Masseto was born ‘almost by chance’ in 1986 when it was decided to vinify the Merlot from the Masseto vineyard alone as it ‘promised well’. This small, exceptional and legendary cru has soon become a collector’s item sold in auctions all over the world. The first vintage was called very simply ‘Merlot’ but, from 1987, it has taken on the name of its vineyard ‘Masseto’.
The Masseto vineyard is a unique place. Blessed with the generosity of a Mediterranean climate, this small vineyard enjoys breath-taking views, which stretch to the Tuscan coast, and a mosaic of different soils including an exceptional presence of grey clay. The gentle breezes coming off the sea during the war summer months, the intensity of the sunlight and the specificity of the unique soils, allow the vines to develop and ripen gradually and contribute to granting Masseto its enchanting combination of freshness and ripeness.
The wine is the synthesis of its singular 7 hectare vineyard formed of three types of soil. At the top of the hill, at around 120 metres above sea level, the loosest ground is made up of clay and sand with numerous pebbles and, this contributes to the elegant nature of the wine. In the sloping part of the vineyard (with about a 10% gradient), grey clay predominates and gives the wine its structural backbone. Lastly, the lower rows grow on less clayey soil which lends the wine its fullness, warmth and generosity.
Masseto is 100% Merlot and is aged in barriques for 24 months, followed by a further 12 months in the bottle. It is then ready for release on to the market but still has a very long life ahead. The result is a wine with great structure and longevity which, due to the selection made and philosophy behind it, is produced in very limited quantities.
Climate and Harvest 1997
The start of Spring saw above average temperatures which resulted in an early budding of the vines.
The vegetative cycle slowed down somewhat following an unexpected frost in mid April and subsequent rainful until the end of the month.
From May onwards, the weather became very warm and dry and the Summer months were particularly hot, reaching above average temperatures. The grapes ripened earlier than usual and harvesting was carried out under ideal conditions, starting on 25 August and finishing at the end of the first week of September. The grapes were harvested totally by hand in small baskets of max.15 kg and conveyed immediately to the cellars.
The vintage was exceptional in terms of quality (with grapes that had matured perfectly with good concentration and well matured tannins), while quantities were somewhat lower than average due to the small dimensions of the grapes resulting from the dry summer conditions.
Vinification and Ageing
The grapes were destemmed and gently pressed and introduced into wooden fermentors where maceration took place over a period of 18-20 days and during which time the wine completed its alcoholic fermentation at a temperature not exceeding 30°C. The wine was then racked and introduced into new French oak barriques where it completed its malolactic fermentation and remained for a period of 24 months, followed by a further 12 months in the bottle before release.
This vintage is already the stuff of legend, even if it is simply the first in a long series of exceptional vintages. Warm and early, 1997 expresses better than all other years the sun-blest, sensuous side of the Merlot in Masseto. Spacious, dense and ultra-concentrated, displaying soft, silky tannins, the bottling has preserved all of the lusciousness characteristic of the 1997 vintage, but has developed a magnificent suite of aromatics as well, deepening its sensory impressions, so that its admirable power is accompanied by a gratifying elegance. Step by step it is advancing towards that “crowning moment” of maturity, but without haste. Impatient wine lovers might well open a bottle, but the 1997, beyond a shadow of a doubt, has a brilliant future still to come.
Tasted September 2011