MCF Rare Wine

Walter Massa: The Mad Master of Barbera

Where to start with this one...

Walter Massa has been producing wine the hills around Tortona (Colli Tortonesi) in Eastern Piedmont since 1978...

...and I've tasted his '78 Barbera Monleale twice now...

...and if you think Barbera doesn't age, well, then I urge you to pay attention to this one...

Walter works mainly with three varietals - the Barbera I just mentioned, Croatina (also red) and Timorasso (white) and also a little with two other red grapes, Nebbiolo and Freisa.

Now, you've heard me talk about how underappreciated great Barbera is many, many times in this newsletter, but using Walter's wines as examples is probably the best way to communicate my point.

His are as serious and long-lived as any that you'll encounter.

(You can say the same thing about his Timorasso and Croatina, but we'll save those for another day.)

It's kind of impossible to discuss Massa's wines without discussing him, as well.

I'll put it this way, there are many characters in the wine world, but Walter may out-character them all.

Where many of them are well-rehearsed showmen, Walter is a genuine cartoon, and of course I mean that in the best way.

Every time I'm with him, there will be times that Ernest, his US importer/translator, doesn't finish the translation to English because a) what he's talking about doesn't really translate, b) it's a bit too 'colorful' or c) he has no idea what Walter's actually talking about.

When we visited Massa in 2014, it was the last stop of the day before a scheduled dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant.  By the time we were done, we'd taken in so much wine, so much information (and so much of Walter's lovable craziness) that we opted to skip dinner and hit the thermal spa instead.

It was all worth it, though.  To taste first hand with the man responsible for Barberas, Croatinas and Timorassos dating back to '00, '99 '97, '95, '90, '88, '85, and, yes, 1978, you don't lament how scrambled your mind is on the way out.  

Okay, I can easily write three full newsletters just talking about that visit, but back to the task at hand.  On longevity alone, Massa's Barbera Monleale is easily one of the most profound glasses of wine you will ever encounter.  Sure, the flavor profile is slightly different from that of other Barbera titans such as Cappellano, Bartolo Mascarello or Giacomo Conterno, but it's at the very least on equal footing with all three of those...and I would argue that it's better...and it's also cheaper...  ;)

Today I'm very excited to offer some of the 2012 Monleale, which is in a fabulous place already, though it has plenty of maturing to do, and a very small amount of the 2001 Monleale, which is absolutely the benchmark vintage for this wine of the last 20 years.

Walter was in town this week and at a tasting on Wednesday, he explained that the reason he has a good stock of 2001 left is because he actually chose not to release it when it was bottled because it was so good, so acidically structured, that he knew it needed time...a lot of time.

You could say that time is now.  The 2001 is already showing all kinds of perfumed balance and underlying meaty goodness, though as the firm finish will tell you, this wine is going nowhere fast.

The 2012, on the other hand, shows the rich, earthy red-fruited beauty that young Monleale is known for, and as the nose will suggest, there's a lot more flowery, earthy nuance locked up inside the backbone of acidity.

If you want to know about Monleale, and the genius of Massa, here is a great chance to taste the same wine in younger and more mature stages - side by side even!

These wines are slated to arrive NEXT WEEK, and I anticipate them selling out before they do.

(I will offer Croatina and Timorasso soon as well, but they will be on the next shipment.)

Walter Massa Barbera Monleale 2012 Barbera Monleale 2001

(Me and Mike, deep down the Massa rabbit hole)

Matt Franco

MCF Rare Wine, Ltd
249 West 13th Street
New York 10011