuscan wines, the sense of Renaissance nobility—sometimes a little arrogance?" Yep, there's that mischievous twinkle, and a sort of half-smile to himself. Then, "But the Veneto...I think it's the sweetness. Supple, elegant, approachable, with a little understatement...we take life very easily. Even our wines, from the Veneto, they have a certain understatement or cordiality." Hemingway, he added, described the wines of Verona as dry and cordial, like the home of a brother one gets on with.
We tasted a string of 2001s, including the cherry-and-tea-leaf-scented '01 Vaio Armaron, full of sweet dark cherry notes and a nice lush depth, the '01 Campolongo di Torbe, with a note of black olive in the nose and spicy, exotic, cherry-blueberry fruit, and the '01 Mazzano, much more austere and brooding, its plum and dark chocolate wrapped up in drying tannins. Boscaini said, "Mazzano is very austere, with no voluptuous character. The vineyard is very high in the hills, the soil is very poor, and the temperature is colder. It's severe. Campolongo is more like a painting by Rubens, more color, more warmth. It has that illusion of sweetness that is typical of Amarone. Mazzano is more like Modigliani." A side note: this was very surprising to hear, as I'd just used the same analogy about two wines in my March column on Washington reds. He continued: "And Vaio Armaron is more a baroque style, an elegant, majestic wine."
The older vintages were all from Campolongo di Torbe, in honor of its fiftieth anniversary. I found the '97 Campolongo a bit overly ripe and raisiny—"gormless" was the word I used in my notes, which means brainless; mostly I meant it was a bit hulking. However, it came to life paired with White's delicious short-ribs. Context, y'know, it's a pretty crucial consideration. The '88 Campolongo I loved for its complex aroma of herbs, tobacco, dried cherry and clay, its round cherry pie flavors, brick dust tannins, and note of milk chocolate...just terrific stuff. And the '83 Campolongo, though a bit attenuated, was still intriguing and pleasurable, with a sort of delicate perfume of almond, dried cherry and licorice, and sweet dried cherry fruit wrapped with licorice notes.
I'll wrap this up with Sandro Boscaini's advice about the best way to enjoy Amarone, at least in its first twelve years. "Serve it with a piece of Parmesan cheese drizzled with a spoonful of acacia honey. It's a perfect match."