On the second full day of my stay in Piedmont, I started off at Massolino. I'm visiting 20 or so Piedmont producers while I'm here, casting the net a little wider than the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs, to Gavi, Roero, Dogliani and Asti; on my first day here I visited and tasted at Renato Ratti, Oddero and Pio Cesare.
After a surprise appearance on Monday, the sun continued to play hard to get. As I drove from La Morra to Serralunga d'Alba, the vineyards were shrouded in fog. My first stop was at Massolino, an estate I looked forward to visiting because I have some bottles in my cellar. The azienda agricola was founded by Giovanni Massolino in 1896.
Today, Franco and Roberto Massolino manage the property, which consists of 54 acres of vines, mostly in Serralunga. In 2007, they purchased less than a hectare of 20- to 25-year-old vines in the Parussi cru, located in Castiglione Falletto.
Roberto is in charge of the vineyards, Franco the production and also sales and marketing. With the addition of Parussi, they now have four single-cru Barolos in the cellar.
We focused on the crus, Margheria, Parafada, Vigna Rionda and Parussi, tasting the 2009 and 2008 vintages from cask, followed by some older vintages from the first three vineyards in bottle.
This is a fairly traditional estate, although there was some experimentation with barriques beginning with the 1990 vintaage. The first single-vineyard bottling was the 1982 Vigna Rionda. Parafada debuted in 1990; until the 2007 vintage, it saw some new oak for part of its aging. Now, it's all classic, large oak casks until bottling.
The soils around Serralunga are Helvetian in origin, older formations than the Tortonian sois on the La Morra side of the zone. There's a lot of marl and iron, giving the wines potential for longevity.
Margheria has some sand in the mix, so it is the more open and forward of the crus. It has a distinctive mineral element in its flavor profile when young. Parafada has the oldest vines, about 60 years old. The wines from the limestone soils there are full, rich and round, with plenty of flesh offsetting the tannic structure. Vigna Rionda is rich in marine sediments with minerals, thus tends to give wines of finesse and complexity, with wonderful perfume and racy structure.
The Parussi shows focused cherry flavor, but the quality of its tannins are different. They are more aggressive and in the young wines from cask, need more time to integrate.
From bottle, the 2000s are beginning to reach a mature plateau. The Margheria 2000 was exhibiting some truffle aroma and the Parafada still requires some time to absorb its oak.
This was evident as we moved to all three crus in the 1997 vintage. The Margheria 1997 was all truffle, licorice, mint and dried cherry, supple and rich, with a long, minerally finish. The oak had receded in the Parafada, which was rich and warm, featuring cherry, plum and licorice notes accented by woodsy, autumn leaves, yet still firm on the finish. The Vigna Rionda Riserva was the most floral of the three, smelling like rose, but also small red fruits, tobacco and spice.
For contrast, we tasted two 1996s: the Margheria and Parafada. Both these wines were more linear than the '97s, showing greater tension and length. Margheria 1996 displayed flowers, cherry, mint and licorice flavors along with smoky elements and a mineral finish. The Parafada 1996 had absorbed its oak, revealing cherry, licorice, tar and spice notes, very complex. Though rich, it had freshness and drive, fine purity and length.
The Margheria and Vigna Rionda Riserva 1989 demonstrate the aging potential of the Nebbiolo from Serralunga. The Margheria 1989 smelled like a spice box, exuding mint, cinnamon and earth. It was elegant, exuding woodsy components, spice and tobacco. There was sweetness, but also firm tannins that were a touch dry on the finish. The Vigna Rionda Riserva 1989 was brilliant, a mix of salumi and mushrooms on the complex bouquet. Sweet dried cherry, mushroom, leather and an animal component reigned the palate as this expanded on the mineral finish.
We ended with the first Vigna Rionda Riserva, the 1982. It was the essence of its former seabed origins, a mélange of saline, savory, iodine and licorice flavors, smoky and complex, finishing with a smoky aftertaste.
"In Serralunga, we are lucky to have wines that are both powerful and elegant," said Franco. Enough said.
Robert White — DeKalb, Illinois, USA — November 12, 2010 10:28pm ET
David Dickson — Sacramento, CA — November 14, 2010 10:40am ET
Albert Jochems — The Netherlands — November 15, 2010 1:28pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — November 16, 2010 1:27pm ET
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