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11/11/2016

Masseto dinner: The weight of expectation

by Oliver Sharp (Purchasing)

“After all, even Bill Gates will suffer from status anxiety. Why? Because he compares himself to his own peer group. We all do this, and that’s why we end up feeling we lack things even though we’re so much better off than people ever were in the past.” – Alain de Botton

The weight of expectation burdens us all but especially when those around us expect perfection – there’s only one way to go from there… isn’t there…?

And so it passed that a fortuitous meeting between Gary Boom and Alex Belson of Masseto spawned the opportunity of putting this parvenu through its paces with BI’s best judges – our customers.

The private room at Angela Hartnett’s starred Mayfair restaurant Murano was chosen as backdrop while Alex, herself, pilfered six vintages from her employer’s dwindling cellars – and with no less than three maximums amongst them – 2011 and 2001 (James Suckling) and 2006 (Monica Larner of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate) – they had a lot to live up to.

It was also notable that amongst our guests hardly any (all Serie ‘A’ wine lovers and collectors) had even modest amounts of Masseto in their cellars – indeed some had never drunk the wine itself.

So, over an aperitif of Ruinart’s delicious non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, we pondered expectations:

  • An over-wrought, new-fangled vino rosso vying for attention (and points) in a crowded market?
  • A formulaic, impressive but ultimately soulless wine crafted by numbers to appease the estate’s accounts department?
  • Or was it really Petrus’ ‘twin in Italy’ (as Jean-Francois Moueix mooted after the Masseto versus Petrus ‘face off’ in Florence with James Suckling)?

Masseto’s first vintage issued forth in 1987 as a Merlot dell’Ornellaia when Ludovico Antinori (erstwhile owner of Ornellaia) recognised the potential of this special 8ha plot on Tuscany’s Bolgheri coast. Since then, in a single generation, Masseto has established itself as an Italian icon, one of the world’s most sought-after wines and a wine with prices to match Bordeaux’s First Growths. Not bad for a Merlot. But does the reality stack up?

In a word, yes.

Masseto Dinner at Murano

Our dinner was sandwiched by two cooler vintages (the 2013 to start, the 2005 to finish) with two flights of pairs (2008 with 2011 then 2006 with 2001) making up the stylish fillings. All the wines fanned their peacock tails (apart from a single off bottle of 2001), displaying ever-so-splendidly the details of their respective vintages but united with a common theme of understated self-confidence, sense of place, balance, minerality, intensity, energy and sheer goddamn pleasure.

Notes:

2013 Masseto – fine, medium-bodied, ripe red fruits infused with minerality then an intense mid-palate rush that lingers well into a beautifully cool and elegant finish and sweet, sweet tannins.

2011 Masseto – you can feel the warmth of this vintage (the earliest ever) here – real ripeness and dark spice with solid structure - this one needs time to fully coalesce – look forward to trying it again – Gary?

2008 Masseto – oh so opulent and rich yet framed in a wondrous mineral latticework that entices you back for more – definitely one of the stars in show here and drinking already but with the promise of a starry future.

2006 Masseto – a more structured and intense version of the previous (if that were possible) – wow – an almost painful intensity on the explosive mid-palate and young, young, young – lock this away for a generation for a magical reawakening.

2001 Masseto – the superior of the two bottles – showing all the hallmarks of Masseto’s density, spice, minerality and bewitching balance – do believe the hype!

2005 Masseto – suffering somewhat in the shade of its more emboldened brethren, however given space and time the 2005, much like the 2013, opened into a refined but by no means shy version – no letting up on the intensity nor the character of this special vineyard – a really beautiful Masseto now and for way into the future.

And as we ventured back into the cold night everybody pondered aloud, “I really must buy more Masseto. In fact I really need to drink more Masseto.” Expectations exceeded. Status anxieties assuaged.

Our thanks to Alex Belson and Masseto for providing such a generous display of the estate’s finest vintages and to Murano’s industrious staff for their wonderful food and service.

We really must do it again soon!