Friday, February 1, 2013

Massolino: "Family-Style" Barolos

Sunday October 14th was the last day of the Decanter Piedmont Reader Weekend; and we were not happy about that. We had had a great time to date visiting wineries, speaking to proprietors, eating great food, and drinking great wine; and we did not want it to end.  Well, pouting would not help.  We had a full day of activities still ahead of us, beginning with a morning winery tour and tasting with Massolino estate in Serralunga d'Alba.

Serralunga d'Alba is a small, medieval village in the Langhe region of Piedmont that is 7100 meters long, 1800 meters wide at its widest point, sits on a hill 414 meters above sea level, and serves as the eastern flank of the Barolo wine production zone.  According to, Serralunga d'Alba is one of only three of the 11 Barolo communes that are contained in their entirety within the production zone (the remaining two are Barolo and Castiglione Falletto).

According to Gambero Rosso (Serralunga Barolo: The unrushable wine;, Serralunga d'Alba has "compact, sandstone-based soils dating from the Helvetian period."  These soils are high in sand, limestone, iron, phosphorous, and potassium and, as a result, produce wines that are intense and structured and that need time to mature.

When we arrived at the Massolino Cantina after our trip from the hotel, we were greeted in the courtyard by a smiling Franco Massolino who proceeded, during the course of an introductory "seminar" in the courtyard, and continuing dialogue during the course of our walking tour, to detail the estate's philosophy and practices.

The Massolino winery was created by Giovanni Massolino in 1896 and all through the years it has been operated as a family enterprise with brothers Franco and Roberto, enologists both, managing the current incarnation.  The style of wine espoused by the family is a pure expression of Nebbiolo which demonstrates a balance between power and excellence.  Franco refers to this style as "classic" and sees aging in large barrels as a key enabler of that style because the barrels respect and protect the classic bouquet of Nebbiolo.  There was an idea in the market, according to Franco, that consumers would like a wine that was dark in color and some winemakers began to use barriques for aging in order to acquire this darkening effect.  That is not classic Nebbiolo and the decision was made by the estate in 2006 to return to its roots and only age Barolo in large bottes.

Massolino is focused on the production of the highest quality wines possible and, towards that end, grows all of its own grapes. The principal estate vineyards are detailed in the table below.

The grape varieties planted at Massolino vineyards include Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Moscato, and Chardonnay.  The estate began making Chardonnay wines in 1991 based largely on a sense that the variety would thrive in the region's chalky soil.

Fermentation is carried out in resin-lined cement tanks or stainless-steel tanks.  Cement tanks are desirable for their ability to maintain purity of fruit and freshness, according to Franco.  He also mentioned that 10 to 15 years ago, consultants had been recommending deserting cement tanks for stainless steel.  Massolino had not gone down that path and now cement is back in vogue.  Their choice is to use cement vats and when those are not available then use stainless.

Large Slovenian oak casks are used for aging all the wines with the exception of the Chardonnay and Barbera which are aged in barriques.

After our walk-through of the winery, we repaired to the tasting room to sample some of the estate's offerings:
  • 2011 Chardonnay -- The grapes were picked a little early in the cycle.  Some of the fruit was aged in cement and some in oak and then blended. Golden yellow color. Sweet white flower and vanilla nose.  A rich creaminess resulting from 9 months of battonage.  Chalky minerality and spiciness.  Persistent finish.
  • 2011 Dolcetto -- Stainless steel and cement in search of a pure expression of fruit.  Cherries.  Good body. Spicy. Fresh. Soft tannins. Long finish.  Franco felt that this wine would be great with appetizers but felt that the freshness and tannins would allow it to be drunk with the entire meal.
  • 2011 Barbera -- Fermented in stainless steel and cement. Turpentine and petrol on the noseRed pepper and rust on the palate.  Tight and short on the finish.
  • 2010 Barbera -- 5000-bottle production.  Aged for 18 months in barrique.  Extracted color and more appealing nose.  Strawberry and spice.  RIch with good acidity.
  • 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo -- Violet, green flower, dill, marine, spiciness.  Freshness and purity of fruit.  Non-corrosive tannins.
  • 2010 Barolo Classico -- Translucent. Sweet tar, tobacco, and hint of violets.  Molasses on the palate along with weightiness, texture, and balance.
  • 2007 Margheria -- Perfumed nose.  Fresh, pure fruit. Elegant with a long finish.
  • 2007 Parafada -- Closed.
  • 2007 Parussi -- Tar. Green bean. Non-complex.Chalky minerality. Long finish.
  • 2005 Riserva Vigna Rosada -- Complex. Bean. Stale beer. Elegance.Late-arriving tannin. Great acidity with a long mineral finish.

This winery's focus on quality was evident in Franco's conversation as well as the look and feel of the surroundings.  This is an estate that knows the type of wines that it wants to produce and is doing so to the tune of 120,000 bottles annually.  The winery has explored what modernity has to offer and have adopted the things that have improved the quality of the operations but have discarded those which have led away from what they perceive to be the traditional style (the family style) of Barolo.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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