Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alessandro Masnaghetti's Mission to Chart the Greatest Barolo Vineyards

The hierarchies of the great wines of the Langhe are still a mystery to me. After 40+ years, I look over the panorama and am baffled over the process of how specific wines of Barolo and Barbaresco came to be regarded by experts, enthusiasts and Italian wine lovers. I posed this quandary earlier this week on Antonio Galloni’s Vinous site and there ensued some lively discussions. But as I pushed away from the table, I felt unsatiated. How is it after all these years, I still struggle to understand what is arguably the greatest red wine region in Italy, if not the world? I’ve been there countless times, walked the hills, met the players, and still I cannot explain, in a simple manner, what is going on in the Langhe to a young wine lover. As one in the industry there is a whole new classroom of students and salespeople thirsting for guidance. I feel we must find some way to point them in a direction. The next generation deserves that, at the very least.

In the past, people have tried to map the great vineyards of the Langhe. Renato Ratti’s was the one we used for many years. Burton Anderson gave it a try as well. And countless regional Italian pamphlets and booklets tried to organize the vineyards of the Langhe. One of the best one in recent times is A Wine Atlas of the Langhe. Still,  the concentration of the area and the Italian sensibility to endlessly discuss things has mired the process.

What to do? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? The tunnel is deep, but I found someone with a compass.

I believe it was Walter Speller from whom I first heard about this. Entitled Red hot classification of Barolo crus, Walter introduced us to the recent work of Alessandro Masnaghetti and his E-book, Barolo 2001-2008 Assagi e Classificazione. Inside the book he has listed his very own ‘Unofficial Classification of Crus’. What light through yonder window breaks?

Is think there anyone alive who is more qualified to speak to this than Masnaghetti? He has mapped the vineyards, he lives intimately inside his projects, he breathes them as they are his yoga. And I look to him as the top authority on the subject, as does Walter, who said “With a knowledge of Italy’s vineyards second to none, his classification is something many have been eagerly awaiting.”

For those who have filed their cellars and are content to drink from their reserves for the rest of their life, this might be a meaningless exercise. They’ve made their choices and for all intents the wines they have chosen will most likely suit their purposes. But for a new generation of enthusiasts and collectors, this could give the novice an atlas to understanding what they should buy, pursue, taste and learn about over the course of their life. 20 something’s in Hong Kong, 30 something’s in Seattle, those are the folks Masnaghetti might be reaching towards, he is the 21st century Ratti. I’m far from the heady days of youth, but this project captures my imagination and inspires me to keep the grey matter in motion. So while I drink my 1978’s and 1990’s I will sit by the fireplace and pour over his maps and recommendations. I’m all in.

For those who have disdain for stars (or points) the ranking might be a turn off. I get that. But I think it is important when talking to a wide range of emotions and intellects to find a way to organize quality. It served our French cousins well in Bordeaux and Burgundy. I know where to look in those regions for the great wines, even if I don’t know that much about those wines. And if things have changed a bit since 1855, I still know that is a good starting point. Is Chateau Pontet-Canet in Pauilllac really worthy of being a fifth growth under the inspired leadership of Guy Tesseron? I don’t think there is anyone alive who thinks it is a fifth growth in fact. And there the argument for classification of any kind is weakened. The hand of the winemaker effects the quality and the greatness, eve if that hand is fleeting in time.

Dante Scaglione (L) with Bruna (C) and Bruno Giacosa (R) in 2004
What happens in the case of Bruno Giacosa?  Bruno is in the twilight of his years; his daughter is taking the winery in another direction. According to Ken Vastola, who is an expert on the Langhe and Giacosa, “after 2011 Giacosa will not bottle any non-estate single vineyard wines.” The fruit from the Santo Stefano vineyard, owned by the Stupino family, will no longer go to Giacosa. Likely it will go into the Castello di Neive bottlings, which the Stupino family owns. Can the change of winemaking sensibility and style maintain the status of the Santo Stefano vineyard, taken to the top by Bruno Giacosa? These are the nuances that an overall classification cannot always address. This is the kind of stuff that makes newbies cringe and puts enthusiasts into a frenzy of anticipation, crumbs wine crazies love to munch on.

In the meantime, if you want to attempt to climb the mountain, or climb out of the tunnel and join in the pursuit of understanding the greatness of the wines of the Langhe, give Masnaghetti’s book a look-over. Barbaresco lovers will be disappointed that their beloved wine is not classified in this book (it's about Barolo) but there are still the maps available for Barbaresco from Masnaghetti. Don't despair, the sequel, Barbaresco Assagi e Classificazione along with a supplemental Barbaresco Unofficial Classification of Crus is also available. Or one could make a trip to Barbaresco and go to lunch with Aldo Vacca at the nearby Antica Torre. In any case it is sure to be a delicious undertaking, whether by the fireside or a fonte.

Aldo Vacca ~ "Per Ignem Ad Lucem"

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Sarah said...

I have just recently discovered my love for this region and this will be an incredible resource for exploring it further. These wines unfortunately seem so difficult to find here at home... I can't wait to make it back to Italy.

Diana said...

Great post. And it's a great project by Masnaghetti! Only someone who truly knows and loves his land could do it.

We have two of his maps, one hand-written, on



(Sorry if the links don't come out...)

Unknown said...

The best maps ever. I fully agree.

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