The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings

The Castle at Serralunga d’Alba (image courtesy of

“Water is necessary to live, but wine expresses the abundance of the feast and the joy of the celebration.”–Pope Francis

Barolo has been called the “king of wines,” and the “wine of kings” with a long history linked to the royal House of Savoy and their court in Torino. It is considered by wine aficionados to be one of the world’s best wines and is made from only the very best Nebbiolo grapes.

The vineyards of Serralunga d’Alba

The Barolo region covers about 3,000 acres spanning 11 municipalities including Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba. Because the region is so spread out, Barolos can and do vary fairly significantly in flavor and style. The DOCG stipulates that to be classified Barolo, the wine must be aged at least 38 months before release, including at least 18 months in wood. The higher designation level, “Riserva,” must be aged at least five years including 18 months in wood.

The barolos of Massolino aging in huge Slavonian oak casks.

When released for sale, Barolo is normally full bodied and very dry with crisp acidity and solid tannins. It almost always improves, however, with bottle aging of an additional ten to twenty years after the vintage year. Barolos are truly spectacular – complex and elegant.

Some of the Barolo vintages of Massolino

We arranged to visit Massolino Winery in the commune of Serralunga d’ Alba which is reached on winding cobblestone lanes that reminded me of Sablet in Provence.

View from the terrace of Massolino Winery

Perched on a hillside, the winery has some incredible views over its vineyards below. Great-grandfather Giovanni Massolino founded the Estate in 1896 (and just happened to be the first person to bring electricity to Serralunga d’ Alba). The classic Massolino Barolo dates back to 1911. The wines are still grown and produced by the Massolino family, now in its fourth generation of winemakers. The current winemaker, Franco, has been on the family team since the 1990’s. He crafts the wines following family traditions while experimenting with modern solutions to constantly improve the quality of the wines. Massolino has a 10,000 case annual production that is much larger than that of Gigi Bianco which we visited in Barbaresco. It is still small compared to many of the California producers in Napa or Sonoma counties.

Allessandro Pontarelli telling us about the wines of Massolino. Note the concrete fermentation vats in the background.

We enjoyed a private tour and tasting at the newly remodeled and enlarged winery. Allessandro Pontarelli guided us through their new and old facilities and then poured a variety of wines from current releases, including 2014 Langhe Chardonnay DOC, 2015 Barbera d’Alba, 2014 Langhe Nebbiolo, 2012 Barolo and finally from their library, we tasted (and bought) a single vineyard jewel, the 2011 Barolo Parussi.

The 2014 Langhe Chardonnay was fermented for 6-9 months, half in stainless steel and the other half in 225L French oak barrels, known as barriques. The wine matured in the bottle for 6-9 months before being released.  Oak gave it a definite richness while still maintaining a fine balance. The color appeared bright straw yellow and the nose had an excellent mineral quality with the scent of ripe apples. It had a rich but gentle mouthfeel with a lingering finish.

The 2015 Barbera d’Alba was fermented in large cement tanks before being bottled and had a deep purplish, almost impenetrable red color. The nose was quite elegant with intense berry spiciness. The flavor balanced minerality with fruit making it easy to drink.

The 2014 Langhe Nebbiolo, blended from some of the younger vines of the estate, was aged for 12 months in large barrels and held six months for additional bottle aging before release. It was a deep garnet red with medium intensity. The nose was light and projected notes of raspberries that shifted to strawberries with the first taste. It had less structure than Barolo and could easily become our “go to” wine to serve mid-week with fresh pasta and rich meat sauce.

The 2012 Barolo was blended from different subzones within their Serralunga vineyards. All Massolino Barolos were fermented in cement tanks and aged in huge Slavonian oak casks for 30 months plus an additional year in the bottle. The color was garnet red that is typical for Barolos. The bouquet was sweet and floral and the taste was full-bodied with classic balance and bright acids. This Barolo was very approachable when we tasted it but could still benefit with additional bottle time.

Massolino released their first vintage from the Parussi vineyard in 2007. It is located in Castiglione Falletto, their only property outside Serralunga.  We tasted the 2011 vintage which was full bodied and refined with beautiful elegance, balance, and minerality. On the nose, I detected stone fruits and berries. As all Barolos, it needs more bottle time and should be at its prime in 8-10 more years. A bottle of it is now in my home cellar.


9 thoughts on “The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings

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