Masi Amarone and Risotto

Reflecting on two of Italy's greatest gems


I was recently on vacation with my wife. Together we sat under the stars, a small fire pit going in front of us and a glass of Amarone in hand. It was a wonderful moment in time that two working parents seldom get to enjoy. I spoke in utter contentment, “The stars are so beautiful.” My wife looked at me, and I looked at her, and she said, “I love… Amarone.”

So maybe it wasn’t as romantic as I may have expected, yet I nodded in perfect agreement. The fact is, with all of my talk of Barolo, Sangiovese, Aliganico and the amazing white wines of Friuli, I really do love Amarone.

Amarone is a wine that is made by the hand of man through processes such as Recieto (Appassimento), where the harvested grapes are left to dry for months before being pressed.
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This raises sugar (hence alcohol) levels and gives the wine a haunting level of depth, complexity and the ability to age. There is also Ripasso, which is a process where the newly fermented juice (usually Valpolicella) is passed back over the lees of an Amarone fermentation, which adds depth and complexity to an otherwise fresh and easy drinking wine. Be warned, however, that in the hands of some producers, these techniques are used to cover up an otherwise inferior wine. But in the hands of quality producers, they can create works of art. The Veneto is the perfect wine for a lover of big, bold Italian taste, especially when you are in the mood for decadence instead of austerity.
When speaking of Amarone however, these can sometimes be hard wines to understand. Some Amarone are big, rich and with a level of residual sugar that comes through in the finished product. Others are fermented to be completely dry and show a bitter quality marked by high alcohol. This can make it difficult to know what you're going to get when you purchase a bottle. And then there is the most common issue with Amarone, what foods to pair with it.
So what's a wine drinker/collector to do? First, it is important to understand which style you prefer and, once you know, to stick with like-minded producers. As for pairing, most people will offer pungent cheeses (such as blue cheese) or desserts with intense flavors but moderate sweetness. In many cases, Amarone ends up being a wine that is enjoyed on its own, simply because it can be so difficult to fit into a meal.
So imagine my interest when I heard about a tasting hosted by Masi Agricola called “The Risotto Rendezvous.” In this tasting, Masi placed a number of their Amarone against multiple risotto preparations to showcase just how well these wines could pair with this common Northern Italian preparation. At first I was surprised, I simply never thought to pair these two things from Italy that I love. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to attend the event.

Not only was I blown away by how well the Masi Amarone paired with the risotto, I was even more amazed by how balanced the Masi Amarone was on its own. I’ve had Masi Amarone before. In fact, the 2001 Masi Vaio Armaron Serego Alighieri Riserva was one of the wines that made me fall in love with Italian wine. Yet, as I think about the two styles that I outlined above, I come to realize that Masi somehow manages to walk a fine line between both, and the results are stunning. Raffaele Boscaini, son of the Sandro Boscaini and the president of Masi Agricola, led the tasting. Listening to Raffaele talk about these wines gave great insight into why there is such quality in the glass: passion. Raffaele shares a passion for these wines and the entire process of production, from grape growing through bottling. To see such a large company, by Italian fine wine standards, be so in touch with the product is refreshing, and it shows in the wine itself.

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  • Snooth User: Leah Mansback
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    I cant wait to make that risotto, looks delicious. Thanks for the recipe!

    Oct 27, 2011 at 2:36 PM

  • I tried Amarone for the first time last month, and absolutely fell in love. It was a shot in the dark, as the shops near me don't carry Amarone, and I had to mail-order it. So glad I took a chance on it! I have one bottle left of the two I ordered, and I'll have to give the risotto with mushroom cognac cream a try when I open it.

    The only sad thing is now I need to find a way to get more once that bottle's gone!

    Oct 27, 2011 at 4:20 PM

  • Several years ago we experience Amarone paired with risotto in Verona. The risotto was made using Amarone wine. Sublime.

    Oct 27, 2011 at 5:39 PM

  • Snooth User: hpartain
    885464 16

    Totally right on with this post! Amarone is one my favorites and solidified my love affair with Italian reds. And staying at Serego Alighieri's estate is a moment in history. Right in the heart of the vineyards... looking directly at one of Masi's production centers. Delightful in every way. Thanks for the memories. Time to go visit them again.

    Oct 27, 2011 at 6:26 PM

  • Snooth User: jennym
    183722 9

    I think there's an error in the directions for the Summer Berry Risotto...the last item reads "12 cup heavy cream"--I'm sure that's supposed to be 1/2 cup.

    Oct 27, 2011 at 8:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    jennym, thanks. : )

    12 cups of heavy cream might require and FDA warning on the recipe.

    Oct 27, 2011 at 8:08 PM

  • Snooth User: sipn
    785227 6

    Just a bit puzzled, is Amarone the same generic name as Amaro? Paul, Oct.28

    Oct 27, 2011 at 9:16 PM

  • Snooth User: sipn
    785227 6

    I am a bit puzzled, is Amarone the same generic name as Amaro? Heislep, Oct. 28, 2011

    Oct 27, 2011 at 9:24 PM

  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    I believe Amaro means bitter, opposed to the Recioto wines with more residual sugar making it a sweet wine, but also by the "apassimento" method drying the grapes before fermentation.
    Perhaps Mr Guido can confirm this, but I seem to recall that the Recioto was the first of the two types and that Amarone basically came about as a Recioto by fault fermented dry.

    Anyway, Ive always been kind of ambivilant with Amarone. It became quite fashionable in the 90´s, and since then Ive tasted through a good deal of the top names, and probably too many of the cheaper commercialised Amarone wanabees to fully understand what the fuss was all about. The latter group , which basically comprises all Amarones priced below 25-30$, is simply not worth the trouble. In this case you´d be better of buying Ripasso from a better producer.
    The former group, incl. such highly profiled names as Quintarelli and Dal Forno, are amazing wines, but they are eyewatering expensive, and seriously heavy on everything. F.ex. I have a few 2001 Dal Forno Amarone in my cellar with 17+% alcohol. This is just a difficult wine to match with food, and difficult not to get drunk while at it.
    Masi never really rang my bell (admittedly I only tried a couple from their range) but maybe I just need to focus more on the midrange wines and venture into untraditional pairings, like the risotto suggestion...
    I´d be happy to recieve a suggestion on benchmark Amarone in the mid segment that could perhaps convert me.

    Oct 27, 2011 at 11:37 PM

  • Snooth User: lingprof
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    omg, craving amarone and risotto.... on a ripasso budget. ;-) thanks for a great article.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 12:25 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    You've got it, Recioto della Valpolicella is the sweeter version and the first to come along. It's believed that Amarone was first made by accident. where a barrel of Recioto was allowed to ferment to dryness, hence creating Amarone. As far as my studies have told me, you are also correct about the relation to the word Amaro (Bitter).

    As for affordable producers of Amarone, I'd look for the entry level Amarone of Masi, Zenato, Tomasso Bussolo, L'Arco, and Tedeschi.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 7:19 AM

  • This article must have hit a high note with me. I went today and purchased David Sterza 2006 Amarone della Valpolicella (recommended by the salesman) and the Masi Campiofiorin Rosso Del Veronese (Rippaso). I can't wait to pull the cork on these even though I am sure the Amarone could wait a few years.

    Oct 29, 2011 at 5:31 PM

  • To Erniex- I fell in love with amarone on a trip to Italy in 1984. I then tried to buy it when I got home, nobody knew what I was talking about!
    My benchmark amarone in the classic style is, oddly enough, fom the Masi stable and is a single vineyard example called Mazzano- Amarone Classico della Valpolicella.I still have some of the 1990 vintage left and I suspect it will probably outlast me.
    Another super wine is the Casa Vecie Amarone Classico from Brigaldara try it if you can it's delicious. Try these wines with cheese, on their own, or, as I prefer, with roast duck, sublime!!!

    Nov 01, 2011 at 10:22 AM

  • Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere
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    Nice review, i live in as u say "amazing white wines" country, Friuli.
    Just a correction, the process of Amarone in not "Recieto" but "Recioto". Just a wrong key type... :)

    For all Amarone lovers, i suggest to taste Dal Forno Amarone and Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone.
    Personally i love more Quintarelli but both are great. Unfortunately both really expansive (buyed in Quintarelli winery Amarone 2000 150 euros).

    Nov 05, 2011 at 8:09 AM

  • Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere
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    @Eric Guido: i can't be explain the process between Recioto and Amarone better than u. Perfect! Amarone is born by accident as u say.
    About Amaro (bitter), is exactly the relationship with Amarone, Recioto is sweet and by contrast Amarone is called like that for it's bitter taste.

    @erniex: someone can say drinking Dal Forno or Quintarelli with food its absolutely disrespectful, too sublime to drink it with any food. Must drink alone with 4-5 good friends, better 2-3! Bottle like that bottles end up too soon!!! :)

    Nov 05, 2011 at 8:42 AM

  • Just had a 2004 ca'Rugate Amarone Della Valpolicella tonight. Outstanding nose, lucious mouth feel and great finish. Paired it with Osso Buca and risotto. Worked wonderfully.

    Dec 03, 2011 at 11:45 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    That sounds amazing, I haven't tried Amarone with Osso Buco yet, but I can imagine it's really something special.

    Dec 04, 2011 at 8:36 AM

  • Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere
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    Me too.. never tried with Osso Buco. If u never try it, pair Osso buco with saffron risotto.

    Dec 07, 2011 at 3:09 AM

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