During the release of our new Italy Investment Report, Cult Wines will be publishing a series of videos showcasing a selection of key Italian producers. We continue this week with legendary Super Tuscan, Masseto.
Italy’s magical Merlot, Masseto is one of the most well-known and best-performing components of the Liv-ex Italy 50 index and more than thirty years after its first vintage, continues to stand apart from its Bolgheri neighbours.
1. It was a breath of fresh air Italy
The estate was first founded by Lodovico Antinori in 1981 – a time when Italy’s wine landscape was still hampered by outdated and restrictive laws regarding grape varieties and wine production. Antinori intended to produce Bordeaux-style wines on the Bolgheri site, and after first creating Ornellaia, and later Masseto, had created two of Italy’s most celebrated labels. It was a risk, though, as the time, Merlot was a largely unknown quantity in the region.
2. Its name comes from the area’s terroir
Acclaimed oenologist Andre Tchelistcheff first identified that the terroir of the Masseto hill, with its unique grey and blue clay, would be particularly well-suited to planting Merlot. The name Masseto comes from the presence of the masses of clay on the hill, which are as hard as rock: ‘masso’ in Italian means rock or boulder.
3. It was a hit from the get-go
The first vintage was released in 1986 to immediate acclaim. Its reputation increased through the vintages of the 1990s and was cemented by many future legends created in the 2000s and early 2010s. It received its first perfect 100-point score for the 2001 vintage, thus sealing its fate as a collectible.
4. It did, for a while, live in the shadow of Ornellaia…
Despite both wines enjoying similar levels of acclaim, Masseto was for a long time in the embrace of its neighbour Ornellaia, which debuted in 1985. Indeed, Antinori’s estate was originally called Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, later changing its name to Ornellaia e Masseto in 2012, to better reflect its two flagship wines.
5. …yet each is decidedly different
Ornellaia’s former manager, Leonardo Raspini, said that “while Ornellaia is the maximum expression of Bolgheri and its Bordeaux blends, Masseto represents the ultimate expression of a single vineyard planted with a single variety”.
6. It finally has its very own home
From the first vintage, Masseto was vinified and aged at Ornellaia, but spring 2019 saw the official opening of the label’s own winery. The 27,000-square-foot, ultramodern underground facility was created with a revamped cellar, top-of-the-range vinification systems and a wine caveau featuring every vintage dating back to 1986. The 2018 vintage (only the 33rd vintage to be produced) is the first to be made in its very own winery.
7. Its team is mindful of the changing climate
The vineyard converted entirely to organic farming in 2012, and the new facilities were also designed with the future in mind. Its numerous tanks are small enough that parcels can be vinified separately, and the site-specific finessing is even more granular at the barrel level, where the team can compare wines from plots with different soil management and training systems. According to estate director Axel Heinz: "These trials will hopefully give us precious information on how to adapt our farming to the upcoming challenges of climate change."
8. It’s very hard to get hold of
Production totals around just 30,000 bottles a year. Coupled with its legendary status, this scarcity means Masseto consistently commands very high prices at auction, with the average bottle costing around £630.
9. It has a second wine
Masseto’s second wine, ‘Massetino’, is a relatively new arrival, debuting with the 2017 vintage in autumn 2019. It came about following a hot and dry growing period when less Masseto was produced, and the estate felt it was the ‘right moment’ to pursue a second wine. Its inaugural distribution will be limited only to select accounts in Italy and the US.
10. Its owners recognise and support its individuality
In 1999 Lodovico sold a minority stake of Ornellaia to the Robert Mondavi winery. The Mondavis bought the rest of the shares three years later and then sold half of them to the Frescobaldi family. After the demise of the Mondavi empire, the Frescobaldis bought the remainder of the shares in 2005, becoming the sole owners of Ornellaia e Masseto. To their credit, the Frescobaldis treat the firm as a separate entity, allowing Ornellaia e Masseto to remain in a class of its own.