Showdown: 2005 Vigna Rionda, Barolo

The Serralunga area in Barolo may not be my favorite because of its usually more dry, heavy tannins, austere tone and often lack of elegance, but there are a few sacred places here. One of them is certainly the vineyard Vigna Rionda. In my opinion it may probably be the best among the other unofficial “grand crus” here; Parafada, Lazzarito, Falleto (Giacosa’s monopoly) and Francia (Conterno’s monopoly producing the great Monfortino). The first one to prove the potential of this vineyard and how special it really is was the legendary Bruno Giacosa in 1989. The vineyard has got its name because of its round shape and it has perfect south-west exposition at a high altitude of 330 m above sea level providing cool nights to build the so important acidity for freshness. It is protected somewhat from hail and cloudburst by the Castelletto hills in tough years like e.g. 2002. Even though skilled producers and vintage weather is the dominant factor for making great wines, it appears that it is easier here to reach ripe grapes and perfect phenolic maturity without rest sugars and thus avoid high alcohol levels too. Soil here is among the oldest parts of Barolo and contains calcareous marl, a lot of lime stone, very much iron, some sandstone, but with unexpected streaks of clay for this area and special micro elements.

2005 is a good underrated vintage, but not a classic one and the vintage is generally drinkable relatively early. It is less heavy on tannins and a little cooler vintage that is more approachable now, but may lack concentration. So it is smart to evaluate the potential of this vineyard in a this vintage now than in a classic vintage that sometimes needs more than 15-20 years to calm down and integrate the usually massive acidity and heavy tannins.

The contenders are the Massolino brothers in one ring corner and the brothers from Pira in the other. Two well known and respected producers.

2005 Massolino Barolo “Vigna Rionda”

The Massolino brothers Roberto and Franco with the help of enologist Giovanni Angeli and at times also by Dante Scaglione (known for helping Giacosa) are very traditional, but use new technology too. Grapes are de-stemmed, yields are about 45 hl per ha and roots are 30-50 years old. Traditionally long maceration is carried out for 25-30 days in cement vats, known for providing natural breathing abilities as well as equally important temperature controlling qualifications that enable gentle and gradual fermentation. Ageing is done in neutral big french and Slavonian casks (botte). Bottles are aged for two years more (one in cask, one in bottle) compared to other barolos from this estate and in total six years before they are released to the market.

The colour is blood orange-red purple with rust orange edges.

After more than three hours of decanting, the wine finally opens itself and a very complex fragrance slowly leaves the glass. Incredibly elegant and very subtle nose of ginger,  some dry red flowers, delicate inner perfume, notes of leather, warm herbs, balsamic notes, combo of gravel and lime, distinct anise seed, some tar, earth and very fine tuned limestone minerals. A great complex, broad-spanning and delicate nose!

On the palate there is dark cherries, black pepper, preserved blackberry, some saline mushrooms, truffle, some tar, a little savoury notes, iron, limestone minerals, plenty of earthy notes and hazelnut. Tannins are chewy and fine in the end as expected from this site, but absolutely not dry or harsh. However, it is a barolo, so if you drink a mouthful, it will certainly take a grip in your cheeks at this stage. However the texture is already sand paper polished and are elegantly building the structure to the long finish here. This makes the wine already very approachable. Concentration is just ok and the wine is mouth-filling and structure is actually slimmer than expected without any weighting power. High complexity and deep aromas too. Even though the acidity is still just a little whining, you can easily foresee its quality in just a few years wrapping passion fruit and anise. Even more so, the acidity and tannins are already dancing together and all is very balanced, complex and elegant indeed.

This is a very complete wine, except for lacking concentration and grip and I can imagine the potential of an even greater vintage like 2001 or 2004 in a decade or two. Open the 2005 now but I think it is probably even better to open it 2016-2030 to let the acidity calm down just a little more. If you open it earlier make sure to air it in a decanter for at least four hours, but follow the wine. If you do, you are rewarded as it starts up by firing off christmas spices like cardamom, clove, cinnamon and pastry after about two hours and then changing again to a more subtle and versatile fragrance. Yes, this wine is absolutely great with its complexity, remarkable balance and unexpected level of approachable elegance. A fantastic work done by the Massolino brothers! Costs about €75. Open in 2017.

96p/100.

2005 Pira Barolo “Vigna Rionda” wine-searcher-link
The estate is managed by Giampaolo, Romolo and Claudio. Their part of the vineyard is very young and planted in 1994. de-stemming of the grapes and yields are about 40 hl/ha. Maceration is carried out for 12-15 days with the modern rotor fermentor technology in steel vats and aging is done in both small barriques and big barrels (botte) for 24 months.

Colour: Very dark, compact almost black ruby-red center and very tiny rust orange edges.
Nose: After about four hours of decanting, a subtle and fragrance offers wonderful lilies, roses, truffle, deep burned chalky minerals, fresh balsamic notes, fir-needle, lavender, red flowers, layers of black fruit, a little eucalyptus, graphite, some tar, earth and crushed stone. Equally great, but a more direct and bigger nose here than in the Massolino! Maybe less complex than Massolino but more seducing and charming. Pretty sure that some new oak here is applied to convey these notes.
Taste: Tannins are thicker, chewier and more solid than in the Massolino and more as expected from this site. It is just too heavy now, but they are firmly building the structure to the long finish here. However, they are not anywhere near as polished yet as in the Massolino but promising. The mid palate has deep layers of black fruit, blackberry jam, truffle, balsamic flavors and very pleasant earthy minerals, plenty of iron and tar. On the downside, the end has now an austere and bitter tone that is unpleasant and the acidity is really sharp and gnarly and needs to settle down a lot more and is certainly not dancing with the tannins here.
The wine has a very seductive and big lovely nose. It is very full-bodied, quite deep considering the young vines in their vineyard, very generous, have impressive concentration and structure, but is too heavy/powerful now, a little unbalanced and lacks elegance. Currently, it requires a more heavy meal and even in this more short-lived vintage you need to forget this wine for a while. Open 2018-2030 to let it integrate more. Costs €62.

93p/100.

Massolino wins by an elegant knockout and is superior in the Rionda. Next time I will find another contender to rival it..

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