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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.
The bunches, hand harvested in 15kg crates, were carefully sorted by hand on a double sorting table before and after destemming and then subjected to a gentle crushing. Six different lots were vinified separately. Fermentation took place in both steel and wood tanks, followed by 15-20 days maceration at a temperature between 25 and 30° C. Afterwards, malolactic fermentation took place in 100% new oak barrique, and the different lots were kept separate for the first 12 months of maturation. The wine was then blended and reintroduced into the barrels for another year, making a total of 24 months. After bottling, the wine was aged for an additional 12 months prior to release.
Tenuta dell'Ornellaia makes outstanding wines even in poor vintages - better than any other. In the capable hands of winemaker Thomas Duroux and consultant Michel Rolland, the estate continues its long-standing, stellar record of world-class wine production. Even the estate's "second" wines demonstrate high quality grape growing and flawless production methods. Located in Tuscany's tiny coastal DOC of Bolgheri, the estate was one of the first to plant vines in the area. With producers like Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Antinori, Grattamacco, and Le Macchiole among others, Bolgheri is the hotbed of winemaking momentum in Toscana.
With the same name as the winery, a reference to the grove of flowering ash trees surrounding it, Ornellaia is the estate's principal wine. The 63 acres of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with small plantings of Cabernet Franc vines, lie on elevated parcels composed of clay, gravel, and loam soils. The clones of diverse origins yield a rich palette of nuances. All grapes are destemmed, gently pressed, and introduced into either wooden or stainless steel fermentation vessels. Maceration takes place over a period of 25-32 days at a temperature not exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, during which time the wine completes its alcoholic fermentation. The juice remains unblended until the wines have spent approximately one year in small French barriques. The final cuvee is assembled to evoke the vinous finess of the Cabernet highlighted by ripe, aromatic notes of Merlot in an elegant yet firm style balancing fruit, acidity, oak, and tannic backbone.
The estate's Le Volte is a blend of Tuscan Sangiovese with Bordeaux's Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that can be considered a "Young Ornellaia." They also produce Le Serre Nuove, the "second Ornellaia," and Masseto, one Bolgheri's greatest wines!
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