Susan Hulme MW attended a rare vertical tasting of Masseto in December 2016. Below, you can find her top five vintages of this highly rated wine produced alongside Ornellaia by Italy's Frescobaldi family...

The background

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia DOC Bolgheri is located near the little town of Bolgheri in Northern Maremma, founded in 1981 by Marchese Lodovico Antinori in response to his cousin Marchese Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta’s famous Sassicaia, and brother Piero’s ground-breaking Tignanello and Solaia.

In 2004, current winemaker Axel Heinz joined. He works with consultant oenologist Michel Rolland, who has been involved from the start.

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Tasted: Top Masseto wines from this vertical

The ‘Italian Petrus’

Originally part of the Ornellaia portfolio, the 100% Merlot Masseto is now treated as a separate entity and is sold via the Place de Bordeaux.

Referred to affectionately as the ‘Italian Petrus’ due to its similar use of Merlot and cult appeal, it is one of Italy’s most prestigious and expensive wines, with the best vintages retailing for over £500 per bottle.

Pushing the boundaries

The grapes for this wine come from a seven hectare set of hillside vineyards consisting of clay soils that are rich in marine fossils and layered with gravel and sand.

Planting Merlot in the Mediterranean climate of the Tuscan coast was at first considered a risk; it is a challenge to retain acidity and restrain very high alcohol levels in such an early-ripening variety grown this far south.

Masseto regularly reaches 15 % abv, but Heinz feels that fine wine collectors are not especially concerned about high alcohol levels.

However, dealing with the effects of climate change is a key issue for Heinz, and he described how vigour can be managed to some extent in the vineyard by grassing between the rows.

Potential alcohol is also moderated by removing some of the younger leaves to reduce the sugar production of each plant, but it is the erratic weather patterns that are causing the most headaches. Extreme vintages certainly imprint their personality on the wines, but in my opinion this only makes them more interesting.

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