Massolino, also known as Azienda Agricola Vigna Rionda, is the name of one of the small grape grower/wine bottling families in the Serralunga valley whose business is named after their most famed and popular vineyard, Vigna Rionda. The business began with Giovanni Massolino creating the estate in 1896, followed by his son Giuseppe subsequently building the cellar a number of years later. Today, the winery is still in the hands of the Massolino family with brothers Roberto and Franco Massolino along with Giovanni Angeli acting as winemakers for the estate.
Back in August 2011, the Australian wine importers for Massolino, Bibendum Wine Co., held a long-awaited masterclass to highlight the producers various vineyards. The event was held at the gloriously spacious and sea-view aligned restaurant The Stokehouse in St Kilda. Just to heighten the opportunity to make someone green with envy, see the menu below for what delights were in store:
The well-dressed Italian representative (because there always has to be at least one good-looking Italian at these events) was none other than winemaker Giovanni Angeli. Softly spoken, but groomed within 007 standards, he acted as our amiable host along with head of Bibendum, Robert Walters.
The afternoon slowly ebbed away as we were educated on the power of Serralunga. Just quickly, Serralunga d’Alba is one of the famous winemaking zones of Piemonte (within the Barolo winemaking area) that make these outstanding Barolo wines out of Nebbiolo, and the area where the majority of Massolino’s vineyards are enviably situated.
The Barolos of Serralunga hold a formidable reputation.
They are wines that are built for longevity and tasting the younger vintages (even 2007 and 2005 from the Parafada and Vigna Rionda vineyards, respectively) proved just how strongly positioned the tannins are in their youth. Their structure is undeniable. It is the combination of that power with a richness and durability that some view as working against the image of Barolo, while others bestow upon it a title as the foundation stone of great Barolo. For them, the produce from the small wine hamlet of Serralunga represents the pinnacle of Nebbiolo winemaking.
The Vineyard of Vigna Rionda
Query any warm-blooded citizen in the community of Serralunga d’Alba as to which three vineyards they are convinced remain the finest of the land, and Vigna Rionda (along with Parafada and Lazzarito) would undoubtedly be one of them. The vineyard itself is historically significant for raising the profile of the potential in Serralunga wines because of the stir of attention caused by wine hero Bruno Giacosa’s finest Barolo, Collina Rionda (produced up until 1993). His wines set the bar for smaller producers such as Massolino to continue the vineyard’s legacy, which they have unquestionably done.
Geek vineyard statistics
300-350 meters above sea level altitude
Predominance of south-facing exposure
Marly-lime soil slowing the grape ripening process and enhancing its acidity.
On a side note, the similar spelling of the word Rionda may mean that mentioning it has conjured up warranted/unwarranted images of Australian talent Rhonda Burchmore, yes?
Perhaps you are a rhymer and now in your mind you have a combination of Rhonda Burchmore and A Fish called Wanda à la:
The power of word association: Rionda –> Rhonda –> Wanda
Now to the Massolino masterclass tasting and then to finish, some final poetic words by Franco Massolino on life as a Piemontese vine dresser. Below, the notes under the wines title are taken from the Massolino tasting booklet. Notes in italic are thus my own.
Massolino Dolcetto d’Alba 2010
This is made from 100% hand harvest Dolcetto, sourced exclusively from Massolino’s Serralunga vineyards – 2.0 ha on lime rich soils at 330m above seal level. Average age of vines: 20-25 years. 7-9 day ferment followed by short maturation in stainless steel and released after four months in bottle.
Soft almond meal finish, no green tannins, young, fresh, majenta and flirty. Like a two year old: soft and cuddly but with a surprise kick to the finish.
Massolino Barbera d’Alba 2010
The wine comes from the Massolino’s 2.2 ha Barbera vineyard in Serralunga, where the vines are between 10 and 35 years of age. Manual harvest, 10-12 day ferment followed by short maturation in stainless steel.
More tart, plump, warm mid-palate weight of black olives, sour cherries, with a creamy, soft, milky finish after the initial bright entry. More of a savoury touch to the finish compared with the Dolcetto. Paired beautifully with the delicate starter that had hints of red onion through it. My breath smelt superb afterwards.
Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo 2008
The 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo was a beauty and this is a chip off the old block. Again, it is a striking, highly aromatic “mini Barolo” made from fruit exclusively from Massolino’s vineyards in Serralunga. The grapes here come from the younger Nebbiolo vines of the Estate (under 30 years of age). It could be legally labelled “Barolo” but Massolino prefer to declassify it as “Langhe” resulting in a stunning bargain. Hand harvested and matured in large oak barrels, this shows many of the hallmarks of an excellent Barolo at a fraction of the price.
Campari nose, sweet round tannins, barky spices to the finish, a little short, hint of salty soy, and an aromatic lift of truss tomatoes.
Food for thought: Langhe Nebbiolo’s are allowed to have 15% of other grape varieties in the final wine. Massolino’s however is 100% Nebbiolo.
Massolino Barolo DOCG 2007
100% Nebbiolo grown exclusively in the Massolino family’s Serralunga vineyards. It spent 24 months in large Slovenian oak yet is still very bright, highly refined and simply delicious.
More of an active lift with a hint of VA, less primary fruited to the mid-palate, length improved but still finishes with those thick, saucy tones. Autumn leaves and touches of smoke. Wine underwent a long maceration of 15-20 days. The 2007 growing season was characterised by a cool summer with good rains, a really long vegetative cycle on the vine, harvested in the second half of October so achieved ripe tannins in the vineyard.
Massolino Barolo Parafada 2007
Parafada is the only Massolino Barolo where a parcel spends some time in barrique; twelve months prior to spending another year in large oak. The Parafada vineyard has marl/chalky soils and the vines are 55 years old. It is typically the most powerful of the three Serralunga wines.
Crushed autumn leaves on the nose, more intense brick red hues over the previous classic Barolo. Dusty, complete tannins, full length of flavour and oh so deep. More clay in the Parafada vineyard and more sun. It is always the first to be harvested. The vineyard was bought in 1957 and planted in 1958.
Massolino Barolo Margheria 2007
The Margheria vineyard is one of Serralunga’s most important and famous sites. The Massolino family bought here towards the end of the 1950’s. The soil is calcareous (chalky) with a good percentage of sand, adding elegance, minerality and spicy notes to the wine.
A warming nose of strawberries and cherries soaked in alcohol, stuck, stiffer tannins, more delicate flavours to the palate, persistent flavour, and a well-defined finish. More floral on the nose and less heavy over the other vineyards. This attributed to the soil base being calcareous marl but with sand on the surface more so than the others.
Massolino Barolo Parussi 2007
Exciting stuff – a new ‘cru’ from Massolino purchased in 2007! This comes from a recently acquired parcel in Castiglione Falletto and is the only Massolino Barolo not from Serralunga. The commune of Castiglione lies near the geographical centre of Barolo where the calcareous soil endows this Barolo with a softer, slightly more forward style and sweeter tannins than the Serralunga vineyards.
Meaty and more rounded in style, salty, cheese-grater tannins, blocky, crunchy bread, but remains refined and strangely silky towards the finish.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda DOC 2005
Vigna Rionda is the heavyweight champion of Serralunga; the source of some of the greatest, most structured, robust and long-lived Barolo. The Massolino Vigna Rionda is always released with more age and so it is the 2005 on offer now. The soil here is not dissimilar to the Parafada vineyard (limey/chalky marls yet perhaps there is more chalk here) and the resulting wine is always ultra fine, pure and succulent Barolo with very fine tannins.
At this stage the food came out and this nose of mine was in a fight over trying to pick up aromas in the wine versus the ‘pasture fed Angus beef tenderloin served with a herb, gruyere and peppercorn crust, potato gratin’ before me. But OK. I still got gorgeous truffles and mushroom, super fine, ripe, savoury tannins. This was the most complete of the four Baroli, offering unrivalled length, depth and complexity.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda X Anni 2001
Most years now Massolino release a tiny quantity of the Vigna Riona Riserva at 10 years of age. It has a commemorative label and is presented in an individual wooden box. It is effectively the winery’s flagship. 2001 is universally recognised in the trade as one of the finest vintages of the last two decades and the wines offer great depth of fruit, lively acidity and beautiful structure for ageing.
Alive, fresh, but with a superbly concentrated nose. Has a big life ahead of it, delicate and fine-grained tannins, ashen, tar and beautiful. Fruit harvested at the end of October in 2001, which allowed for the very long cycle of vegetation. Ethereal.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda X Anni 2000
Riper flesh and fruit, dusty tannins, smokey touch, a little warmer to the finish. Brash. Less snow in the winter, no rain in spring. Vines under stress until harvest.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda X Anni 1999
So much more of an elegant perfume, freshness but with a herbal edge and petroleum lift. This seemed a little backward, having the boldest structure. The tannins were sweet, the fruit more black, more obvious Serralunga style. Mineral notes on the finish. 1999 had perfect conditions for the best ripeness of Nebbiolo. I suppose when I feel like a bit of balls (metaphorically speaking) then I’d drink the 1999.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda X Anni 1998
Looking a little short and warm, ot that expressive compared to the 1999. Burgundy roses with dried red fruits, light in palate weight. Malty finish, but fresh. Overall still tight. With time it will reveal those sensual layers I know are hiding under there.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda X Anni 1997
Un po’ rustico…but a good portion of it blew off. Dry fruited, sage, salted prosciutto with sweet, round tannins. Riper than the 1998 and experiencing a quicker evolution.
Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda X Anni 1996
Polyphenols higher than the other vintages because of the long growing season. It remained closed in the glass for the first 15 minutes, then you picked up those iodised salt characters, as if it were there to preserve its freshness. This wine appeared more extracted, but with the longest life ahead of it and looking the most pleasant out of the final three.
Massolino Moscato d’Asti DOC 2010
This is single batch Moscato made in small quantities and quite removed from the industrialized norm that has come to hijack the Moscato name. Produced from 1.5 ha of hand -harvested Moscato Bianco grapes (Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains) grown in Serralunga d’Alba where the average age of the vines is 18-22 years. 5.5% alcohol.
100% Serralunga. North-east facing vineyards for cooler sites to preserve the grapes acidity. Stoney and grapey. Superb way to finish.
Final words spoken by Franco Massolino, oenologist Azienda Agricola Vigna Rionda, in Andrea Zanfi’s Piemonte Noblewoman of Wine
“At last I’ve taken an afternoon off. It’s a long time since I’ve done this and I wonder why I don’t make these rare occasions a fixed rule. I love being out in the open air, spending an afternoon in the vineyard, taking a spin on the bicycle on which I can get me away from this job for a bit. Recently, unfortunately, I can’t spend time even with them and I often think how fine it would be to pass half a day among the vines with the mobile switched off… When this happens my mind, which runs fast in a thousand directions, suddenly finds pleasure in slowing down. This lets me determine priorities, evaluate the latest things that happened so fast and review plans that increasingly make me the index of the scale in the small discussion we have in our numerous family which, with old and young, consist of no less than eight people.”
“Year after year, everyone must have given something. A time that seems infinite but in reality, for this land of mine, is only the blinking of an eye with regard to the gust of wind that will accompany my passing through. If these clods of earth could speak they would surely recall how they were caressed by the three generations that have preceded me, and they would certainly tell me the stories, joys and misfortunes of my people. They feel that I belong to that family, they know I’ll look after them. I can’t explain in any other way the intimacy and familiarity I feel in these spaces, in these vineyards.”
“So it was natural that I should do this job with such intimacy: I couldn’t have chosen any other trade but vine-dresser, since it’s on this land that I feel best, even if recently I’ve had to abandon it somewhat, unfortunately, I have to deal more with the enological and business sector, while my brother handles the agronomic side of the estate.”
“Everything in its own time, and a time for everything,” my grandmother used to say. She was right, and this is why every now and then I stop and put a brake on my enthusiasm in order to understand the right time for a change of direction, for modifying the guidelines this estate has followed and setting them anew for the future. Right at the moment we’re going through a phase of reflection because we’ve realised that even if the estate has not grown physically or productively, in order to grow business-wise we have to make a further leap of quality, to economically rationalize production and find a better distribution of internal skills and of collaborations whose specific abilities can give us a hand.”
“Thoughts that run into the other: but they all flow freely and take their place to complete the mosaic that I have clear in my mind. And once again I must admit that, as I’d imagined, a stroll over my land has done me good.”