Le Macchiole Messorio 1994-2006: A Study in Greatness

1994 Le Macchiole Messorio   96

1995 Le Macchiole Messorio   96

1997 Le Macchiole Messorio   94

1998 Le Macchiole Messorio   93

1999 Le Macchiole Messorio    96

2000 Le Macchiole Messorio   95

2001 Le Macchiole Messorio   96

2002 Le Macchiole Messorio   94

2003 Le Macchiole Messorio   94

2004 Le Macchiole Messorio   ?

2005 Le Macchiole Messorio   92+

2006 Le Macchiole Messorio   97

Le Macchiole’s Merlot Messorio is one of Tuscany’s most sought-after wines. And with good reason. Over the years Messorio has built an extraordinary track record. This incredible tasting with proprietor Cinzia Merli spanned every vintage of Messorio back to the inaugural 1994. I was completely blown away by how well the wines showed. In most vintages Messorio is expressive even when it is young, yet it also has demonstrated the ability to develop spectacularly well in bottle in a distinctly personal, intimate expression of Merlot from Bolgheri. Frankly, after tasting the 1994 and 1995 I found it virtually impossible to move on to the more recent vintages. Not that there was anything wrong with them. Far from it. It’s just that those older wines were at absolutely glorious peaks of expression, while every wine that followed was more about potential.

Eugenio and Cinzia Campolmi bought Le Macchiole in 1982. The land belonged to a family that had acquired it through a sharecropping arrangement with the Antinoris, a common practice at the time. The first vineyards were planted in 1983 and the first wines were produced in 1987. In the early years Le Macchiole made far simpler wines in the style that was the norm for the era. There were two whites, two reds and one rosé. In 1989 the Merlis began working with oenologist Vittorio Fiore. Their aim was to make more ambitious Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines modeled after the big three of Maremma: Grattamacco, Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Oenologist Luca d’Attoma arrived in 1991. Le Macchiole began to turn its attention the single-variety wines and micro-vinifications that form the core of the estate’s approach to this day. D’Attoma planted new vineyards and experimented with different rootstocks in 1991 and 1993, followed by his first trials with higher plant densities in 1998. Sadly, Eugenio Campolmi passed away in 2002 at 40, far too young to see just how beautifully Le Macchiole’s early wines have blossomed. Those wines are more than a fitting tribute to his vision, passion and, ultimately, his legacy.

Messorio, a 100% Merlot, remains Le Macchiole’s signature wine. The first vintage of Messorio was 1994. The estate made just two barriques (600 bottles) of the 1994 and 1995, wines that are breathtaking today. In 1997 production doubled to a whopping four barriques. In subsequent years production has gradually increased to about 10,000 bottles from 7.5 hectares of Merlot. Additional vineyards were planted during the late 1990s and 2001. Messorio is aged in 100% new French oak. In 1998 Le Macchiole began experimenting with the 122-liter ½ barrique, an approach they used until 2007, when the standard 255-liter barrique was reintroduced.

The 1994 Messorio is an unbelievable wine with which to begin this tasting. The aromatics alone are profound. Espresso, mocha, grilled herbs, menthol sweet tobacco and spices are just some of the nuances that waft from the glass in this sublime, totally spellbinding wine. The 1994 is at an intersection where a classic sense of structure meets Maremma warmth, yielding a wine of extraordinary class. The oak is beautifully integrated, and everything about this wine is first-rate. In 1994 Le Macchiole produced just two barrels of Messorio. Odds are I will never get to taste the 1994 again, but I will always remember the time I spent with this bottle. The 1994 is simply unforgettable and an unreal achievement for a wine in its first vintage. Readers fortunate enough to still own bottles are in for a treat. Drinking window: 2011-2020.

The 1995 Messorio is quite a bit more youthful than the 1994. It shows terrific purity in its dark fruit, with a bouquet that is only now beginning to move into the tertiary stage. Sweet, ripe tannins frame the fruit beautifully all the way through to the intense, perfumed finish. The wine needs time in the glass for all of the elements to meld together, but over time the 1995 makes a strong challenge to the 1994, if not surpassing it in some ways. This is another stunning, emotionally moving wine from Le Macchiole. Here, too, total production was just two barrels. Drinking window: 2011-2030.

The 1997 Messorio is quite marked by the vintage. Firm, powerful tannins still prevail in this youthful, virile Messorio. After having tasted the 1994 and 1995 it is frankly a bit difficult for the palate to grasp the 1997. This is a wine with a brilliant future. I suspect the 1997 will always show a slight edginess to its tannin that is consistent with a hot year, but this is nevertheless a hugely impressive wine that is sure to deliver considerable pleasure to those who can wait. Drinking window: 2015-2027.

The 1998 is a bit of an anomalous Messorio for several reasons. For the first time the wine was aged in small 122-liter cigarillos. The estate also performed more leaf thinning than was the norm at the time. Those two decisions, coupled with a warm vintage, resulted in an opulent, port-like Messorio that stands out from every other vintage before or since.  The 1998 takes some time in the glass for the bouquet to find its center. Super-ripe blueberries, blackberries, tar, licorice and smoke are just some of the nuances that flow from the sweet, textured 1998. According to Cinzia Merli, the 1998 is a vintage her late husband Eugenio adored. The 1998 expresses a style of experimentation in viticulture and winemaking that was in vogue in Italy in the late 1990s. While a notable achievement for its time, in retrospect the 1998 comes across as overdone when tasted in context of the vintages that preceded and succeeded it. Drinking window: 2011-2020.

The 1999 is one of the more focused, intense Messorios in this lineup. It shows the minerality and drive of the cooler vintage in its clean, beautifully delineated aromas and flavors. Espresso, grilled herbs and mint are some of the nuances that linger on the finish. The 1999 continues to change in the glass, offering a preview of what is in store for readers lucky enough to own it. This is an absolutely joyous wine to follow in the glass. Drinking window: 2014-2029.

The 2000 Messorio shows off wonderful inner perfume in its ripe, dark cherries, grilled herbs, leather, licorice and espresso. The 2000 is just a touch more forward in its aromas and flavors than in its tannins, as it remains powerful, intense and tightly coiled. It is a big, fruit-driven wine in the style of the 1997, but with perhaps a touch more polish. The 2000 needs another two to three years before it enters the early part of its drinking window. Drinking window: 2014-2024.

The 2001 Messorio is virtually impossible to fully appreciate in this setting because it is so many years away from maturity. The fruit is breathtaking in its beauty but remains quite primary, with only the subtlest hints of early tertiary nuance coming through from time to time.  The finish is exceptionally polished, nuanced and silky. The 2001 is tough to resist today, but it will be even better in a few years’ time. Drinking window: 2016-2031.

The 2002 is one of the revelations in this tasting. It is a delicate Messorio with more than a passing resemblance to Pinot Noir in its elegant and expressive bouquet. All of the typical Messorio aromas and flavors are there, but in a small-scaled, hushed style of the vintage. Roasted coffee beans, herbs and licorice linger on the finish. The 2002 will never be a blockbuster, but it is one of those wines that will surprise for its balance and sublime elegance when it is opened years from now. Drinking window: 2017-2027.

The 2003 Messorio has calmed down a bit now that it has been in bottle for a few years, but it remains a decidedly opulent, full-throttle wine loaded with blueberry and blackberry jam, chocolate, sweet spices and French oak. The tannins have begun to soften a touch, but the 2003 is still at least a few years away from offering its finest drinking. This is a fabulous effort considering a torrid vintage that was especially hard on Merlot. Drinking window: 2015-2025.

The 2004 Messorio is a bit of a mystery in this tasting. The silkiness and gorgeous perfume that are the hallmarks of the vintage are clearly present, but the wine is marred by elements of cork taint that worsen over time. What a shame, as the 2004 is one of my all-time favorite Messorios.

The 2005 is a pretty, mid-weight Messorio laced with dark blueberries; blackberries and all sorts of flowers. The wine turns increasingly delicate in the glass, as its perfumed, feminine qualities emerge over time. This is a classy, understated Messorio with plenty of room for development in the coming years. Drinking window: 2015-2025.

The 2006 is simply a flat-out great Messorio. Today it is the wine’s density and structure that are most evident, but with time in the glass the inner perfume, minerality and sheer pedigree begin to emerge. This is a vintage that combines elements of sumptuous ripeness and structure to a degree that is highly unusual for Bolgheri. As such, the 2006 Messorio is best left alone for perhaps as long as another decade. When the wine finally emerges it will be spectacular. Hints of new leather, licorice and crushed rocks linger on the refined, classy finish. Drinking window: 2021-2031.

--  Antonio Galloni