Merlot Masterpiece

By / Wine + Drinks / November 23rd, 2009 / 3

There’s Merlot, then there’s Masseto.

The admiral of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s red Tuscan armada (which includes, in ascending rank, Le Volte, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia and the flagship Ornellaia), Masseto was launched with the 1986 vintage and has since risen to the ranks of one of the most sought-after wines in the world.

The product of the geographically unique seven-hectare Masseto vineyard planted exclusively to Merlot, the first Masseto wine was vinified almost by chance. The fruit from this vineyard would typically be combined with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, but the 1986 vintage showed such promise that it was bottled alone and simply called “Merlot” (the change to the vineyard name came in 1987.

Leonardo Raspini, Ornellaia’s Agronomist and General Manager, was recently in Toronto (his first trip to Canada, in fact) to lead a tasting of four vintages of Masseto for a select group of journalists and sommeliers. Raspini explained that the hill on which the vineyard sits is made up of three distinct areas (Alto, Centrale and Junior).

“The top, which is about 80 to 120 metres above sea level has lighter, looser sand and clay which adds elegance. The mid section – about 60 per cent of the vineyard – is made of denser clay with a high salt concentration. The lower section’s soil has less clay and gives the wine fullness. Each section ripens differently and is harvested, by hand, at different times.” The final wine spends two years in French oak barriques prior to bottling. “A very good vintage without excessive rain, not too much heat and dry overall,” said Raspini of the 2006 vintage. Fragrant and ripe with smoky plum, black currant jam and flinty notes; ultra concentrated, rich, chewy and exotic with layers of sweet, smoky black fruit and remarkable length. Ideal conditions with a fair amount of heat resulting in a 2004 Masseto with great aromatic complexity hinting at black cherry, tobacco, mild vanilla and a touch of violet that carried through to a beautifully integrated, concentrated wine that needs at least another five years to show its real face. Described as an “exceptional vintage” by Raspini with a touch of spring frost resulting in some natural crop thinning. Cherry liqueur, mocha, wet slate and wild berry aromas lead to a massively structured, dense and mouth-filling blockbuster that nonetheless managed to deliver a certain elegance and finesse. The 1997 displayed Mediterranean warmth with some herbal/anise/black olive components blending with the black plum, bramble and chocolate flavours. Long and intense.

The only downside to Masseto is its availability. As always, there ain’t much of it and everyone wants it. Pascal Del Peschio, Vice President & General Manager, Authentic Wines & Spirits Merchants may be able to help you out. Call 905.238-0716 ext.#319

Tidings Contributing Editor visited Tenuta dell’Ornalia as well as some other top Tuscan producers. Read about his further adventures in “Tuscany — Hotbed of Innovation.”

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Looking at the small things that make life great and the people who create them.

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