Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Italian Merlots: Le Macchiole's Messorio (Bolgheri, Tuscany)

In a January 2001 article on Italian Merlot (New Wave Merlot in Italy, Wine, Franco Zillani notes that the presence of Merlot in Italy was first documented by one Salvatore Mondini who identified the variety as being present "in various regions of the north as well as in Tuscany, Latium, ... and Campania ..." From these beginnings, Merlot, according to Zillani, spread through the northeastern zones of Veneto, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige but, even though ranked fifth in vines planted in Italy, the variety was never taken seriously in the classic production zones. All of this changed in the 1990s, however, when non-traditional zones began to experience success with Merlot planted in the appropriate terroirs and with tightly managed yields. I continue my examination of Italian Merlots with a look at Azienda Agricole Le Macchiole's Messorio.

Le Macchiole is a 22-ha estate located in Bolgheri DOC just across Bolgheri Road from the famed Tenuta dell'Ornellaia estate and 5 km away from the sea.  According to, the current incarnation has its roots in an estate of the same name founded in 1975 by the father and grandfather of the late Eugenio Campolmi (co-founder, along with his wife Cenzia Merli, of the current estate) when they decided to produce and sell wines from grapes grown in their small vineyards.  These founders utilized contemporary farming and winemaking practices and this, combined with poor vineyard positioning and soil quality, yielded low quantities of poor quality wine. When Eugenio took control of the business in 1981, he moved decisively to change the direction of the estate.  He made the decision that the location was not conducive to success so he purchased 9 ha of land in the current location in 1983. Not being sure of what varieties would grow best in this new location, Eugenio embarked on a path that would become the hallmark of the company -- experimentation to determine the best fit for the environment. For example, Le Macchiole was the first estate in Bolgheri to plant Syrah, the first to adopt high-density planting, and the first to produce a monovarietal Cabernet Franc.

The climate that Le Macchiole contends with is temperate, thanks to its proximity to the sea, but the temperature at its location is higher than anywhere else in Bolgheri. The soil is deep and clayey with significant stone and rock deposits. Vineyards are planted to 10,000 vines/ha, are short-cordon-spur pruned, and have been organic since 2002.

Messorio, a Merlot monovarietal, is the estate's flagship wine. Its initial vintage was 1994 and since then it has received much critical acclaim, including a 100-point score from Wine Spectator for the 2004 vintage. Yields are managed tightly through the use of weak rootstocks and thinning of vines.  The grapes are harvested manually and fermented for 20 days in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine is then aged in oak -- 75% new, 25% second passage -- for 16 to 18 months. Annual production averages 8000 bottles.


At a 2009 tasting of the 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 vintages of Masseto and Messorio (held at Enoteca Bleve and led by the respective enologists Axel Heinz and Luca D'Attoma), Axel Heinz opined that the wines were set apart by different visions and stylistic interpretations of similar terroir with the result being that Masseto was "more powerful and more concentrated, with extremely 'aristocratic' tannins" while Messorio was "leaner, and almost 'austere'.

I look forward to exploring those differences.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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