How to make a lasting impression – Massolino (Az. Agr. Vigna Rionda), Part I

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Some make full use of that opportunity, and others, well, let’s just say they do not. In the case of Massolino’s wines, which I’ve enjoyed for well over a decade, and during my lengthy visit there in 2014 (I will return spring 2017, as well), my first impression is best summarized by something I uttered to myself many years ago, and still today, “these guys get it”.

And while I’m on the subject of impressions, let me take a moment to make a few things clear. I’m not a publicist. I don’t want to be a publicist. I’m a student and an admirer first, a journalist (if you will), second. If you’ve read my blog posts thus far, you know that’s the case, but I feel sometimes my enthusiasm for people/wines/places could very easily be misconstrued for any of the aforementioned; if I’m a sycophant of anything, it’s nature. My posts/efforts here are meant to recall my own experiences with the Massolino wines as well as my visits at the cellars and vineyards.

That said, you can find a lot of great information – history, family, vineyards, wines produced, etc., on the Massolino Website.

Franco is running a few minutes behind (no surprise, the man runs a business that does business in dozens of countries, is a husband, and a dad, etc., etc.), so someone on the Massolino team is sent to greet me and to show me their new project – a new (and HUGE) cellar and guest reception building. As you’ll see in some of the photos that follow, Massolino has outgrown the cellar they’ve used for decades; the problem is multi-faceted, and involves having too little space for storage, bottling, botti, etc., as well as having a space outside of the family’s house in order to receive guests, host functions, etc.

(below: the new project, no doubt many, many years in the planning)

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What you don’t see in the photo (above) is what’s directly to camera right, the view that Massolino has – some of the Langhe’s most enchanting and dramatic vineyards, as you’ll see in photos that follow. On a perfectly clear day (maybe one or two days per month), it’s easy to see the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in the distance.

I’m escorted to the room where Franco Massolino and I will have our tasting. It’s a grand room; there’s not a thing out of place. Moreover, everything we’ll need for the tasting (save the wines – Franco is selecting those personally and will bring them with him when he arrives) is already on the table. And when I say everything, I mean everything – grissini, two kinds of water, glassware, brochures, napkins, spit bucket, etc., and everything is perfectly arranged, as if someone were coming to do a photo shoot for a fashion magazine – maybe some visiting dignitary is coming today? (I re-check my calendar to make sure I’ve arrived on the correct day). It’s not artificial though, this preparation, it’s not too neat, rather, it’s just classy – (…ahhh, so this is how these guys roll). To be clear, there’s nothing spoofed here, it’s just the opposite, you see this is Serralunga d’Alba, and I’m a guest, and this is how Massolino, a multi-generational family of this historic village, treats its guests. I’m impressed, deeply, with the amount of effort and consideration that’s been put into the tasting/meeting, and it’s not even begun yet.

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Franco arrives, carrying the wines for the tasting, and greets me, welcomes me to his home and cellar. Before we sit down, we exit through the French doors, where there’s a terrace that overlooks the vineyards – Franco says it’s important to understand the land so that I can better understand the wines. I couldn’t agree more, in fact, I’m mostly interested in the land because I believe that it’s the land that’s responsible for the wines, not the person(s) in the cellar.

(below: Franco explains the Massolino vineyards – not all are pictured here – their farming philosophy, and how/why the family has added to its original holdings since the business was first established in 1896)

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I think it’s important to know a wine before visiting places like Massolino – let me explain. If I’ve got history with a wine/winery, and in the instant case I’ve been drinking their wines, regularly, for 10 years, I have already formed some opinions. More generally speaking, at the sub-conscious level, I may have even formed some expectations – be they higher or lower.

It’s kind of like label bias, but it’s not; because I have more than 10 years of data points, it means I’ve had plenty in the highly recommended category, and I’ve had plenty that fit firmly in the recommended (i.e. buy, but not necessarily repeat or recommend that friends also buy) category. My point is that once you’ve got history with a wine, you’re less likely to be wowed the first time you visit the place – even a place as breathtaking as Massolino.

I feel sorry, in a way, for the people that make their first visit to, say, Napa Valley – it’s just too much sensory overload, and well, you’ve got to be a part of this club, so buy, buy, buy! And then the credit card statements come, and there are some that may have wished they weren’t so wowed. I’m not faulting any of these people; I think it’s human nature. At least humans used to consumerism. I was, many years ago, this person, too, and in time, I learned to pace myself, and learned that it pays to know what you’re walking into.

OK, enough Punditry.

The first wine Franco pours is the 2011 Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo, “Having visited with Claudio at Giacomo Fenocchio a few days prior, I again see this most beautiful color of garnet red here at Massolino. Given that both are very traditional houses, and that both are extremely committed to high quality, I guess it comes as no surprise. But it did, and it was both welcome and comforting. The nose is heavily perfumed, very clean, zealously floral. The entry is as gentle as the color would indicate and as delicious as the nose suggests. A very fine effort in a less than ideal vintage. For a Langhe Nebbiolo, this has above-average complexity and length. 14,0% abv.”  recommended

Now, nearly three years since first tasting that wine, and after having had dozens and dozens of wines from the region that came from the 2011 vintage, I can say, again, these guys get it. This is now, as it was then, a terrific wine, and an exceptional value. Something much easier said than done in a vintage like 2011.

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In tomorrow’s post, I’ll pick up with my tasting of the four different Barolo wines Franco poured. I’ll also provide some details and insights that he shared during my two hour (recorded) visit. Spoiler alert: fascinating place, lovely, age-worthy wines.

(header photo: I returned, nearly a week later when the skies were perfect (rare!) to capture some of the stunning beauty that can be seen from the Massolino estate)

Part II

Part III

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