Massolino: A Journey Through Vigna Rionda 1982 - 2001

2001    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    95

2000    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    93

1999    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    93

1998    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    92

1997    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    93

1996    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    95

1995    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    90

1990    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    94

1989    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    95

1988    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    92


1986    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    95

1985    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    93

1984    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    88

1982    Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda                    94

Franco and Roberto Massolino put together a remarkable tasting when I visited their small estate in Serralunga earlier this year. Massolino makes a number of outstanding wines but their flagship Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is particularly noteworthy. All 14 vintages of the Rionda were represented, including the legendary Barolo vintages of the last 20 years – 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990 – as well as the more recent wines from the 1990s. As this tasting demonstrated, Massolino’s Vigna Rionda is capable of developing extraordinary complexity in bottle. With the exception of the warmest, most precocious years, it is a wine that starts coming into its own around age ten, but that really blossoms between ages 15-20. Even with extended bottle age, it remains a classically structured Barolo with a firm tannic spine. One of the most fascinating aspects of a tasting like this is that provenance is completely removed from the equation. Because the bottles had never been moved, almost all the wines came across as youthful and fresh.

The gently-sloping Vigna Rionda, which can be seen from the Massolino winery, is one of Barolo’s most iconic vineyards. It was Bruno Giacosa who first made the site famous with his towering Barolos of the 1970s and 1980s. Massolino owns two adjacent plots in Vigna Rionda. The first piece of land was purchased in the early 1960s, the second in the mid-1980s. Like most other traditionally-minded estates, for many years Massolino produced a single Barolo made from a blend of their various holdings. The winery first bottled Vigna Rionda as a single-vineyard Barolo in 1982. The 1980s wines are very traditional in style and are also quite representative of their respective vintages. The 1990s have brought more elegance and finesse to the wines, but without sacrificing the house style.

The 2001 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is stunning. It opens with gorgeous aromas of rose petals and sweet ripe cherries that meld seamlessly onto a palate of dark raspberries, cocoa and licorice. It offers superb length and elegant tannins in a style that is incredibly delicate and surprisingly approachable today. This will be a beautiful wine to follow over the following years and decades. 95/Anticipated maturity: 2011-2026. While the 2001 is all a about understated elegance, the 2000 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is a powerhouse. The early accessibility this wine showed in its youth is all but gone. Today it comes across as a powerful, structured Barolo in need of serious cellaring. The barest hints of earthiness, dark fruit and herbs are there, but they are buried underneath a massive wall of tannins. Patience is the key. 93/Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020. The 1999 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda has always been somewhat of an enigma. It is a big, structured Vigna Rionda with vibrant fruit, great length and powerful tannins. One of the casks was new in this vintage and the wine has always has a gloss of new oak, but over the years the oak has begun integrate and the wine has developed beautifully. I may have initially underestimated this wine. 93/Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020.

The 1998 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is one of the wines that is slightly disappointing in this context. It is a very pretty, well-balanced Vigna Rionda with spiced, floral fruit and an ample, generous personality even if it doesn’t quite possess the length of the finest vintages. Its aromas also appear to be slightly advancing, and judging by this bottle, it will be a relatively early maturing Vigna Rionda. 92/Anticipated maturity: 2008-2018. The 1997 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is a beautiful wine to enjoy today, as it is just entering the early part of its drinking window. Made in the sweet, expansive style that is typical of the vintage, it reveals ripe fruit, leather, earthiness, menthol, smoke and roasted coffee beans, with superb concentration allied to structure. 93/Anticipated maturity: now-2017. The 1996 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda has always been a favorite. It reveals lively color and mentholated, balsamic aromatics along with black cherries, violets, licorice and tar on a powerful, classically structured frame. This gorgeously layered and well-proportioned Barolo has only begun to soften somewhat in recently yet it possesses enough fruit to drink well for many years to come. 95/Anticipated maturity: 2008-2022. The 1995 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda reveals a more advanced color along with evolving tobacco, leather, herbs, truffles, menthol and anise. It is a fairly linear, compact wine and doesn’t quite have the depth of richness to stand up to its structural components. Still, in the context of a weak vintage, it is a terrific effort. 90/Anticipated maturity: 2007-2015.

I was blown away by the beauty of the 1990 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda. Made in the rich, ripe style that is the hallmark of this vintage, it reveals generous sweet fruit, leather and tobacco sensations with superb length and enough structure to provide a wonderful sense of balance. Tasted again after the great vintages of the 1980s, the 1990 came across as an infant. 94/Anticipated maturity: now-2022. Things got even better with the 1989 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda. This stunning Barolo is off the charts. Still incredibly vibrant and fresh it reveals a layered personality in its ripe fruit, spices, menthol and white truffles, with superb length and a sense of inner sweetness that carries all the way through to the finish. It is a beautifully shaped, classic Barolo of phenomenal balance. 95/Anticipated maturity: now-2017. The 1988 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is a surprisingly outstanding wine in a vintage that is proving to be at an inflection point, as many wines are running out of steam. Made in a more slender, linear style than either the 1989 or 1990, the 1988 remains a fresh, vibrant Barolo with outstanding balance and enough to stuffing to drink well for another decade. 92/Anticipated maturity: now-2017.

The 1986 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda is unquestionably one of the most pleasant surprises of the tasting. Boasting perfumed, fresh aromatics, generous fruit and ripe tannins, it is a sweet, expansive wine that invites contemplation. With air classic Vigna Rionda notes of menthol, licorice and tar develop in the glass to complete this magnificently well-proportioned Barolo. What I would give to have a case of this gem resting in the cellar! 95/Anticipated maturity: now-2017. The 1985 is another vintage of Massolino’s Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda that is drinking beautifully today. It is quite representative in its expression of the vintage, with ripe fruit and lovely mentholated, balsamic overtones. This is a Barolo to appreciate more for its soft-textured fruit and generous personality rather than complexity or structure. That said, it is a youthful, well-preserved wine that delivers incredible pleasure. 93/Anticipated maturity: now-2017. The 1984 Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda reflects the modest qualities of the vintage. This Barolo is fully mature, with notes of beef bouillon, leather and tar. Although the fruit has dried out the wine remains tannic and imposing. My impression is that the structural components will hold on for quite some time, but that the moment for drinking this wine for pleasure has passed. 88/Anticipated maturity: 2007. In many ways the best was saved for last. Massolino’s 1982 Barolo Vigna Rionda certainly proves that this was an auspicious debut vintage. It is a Barolo that combines much of the complexity of the 1989 with a good dose of the fruit of the 1990. It offers notable sweetness and extraordinary aromatics on a long, sinewy frame with a spellbinding sense of completeness. Future vintages such as 1986 and 1989 would prove to be even more successful but it is hard not to admire this refined, aristocratic Barolo…and I have always had a soft spot for the 1982s. 94/Anticipated maturity: now-2017.

 -- Antonio Galloni