Saturday, 23 July 2011

Wine Review: Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” Malbec/Corvina (2008)

Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” Malbec/Corvina (2008) Review:
Price: £12 per bottle
Availability: Independent merchants

Those who drink any quantity of Venetian wine will know the producer Masi. As part of a long and rich history of Venetian winemaking, Masi vineyards have been tended for nearly 700 years and in 1964 Masi invented the “ripasso” process (where lightly fermented Valpolicella is passed over the dried grapes left over from Amarone production) to create Valpolicella Ripasso. This completely new style of wine has now been awarded it’s own DOC status, one of the higher accolades that can be awarded to Italian wines. Recipients of numerous international accolades every year, Masi’s wines are a must try for lovers of Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso (“Campofiorin” as Masi terms it) and Amarone.

This Masi Tupungato wine is not from Masi’s Venetian estates though, instead this “Passo Doble” blend of Malbec and Corvina hails from Argentina and Masi's South Amaerican project Masi Tupungato. A new winemaking project for Masi, Masi Tupungato aims to combine “Argentinean soul” with “Venetian Style” in Mendoza’s Tupungato Valley. Here, in the Masi Tupungato “La Arboleda” vineyards, 1000 metres above sea-level, Masi is now growing traditional Veronese varieties, such as Corvina (the traditional base of Valpolicella and Amarone) alongside Argentine varieties, such as Malbec and Torrontes.

In the majority of Veronese vineyards, within the Valpolicella zone of production (Masi’s homelands), Corvina, Rondinella and Moinara are grown and blended to produce lightly fermented, vibrant and fruity Valpolicella, rich and full Amarone (produced from air dried (“appassimento”) grapes) and often a Valpolicella Ripasso (produced when the young and fruity Valpolicella is passed over leftover dried grapes from Amarone production). And this is almost exactly what happens at Masi Tupungato’s “La Arboleda” vineyards too.

Malbec is a substitute for the fruity and vibrant Valpolicella (although Malbec is not released by Masi Tupungato as a wine in its own right). Masi Tupungato’s “Corbec” substitutes for Amarone (made from air dried Malbec and Corvina blended together). And this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” substitutes for the Valpolicella Ripasso – made as it is by the vibrant Malbec being passed over the dried grape skins not used in the production of Masi Tupungato’s “Corbec”. The result is a wine midway in style between a Malbec varietal and Masi Tupungato’s “Corbec” Amarone-style wine - the result is Masi Tupungato's “Passo Doble”.

Officially 70% Malbec and 30% Corvina, this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” is aged for 9 months in French oak barriques (small capacity oak barrels) before release.

In the glass, this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” is a bright ruby red. Certainly retaining the vibrancy of a young Valpolicella style wine, the colour sits halfway between the vivid violet of a benchmark Argentine Malbec and a slightly richer and darker shade of red typified by under-ripe English cherries. There is just a hint of chestnut browning to the rim of this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” and legs that actually look a little higher than the quoted 13.5% in alcohol. Not particularly intense or deep in colour towards the centre of the wine, the suggestion is that this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” will be a more medium bodied style of wine.

On the nose, initially fleshy Malbec plums dominate the bouquet of this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” although a deeper morello cherry and prune lies within the centre of the glass. There is a slight raisined rusticity that alludes to this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble's" Venetian counterparts, although also a freshness that comes with Argentina’s high altitude wines. Warm, open and ripe in a new world style – this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” is bigger and more voluptuous (less restrained and uptight) than Italian Ripasso.

In the mouth, Malbec flavours again lead in this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” blend of Malbec and Corvina. Malbec plums predominate with an extra layer of complexity added by the Corvina. Flavours blend smoothly between typical (well made) Malbec and a darker cherry. The Corvina in this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” appears to remove some of the fleshiness in the texture of the plums making the wine seem smoother in texture than much Malbec, leaving a wine that is nicely balanced, with well integrated acidity and tannins. The length of flavour in this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” is acceptable rather than exceptional, although it is very easy drinking and nicely put together. A hint of vanilla spice right at the end of the palate adds a little complexity.

In all, this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” is an accomplished effort from Masi Tupungato (if one that leaves room for improvement). Still a relatively young venture it will take time for vines to mature into the intense old vines that offer many Argentinean wines their richness and complexity, which goes some way towards explaining this Passo Doble’s comparative simplicity at times. It will also take time for Masi Tupungato to extract the full potential from appassimento grape drying in Tupungato, a technique with which they have hundreds of years of experience with in Northern Italy. However, I can only see the results of this ambitious Masi Tupungato project improving over time as the vines age and understanding of the environment and viticulture improves. I look forward to trying both future vintages of this Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” wine and of course the range topping “Corbec”.

Masi Tupungato “Passo Doble” Malbec/Corvina (2008)

Score: 84/100 – Limited complexity, plenty of easy drinking enjoyment

Value for Money: 6/10 – A very well made “table” style of wine, should you expect more at £12?