10 Things to know about Masseto

10 Things to know about Masseto

Masseto is without doubt one of the most beautiful Merlots in the world. Since the first vintage in 1987, this wine has gathered a large following of fans. Do you want to know more about how this cult wine is made and how long you can keep it? You will find out all of that and more in this blog.


1. What is the meaning of ‘Masseto’?

The famous Russian-American winemaker André Tchelistcheff was one of the first to recognize the unique terroir of the Masseto plot. He pinpointed this hill of almost 7 hectares with blue clay soil as the perfect place for Merlot. The layers of clay are rock-hard in some places, and they look like solid boulders. The Italian name for rock is masso. So, the name Masseto refers to this specific plot!


2. Wat else makes the Masseto terroir so special?

Besides the hill with the distinctive blue clay soil, there is another element that is an essential factor in the terroir of Masseto; the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is only 10 kilometers away from the vineyards. In summer, the water reflects the sunrays, which indirectly gives the vines even more sun. On top of that, the sea provides a subtle, but cooling breeze. The tempering effect of the breeze causes the ripening process to slow down and take longer, resulting in the perfect balance between tannins and acidity.

The vines are planted on a seabed that is millions of years old and full of minerals and fossils. The vineyards are divided over three sub-plots: Junior, Centrale, and Alto. Each plot has its own characteristics and together they form the unique character of the Masseto wine. The Alto vineyard is the highest vineyard and consists of blue clay, sand, and pebbles. The central part of the hill has the biggest share of blue pliocene clay. This plot makes Masseto so characteristically strong and concentrated and this is considered the most important part of the blend…

All these components together grant Masseto its unparalleled quality. And in Masseto’s own words: “Above, around, and below; sea. Without it, Masseto would not exist.”


3. How is Masseto made?

“Making Masseto is a balancing act, one feels like a tightrope dancer always on the edge of a precipice.” – Axel Heinz (Estate Director)

The vinification process is described by Axel as an adventure and an ongoing discovery all at once. At first, not everyone was convinced of the potential of Masseto's terroir. The soil on the hill is challenging; it takes precision and expertise to grow high-quality vines on this soil. In autumn, the blue clay is cold and wet, but in summer it is the opposite, the soil is very hard and dry. So, proper vineyard management is of the essence.

The harvest is carried out in several rounds, starting at the end of August and sometimes lasting until the first week of October. After the grapes are manually de-stemmed, the grapes are selected for quality once more and then gently crushed. After this, the fermentation starts in concrete tanks, which takes an average of 21-28 days. The juice is then transferred to 100% new barriques, where the malolactic conversion and maturation take place. At this stage of the process, all rounds of harvest are still treated separately. After 12 months of maturation, the different wines are blended together and then returned to the barrel for another 24 months of barrel aging. The final stage of the vinification process is 12 months of bottle aging.

 4. Does Masseto produce any other wines?

Several years ago, Masseto started to produce a second wine, called Massetino. This wine made its debut in 2019 with the 2017 vintage. In Tuscany, 2017 was not an easy harvest year, as it was very hot and dry, resulting in a lower yield, among other things. For Masseto, this was the perfect time to start the production of a second wine: Massetino.

Unlike its big brother, Massetino is a blend. It consists mainly of Merlot, supplemented with Cabernet Franc. This cuvée matures for a period of 12 months in oak barrels of averagely 50% new wood. After this maturation, the wines are assembled, and the blend gets another three months of barrel aging.


5. Is Masseto a DOCG wine?

No. Masseto is not classified as a DOCG wine, the highest level of Italian wine classification. Masseto was previously marketed as an ‘ordinary’ table wine and only later as a Toscana IGT wine. This may make you wonder, why should such an excellent wine as Masseto be classified as a Vino di Tavola? Well, that has to do with wine regulation. Around the 1970s, there was a movement of winegrowers in Tuscany who didn’t produce their wines according to the prescribed regulations. Sangiovese was (partly) replaced by international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Due to the use of these non-indigenous grape varieties, the wines were not allowed to be sold under the DOC/DOCG label. Therefore, these bottles were classified in the table wine category, the lowest quality classification. Some wine lovers would say: 'when you are in Tuscany, always buy Vino di Tavola.' Due to their very high quality and worldwide success, the wines were soon labeled as Super Tuscan. In theory, it may have been a 'table wine', but in reality, Masseto has proven each year what a fantastic wine it is! It turns out that they don't need the DOCG label at all…


6. Is Masseto part of Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia?

Tenuta dell' Ornellaia was founded in 1981 by Lodovico Antinori. Four years later, the first crop of Ornellaia appeared on the market. Fairly soon after its foundation and on André's advice, Lodovico bought a plot next to Ornellaia and started the production of Masseto. Since this single variety Merlot wine didn't quite fit into his concept at the time, they decided that Masseto would be a wine in its own right, instead of Ornellaia's second wine. The production of this wine took place in the wine cellar of Ornellaia.

This changed in 2017 under the management of the Frescobaldi family, who have owned it since 2005. A brand new, underground winemaking facility was built, fitted with state-of-the-art equipment. This amazing cellar holds the barrels and the famous Masseto caveau with all the vintages ever produced. The cellar has several levels and is set up in order to make use of gravity. This means that the wines can be moved by a so-called gravity flow. The wine flows, so to speak, to the lower levels, instead of being pumped from barrel to barrel. Forcefully pumping and moving the wine can cause the tannins to become stiffer. It also increases the chance of oxidation, and it could cause the wine to become over-extracted.

2018 is the first vintage produced in Masseto's own cellar and Masseto has operated as an independent winery ever since. It is no longer seen as ‘part of’. Although both wineries are owned by Marchesi de Frescobaldi, each has its own identity and vision.


7. What are Masseto’s best vintages?

Actually, every vintage from Masseto is exceptional, but there are a number of vintages that really stand out. These are: 1997, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2016.


8. When is the best time to open my bottle of Masseto?

Do you have a bottle of Masseto in your cellar? Then we advise you not to open it too young, because this Super Tuscan can last a few years. It is best to open this wine at least 5 years after the vintage date and you can keep the wine in your cellar for at least 20 years. Some vintages are still in perfect condition even after more than 30 years. If you really can't wait and you want to open the bottle sooner, then it is best to decant the wine for a few hours before drinking.


9. Why are Masseto wines so pricey?

Although prices vary by vintage, Masseto has always cost a pretty penny. The annual production is limited. Masseto’s cellar turns out an average of 30,000 bottles per year. Similar to, for example, Château Petrus from Bordeaux, which is also a Merlot wine. Considering the enormous and still increasing demand for this wine worldwide, the (rising) price is understandable.


10. How can I be sure my bottle of Masseto is authentic?

In order to guarantee quality and authenticity, Masseto has affixed a special seal on all bottles leaving the winery, since 2013. On this seal, you will find a unique code that you can enter on the Masseto website. This gives you access to the database, where you will find all data and information about that particular bottle and the vintage.

Also, it is important that you purchase your bottle from a reliable source. At Best of Wines, we buy the wines directly from the wineries, from importers with whom we work closely together, or from private collections. Years of experience have taught our specialists exactly how to check and evaluate a bottle. So, this is how you can be sure that the bottle in your hands is an authentic and well-preserved one!


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