Unmasking Massolino

There’s something about the impeccable presentation of this fourth-generation wine producer. I confess I can fall into casual inverse snobbery when it comes to labelling; anything too fussy and clean raises suspicion. I wonder whether the people behind it know what fun is, or whether they’re too busy being perfect.
The home of Massolino, perched in the shadow of Serralunga d’Alba’s 14th-century castle, reinforces that impression. It’s a polished presence, although there’s a bit of mess inside with renovations going on. But those are only going to make it even more perfect.
Then again, I made this appointment because on the handful of occasions I’d tried the wines, I’d enjoyed them. And this would prove no different, except that it also brought home quite how misleading the personality-free packaging is. Massolino has a certain precision about it, no doubt. But it’s a precision that zones in on characterful varieties and wonderful sites.
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The tone of the tasting was set by the meticulous preparation of our glasses. A sacrificial drop of Langhe Chardonnay 2012 was lovingly caressed around every inch of the bowl, then gently discarded to make way for the tasting measure. After the token – and very good – white, the glass-readying ritual was replayed for a lovely suite of reds: Dolcetto d’Alba 2012, a pair of spot-on Barberas and the Langhe Nebbiolo 2012. This latter in particular deserves so much more than this cursory mention.
But let’s allow the Barolo to do the talking here. We kicked off with the Barolo 2009 (14% alcohol; $89 from Prince Wine Store in Melbourne), made with Nebbiolo grapes from Serralunga vineyards lying between 320 to 360 metres up. It displayed raspberry and black cherry, mushroom, forest floor and plenty of grippy, earthy tannins that arrived late on the scene. The Barolo Margheria 2009 (fruit from a Serralunga vineyard at 340 metres; 14% alcohol and $150 at PWS) displayed balsamic and orangey tones on the nose, along with spice, tar and graphite to go with the red fruit. More time is needed for the tannin to fully integrate, but it had great freshness.
Then there was the Barolo Parafada 2009 (14% alcohol; $150 at PWS), an elegant wine from a south-facing vineyard with 55- to 60-year-old vines. It had pronounced perfume and better-integrated tannins, a little more body, smooth, plum and cherry fruit through the mid-palate and good length.
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Next came the Barolo Parussi 2009 (14% alcohol; $150 at PWS), a more recent acquisition for Massolino (the first release was 2007) and also the only one of these vineyards outside Serralunga – though only a short distance away, in Castiglione Falletto. A more complex bouquet this time, with sweet spice, leather, tobacco and mushroom. Its colour was also deeper and the tannins more masculine, with high acid taking it through to a long and savoury finish.
Last of all was a pair of wines from Massolino’s most-celebrated site: Vigna Rionda, on the winery’s doorstep. This is released at six years of age (three and a half in large Slavonian oak, two and a half in bottle). The Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda 2007 (14% alcohol; $210 at PWS) had a pronounced nose of roses, red fruits, exotic spice, clove, mint and smoke, with roasted nuts coming in to join the wild strawberries and plums of the medium-bodied palate. Last of all, we were treated to the Barolo Vigna Rionda Dieci Anni 2000 (14% alcohol; $365 at PWS), a wine which was held back until 10 years after the harvest. It was pale garnet in colour, with a bouquet of game, leather, tobacco, spice, tar, liquorice and black fruits. Fleshy cherry, blackcurrant and blackberry came through beautifully on the palate, with well-integrated tannins and plenty of length.
It was always going to be a polished performance, but behind Massolino’s poker face lies plenty of personality. It was a privilege to see a bit more of it.

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