2017 Masseto Toscana Igt, Tuscany, Italy
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The Masseto 2017 Masseto puts on another exhilarating, knock-out performance for the third year in a row. The Masseto vineyard is a triangular-shaped plot tucked in at the back of the same property that houses the Ornellaia vineyards and winery. This special site is located at the base of the mountains that rise gently from the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the picturesque silhouette of the Castiglioncello castle at the top. The vines are planted at an altitude of 80 to 100 meters above sea level in blue clay soils that are unique to Bolgheri. That ideal position opens the vineyards to soft breezes, proximity to the sea, long daylight hours and cool diurnal shifts from the protective wall of low mountains at the back. It’s a little garden of Merlot Eden. The center of the vineyard now is home to the new Masseto winery and an adjacent tasting room built into a pre-existing farmhouse. This wine was made in the old winery (the existing Ornellaia winery). Fermentation kicks off in a combination of steel and oak tanks before the wine is racked over to barrique, where it rests for two years. The wine then goes into bottle for 12 months before its release. Like most vintages of Masseto tasted this early in the game, the oak is omnipresent, and it grounds the wine in terms of texture and structure. It is powerful, but that’s always the case with Masseto (this vintage records a 15.5% alcohol content). I tasted this wine next to the decidedly more playful Massetino, and the Masseto moves over the palate with substantial fruit weight and concentration gained over the course of this hot and dry growing season (which produced smaller, richer and more compact berries). Perhaps, what this vintage lacks is that profound varietal character that we saw in recent vintages like 2016 and 2015. If concerned that the hot vintage would draw out too many ripe fruit tones, the oak serves to soften some of the more volatile components of the fruit. Those distinctive notes of macchia mediterranea (wild bush) that I always associate with Masseto are less present in this vintage. You feel the oak tannins on the finish with toast and vanilla that will certainly shed as the wine ages. In fact, I went back to taste the wine 12 hours later, and they had already softened considerably. – Monica Larner, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 97 points
“This place is very natural, rough, unspoilt. It is quite a tough site. One would not expect it to be capable of producing this kind of wine. We are always on the edge of making a great wine, and it can go either way. But this vineyard always delivers. There is a real power here and it is really nature that makes all the important decisions.” – Axel Heinz, Estate Director, Masseto
The winemaking philosophy at Masseto is more about accompanying rather than forcing things. the vines at Masseto seem to be continuously struggling with the elements. Such a place must be carefully managed by man’s hand, to sustain it without adding any further stress. At Masseto minimum intervention is the keyword. The extraodinarily concentrated grapes need no sophisticated winemaking but simple operations.
Masseto sits in a protective sweep of the Bolgheri hills yet the sea as an integral part of every Masseto vintage. In summer, its rippling surface acts as a vast mirror, amplifying the sun’s brightness. The refracted sea light – pure, intense and indirect – fuels the vines, mellowing the grape tannins to a voluptuous, subtly nuanced balance. As light pours over the vineyard, the sea breezes that slide between the vines and around the bunches temper the ripening process, and prolong the gentle evolution of bracing, balancing acidity and ensure the fruit is refreshed in the driest months and dry in the wettest. Beneath the earth, a third maritime influence is at work. Roots find their way into the tract of million-year-old blue clay on which the vineyard now sits. Once seabed, it is filled with minerals and fossils of the life that was. Above, around, and below. Without the sea, the wines of Masseto would not exist.