My days fueled by recent memories of traveling and experiencing the cultural significance of food and wine in California, Italy and France. Upon returning from The Kopf Scholarship, I unintentionally abandoned my blog. Mid-way through documenting my trip, I entered into an intensely chaotic work-life. My job in a NYC restaurant is demanding and time consuming. I love the pace. I am there nearly 10-12 hours a day (plus commute), and when I have a free day, I tend to spend it in a haze of running errands and researching new restaurants to try. I am constantly questioning “what’s next?” and seeking ways to increase my wine/food knowledge.
When I was traveling, wine did not seem complicated. It was a passion and a way of life, rather than a trend or commodity. At MASI, in Valpolicella, Amarone is made in the time-honored tradition of drying grapes on mats in drying lofts to concentrate flavor, sugar and alcohol levels. These BIG wines are the pride of the region. A skill that has been refined through a careful process.
We spent a very full day with the team at MASI Agricola, learning about the area, the grape varietals and understanding the focus and foundation of their wines. We began our journey with a heart-warming lunch with Sandro Boscaini, perhaps better known as “Mr. Amarone” in the wine world. We sat in awe as he shared his story with us.
Here we were, a group of young 20-somethings, who are still trying to figure out what life is all about, listening to the thoughts of a legend. He told us about his journey into the wine world, what he hoped to accomplish and of struggles he endured to get their. He shared his love for the area with us and told us the history and food, largely concentrated around seafood, as Lake Garda is a stones-throw away.
I work hard and hope to find success in my lifetime, however; I constantly face self-doubt and other frustrations. It was a pleasure to be reminded that mistakes and perseverance are apart of the journey.
After lunch, Oenologist Andrea dal Cin, gave us a guided tour of Valpolicella through a tasting of grape varietals. Valpolicella consists of three main varietals: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. (same grapes used in Amarone–the process for fermentation is just different.). We tasted each fermented varietal first alone, then their “semi-dried” versions and blended. We found that with Valpoilicella, team work is key. Molinara is a bright Veronese varietal, spicy with a little acidity and dryness yet is lack luster and falls flat on the finish. Rondinella is filled with red fruits such as pomegranate and has astringent acidity. It is not an intense grape but provides structure. Corvina is the most concentrated of the three grapes in color and flavor, and serves as the backbone of the wines of Valpolicella. Rich coffee and licorice, red fruit flavors were found in this varietal but it was lacking the interesting acidity and spice, found in the other voretals. When we tasted a blend of 70% Corvina (barrique aged), 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara it was apparent that these grapes were meant to be together. Bright red fruits, balanced acidity and light tannin that could be paired with light pork dishes or even grilled fish–perfect for the foods in this area.
To follow our tasting, Aurelia Pavel, took us on a tour of the drying loft and cellars and explained the history of their location.
As I previously noted, our day with MASI was very full, and our journey did not end here. In fact, when reflecting on our visit I mistakenly thought we were with the team for two days because of the wealth of knowledge we received. Later that evening, we went to dinner at a local restaurant on the top a hill that overlooked the entire region. They gave us a sample of local fare: hearty, rich and all together comforting. The kind of food that makes you feel loved.
A wonderful match for the 2007 MASI Riserva Costasera. A wonderfully luxurious wine filled with flavors of rich dried plums and figs. The intensity of this wine matched the richness of the braised beef cheek and the cream-sauce laden gnocchi and porcini farfalle. Needless to say, I went home with a smile on my face and only peaceful thoughts in my mind.
Sharing food and wine in Italy over a late night supper, has a way of making any and all worries go away. I love it.
Remembering the people that I met along my journey inspires me. It reassures me that the time I am investing at work right now will ultimately make me a stronger person and help push me forward in the restaurant industry–an industry that I have an unwavering passion for. I am reminded that wine is about honor. Honoring the land. Honoring tradition. Honoring the people who put their heart and soul into the process.
Slowly but surely I hope to share the stories and places I have been. Finding time right now is my biggest challenge…but I am always up for a challenge!