Brand 'A'

When we think of European wine, we tend to think of it against a background of ivy-draped chⴥaus, dim cellars carved from rock draped in dust and cobwebs. Such chⴥaus and cellars still exist, if only for tourists to visit. But the current generation of European wine producers back up hoary tradition with technical innovation, savvy marketing, and restless imagination. Case in point: the Boscaini family of Gargagnano, just outside Romeo and Juliet's hometown of Verona in the northeast of Italy. Gargagnano is in the heart of the Soave (brisk dry white) and Valpolicella (cherry-bright reds) regions, both home to inexpensive, widely exported "quaffing wines." But it is also the home of amarone, a heavy, flavorful, long-lived red wine made from immemorially indigenous grape varieties dried for months in the cold winter air before fermentation. In the past, such wines were made in many parts of Italy, but today the practice has been all but abandoned. The Boscainis looked at the modest prices they and their neighbors were getting for modest soaves and valpolicellas and decided to put their efforts into reviving amaroneso successfully that their company name, Masi, is all but synonymous with big-ticket amarone for many consumers. Amarone, like champagne, is as much a manufactured as a natural product. Perhaps this predisposed the Boscainis to look for other ways to marry tradition and novelty. One that has proved successful is the wine called campofiorin. This wine, lighter than amarone but produced from the same native grapes, is given extra substance by "refermentation" of the skins and other residues remaining after amarone is pressed, making a hefty wine indeed for $14 retail. For all their mining of traditional regional resources and techniques, the key to the firm's success is based on a very up-to-date technique: branding. For one recently issued product, the Boscainis teamed with a descendant of the poet Dante to produce an after-dinner wine under his ancient family's name. Their latest venture shows them working the same pasture. Masianco is a white wine made from a blend of North Italy's workhorse grape pinot grigio and the more localized verduzzo, but it's not a straightforward blend: The pinot grapes are fermented as soon as they're harvested in late August, but the verduzzo are left on the vine another month, then air-dried another two or three weeks, then vinified separately. The two resulting wines are blended only just before bottling, allowing complete control over the final aroma, taste, and finish. All this fussing would be pointless if the result didn't justify it. At just $15, the debut Masianco, vintage 2002, is a remarkable wine, with enough weight to be served chilled like sherry or vermouth as an aperitif, but round and fruity enough to complement seafood or chicken, particularly in dishes with Asian-spice flavors. And true to the Masi-Boscaini "tradition," it's distinctive enough to stick in a consumer's mind next time the challenge of ordering for such foods arises. It's a technique that many high-end American winemakers and marketers have yet to learn.

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