A glass and wood building that says "Ornellaia" on it
A glass and wood building that says "Ornellaia" on it
Ornellaia, recently held its 15th charity auction dedicated to the Vendemmia d’Artista 2020 ‘La Proporzione’. The online auction, conducted by Sotheby’s, raised $300,000 contributing to a total of $2.5M since the project began.  Here, Samantha Welsh speaks to Ornellaia’s CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja about why this is an essential event and how he turned Ornellaia into one of the world’s most celebrated wine estates in the world

LUX: How did you start-out, and what were you invited to create with Ornellaia?
Giovanni Geddes: In 1999 I became CEO of Ornellaia; the same name as its first growth that represents the style of the estate.

Ornellaia also produces  a second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia and Le Volte dell’Ornellaia, a blend made mainly by Merlot and represents a more joyful approach of the domaine style. Furthermore, Ornellaia produces two white wines, Ornellaia Bianco and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia

A tree and deck in front of a green vineyard

LUX: How did you shine a light on the Ornellaia brand and build it separately to Masseto?
GG: I realised that it was important to create a clear distinction between Masseto and Ornellaia, so the latter did not become seen as a second wine. This is because Masseto was produced in a very limited quantity and sold at a higher price, so my idea was that Masseto needed to become an estate with its own name, its own identity, its own winery and wine. Masseto extended over 8ha and has now grown to around 11ha. We also set up a new management structure for the winery with the appointment of a Production Director and a Sales and Marketing Director. This was a milestone for the Frescobaldi group.

Three men standing up behind a man sitting in a chair holding a walking stick and a dog in his lap

LUX: What was the thinking behind the go-to-market strategy for Ornellaia; how does an art partnership potentially add value and position brand?
GG: My idea was production, promotion and brand building, so everything had to be the very best quality.

Vendemmia d’Artista project was presented in 2009 with the 2006 vintage. Since then, the estate defines every year the character of the vintage and commissions an international renowned artist to translate the vintages’ character in art. Every year 111 large format bottles are “dressed” with these art labels. These bottles have become sought after by collectors. Furthermore, in every case of six 0.75 litre bottles, one bottle bears an art label created by the artist.

green vineyards

LUX: How does the Vendemmia d’Artista project celebrate the exclusive character of each new vintage of Ornellaia?
GG: Each year, art is created and bespoked to the theme which best expresses the character of that particular vintage. First, we define the character of the wine, then an artist is identified and commissioned to interpret the character of the vintage in a series of art labels and one site-specific installation. There is no competition involved.

A room full of people and a woman giving a speech with a man in a wheelchair holding a dog in his lap

For example, Luigi Ontani, one of the most renowned Italian artists, interpreted the first Vendemmia d’Artista vintage (2006) “L’Esuberanza”, creating an artwork which portrayed this exuberant vintage; the following year, the wine was more elegant in style, so “L’Armonia” or “Harmony” was the predominant characteristic and a wonderful Egyptian artist, Ghada Amer created the concept for the artwork. The 2020 vintage, released this year, is balanced and “La Porporzione” as it has been defined by the estate, is represented by the conceptual art pioneer, Joseph Kosuth, through the art of language, an interaction and interpretation of ‘vino’ and art.

A large tree in the middle of a vineyard

LUX:  What happens with these art bottles?
GG: The artwork bottles are sold at auction through Sotheby’s. Usually there are ten lots offered (there were twelve this time) and they comprise several of the double magnums (3 litres), ten Imperials (6 litres) and the unique Salmanazar (9 litres). Proceeds were originally donated to international museums. Since 2019, we have been supporting the ‘Minds Eye’ programme of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the award-winning programme which immerses blind and low-vision people into multi-sensory experiences to foster art appreciation.

Wines side by side on a grand marble and gold mantlepiece

LUX: Where is demand for Ornellaia particularly strong?
GG: The demand for our wines is exceeding in all markets! We have the best collaborators in all markets that together with our team support the increased awareness of our wines and that of the appellation we are part of.

LUX: With hindsight, what have you most enjoyed in your highly-successful career?
GG: Seeing Ornellaia and Masseto being recognized as Italian iconic wines, brings me great joy and pride.

rows of vineyards at sunset

LUX: What would you like to leave as your legacy?
GG: I have always wished to leave a very strong company and reinforce the estate awareness. Of course, Ornellaia and Masseto are globally very well-known, but I have always strived to amplify the characteristics and values of the wines far beyond the key markets.

Find out more:

ornellaia.com

masseto.com

 

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Reading time: 3 min
A blue car on a road by some trees
A blue car on a road by some trees

The Lexus NX 450 on the road

In the third part of our Great Drives series, Darius Sanai travels, in a Lexus NX 450, from the Lake Zurich, Switzerland to the Tuscany Coast, Italy, ending his trip on a bottle of Masseto 2015

What is the best vehicle for transporting a lot of clothes – the spoils of a visit and meetings in various Italian fashion houses – and a lot of wine – the result of a spontaneous drop by the vineyards of Franciacorta in northern Italy? Sitting comfortably just above the speed limit on the Italian autostrada, cruising carefully while listening to the GreenBiz 350 podcast, we were fairly sure we had the answer in our Lexus. Its full name is the NX 450h+ F Sport, but for our purposes it was the car that could just do everything.

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The interior design of cars is becoming increasingly important as we do more things in them (they are effectively 3D extensions of the internet), and driving becomes more controlled and less of a sport. And here was a car with a truly beautifully designed interior. It was light, high enough off the road to give confidence – you could see everything that needed to be seen, but not so high that you felt domineering or unstable. Controls that needed to be easily touched were within sight and within reach without any fuss. Displays were clear with excellent typography. The air conditioning was a notch above the usual in terms of its ability to separate climate zones. Like any good design, it didn’t shout about itself, and it had grown on us over the previous two weeks.

A blue car next to a mountain and lake

The journey started in a small town near Lake Zurich on the northern side of the Alps. The road rose and became increasingly winding as it made its way towards the mountains we were due to cross, and we wondered briefly if we had chosen the right car. This is a hybrid SUV, efficiently powered by both electric and petrol engines, but it is also a high car, with plenty of ground clearance, excellent for driving across fields. So would it be right for twisting mountain roads?

A beach at sunset

The beach and pine forest at the Riva del Sole hotel, Tuscany

We need not have worried. This new-generation Lexus uses technology to miraculously minimise the amount the car leans when taking corners, a key consideration when driving to the Alps, as you do not want something lurching from one side to the other like an old Range Rover. The Lexus drove flat, smooth and responsive, even over the highest points of the Julier Pass, between north and south Switzerland. Sure, it wasn’t the thrill of racing a sports car to the edge of its abilities on a sinuous mountain road, but that would not have been possible anyway, given the rest of the traffic and also the strictness of Switzerland’s traffic police. Fast enough was, well, fast enough.

A bedroom with grey and gold colouring and hints of red

The Exotik Suite

Over the border in Italy, after more mountain passes and ice cream, the Alps fell into the low, hilly meadows of Franciacorta, which is where our favourite sparkling wine from Italy is produced. At its best it is creamy, complex and refreshing, like a good champagne, but with the added joie de vivre. At the main farmers’ outlet store for all the producers (and would that there were one of these in every wine-producing region), we picked from producers and cuvées impossible to find in other countries.

A sign of a well-engineered car is that it doe snot flinch when loaded up and driven hard, and this was very much the case with the Lexus. Onwards, it seemed to say, after a couple of days in Milan, as we arrowed through straight autostradas in northern Italy towards Tuscany. Here, we spent an excellent few days enjoying this car’s other attributes: its economy (fuel stations are very hard to find in rural Tuscany), its ability to deal with rough roads and unmade tracks with no fuss, and the comfort and efficiency of its interior in a hot summer. The full-length sunroof also came in for much praise, although it was mainly open at night, when it let in views of the stars and the cries of owls. A car for all reasons, indeed.

A room with a stage and a large vase in the centre of a table

Objets d’art at the Riva del Sole

Our final destination was a place well known to a certain class of intellectual Italians, roughly the equivalent of Britain’s Cotswolds set, but without the pretentions. Castiglione della Pescaia has none of the bling that has been acquired by its fellow Tuscan resort, Forte dei Marmi, but it has nature, and culture, on its side.

A swimming pool lit up a night

The hotel swimming pools by night

There is one resort hotel to stay in at Castiglione: the Riva del Sole, a resort built in the idealistic style of the mid-20th century, when Europe was thriving and confident, and nobody flew to the Maldives or Bali. You approach along a long, straight coastal road flanked on both sides by the stone pine trees that are a feature of the Italian coastline. The hotel appears amid the pineta (pine forest) on the left, between road and sea, a low-rise 20th-century modern building (Swedish owned) that, when you enter, reveals a cavalcade of original and updated modernist designs.

A wooden divider next to a bed looking out to trees

The Coral Suite

The reception area is out of a 1960s David Niven film (duly updated, of course) and our room, while compact, had a lovely aspect across the trees towards the sea. You wander from reception, past a dramatic Italian restaurant housed in another forest building, past a little newsagent shop straight out of a Jacques Tati film (magazines, beach balls, sweets) and a boutique-chic deli. A huge outdoor pool complex – several pools, really – appears on your right, with keen sports swimmers doing their lengths from the early hours. Past a hut serving snacks and drinks (there is some excellent Franciacorta on the menu), the path rises over a dune and down onto the resort’s lengthy private beach.

A restaurant with white table cloths, green chairs and plants around the room

Modern dining at Riva del Sole, Tuscany

Part of a strip of sand that stretches for 15km in a gentle arc, it is one of Italy’s most famous private beaches. The sea is warm and shallow, and the most memorable aspect is stepping out 20 metres into the sea, your feet still standing on white sand and your chosen drink in hand, looking back at the beach. The hotel and all of Castiglione have been subsumed into the pineta, such is the attention to detail of the design. All you can see is beach, forest and the mountains rising up behind. No wonder it is a haunt of the discerning Italian intelligentsia.

A blue car on a patch of grass next to a castle with a tower and turrets

The Lexus making a pit stop at the fortress of Montalcino – ancient Tuscan hilltop village and home of the celebrated wine Brunello di Montalcino

Hidden inside the pineta, the hotel also has a sophisticated Tuscan restaurant, La Palma. Sweeping interior architecture and the forest visible through windows all around combines with a wine vault of Tuscan wines – particularly from Montalcino – that a collector would die for. We chose a Masseto 2015. All savoury power and a wealth of flowing flavours, it is one of Italy’s great wines, and comes from just up the coast from Riva del Sole. In the main hotel there is also a glamorous 1960s-style piano bar, where you sit inside or out on the terrace and are served Bellinis.

Read more: Great Drive: Jura Mountains to London via Burgundy and Champagne

This is not high luxury, but it is high class; a place where the intelligent, artistic and sophisticated go to enjoy themselves with friends. And throughout, inside and out, the interior design, a subtle 21st-century take on mid-century modernism, is both playful and gorgeous. Chapeau to designer Eva Khoury. There are hotels with grander views and bigger rooms, but very few we would want to spend more time in than the Riva del Sole.

Find out more:
lexus.co.uk
rivadelsole.it
masseto.com

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Reading time: 6 min
oak barrels of wine
man standing by wine bottles

Axel Heinz is a winemaker and the estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto

Axel Heinz is Italy’s most celebrated winemaker, responsible for star Super Tuscan wines Masseto and Ornellaia, among others. Over three vintages and on Zoom, he gives Darius Sanai a private tasting and insight into what makes his estates, by the Tuscan coast, so special

If you were to meet Axel Heinz without knowing his trade, you would likely guess that he is a university professor, an academic of some kind criss-crossing his way through a cosmopolitan spiderweb of colleges. His conversation has an international feel of the old school: his perfect, lightly-accented English is pure boarding school, his manner is enquiring, sharp and kindly, all at the same time.

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But Axel is not an academic, although his knowledge base and expertise would instantly see him propelled to a professorship in his relevant field. He is a winemaker, and now estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto. This means this German winemaker with an English education and French roots is responsible for the creation of two of the greatest wines our readers will know, at arguably the greatest wines estate of Italy, and among the greatest in the world. Neighbouring each other, they sit on a slight plateau sloping down to the coast of the Maremma, in Tuscany; you can see the sea from the vineyards. Behind are the forested mountains of the Colline Metallifere, which bring a coolness and freshness to the summer nights, a little like the forest leading up to the plateau de Langres does for the Cote de Nuits in Burgundy (although the Colline are higher, at more than 1000m compared to around 600m for the high ridge in Burgundy).

We always enjoy our private dinners with the ever personable, thoughtful Axel. In the current climate, we sat down with him for a tasting, one-to-one over zoom, with him at the estate in Bolgheri in the Maremma and us at the LUX office in London, of some of the great vintages of Ornellaia, sent to us directly from the estate. Below are his detailed thoughts on each wine, followed by our own reflections.

wine bottles

Ornellaia 2018 La Grazia Vendemmia d’Artista with label designs and artworks by Belgian artist Jan Fabre

Ornellaia 2018

Axel Heinz: I always like to taste youngest to oldest, so you know how the younger wines will develop. 2018 was a rainy year, so the wine is a bit lighter than usual, balanced and fresh. I like to use a narrower glass than most sommeliers recommend; not too wide, in order to get the best from the wine. This seems a particularly open, vibrant wine. It’s already quite delicious, even so young. I would have it with a rare bistecca alla fiorentina (Tuscan T-bone steak).

LUX: Zingy and fresh; if your idea of Tuscan wines is big, punchy beasts, think again. Quite delicate, balanced, and complex with cherries and bags of mixed herbs. Refreshing, for a super Tuscan.

Read more: How will the art industry change post-pandemic?

Ornellaia 2008

Axel Heinz: This was an astonishing vintage. It was incredibly hot all year and then there was a dramatic drop in temperature from 38 degrees to 18 degrees and it stayed that cool all through the second half of September and all of October. It means the wine has the boldness and exuberance of a very hot year, combined with the tight frame which indicates the weather in the second half of September.

The wine is 15% alcohol, but one of the pieces of magic of Bolgheri [the area where Ornellaia and Masseto are made] is that it is rich and opulent but also balanced, with refreshing acidity and a bit of firmness. It’s a privilege that we have something that saves us, which is the closeness of the sea and the cool air. Because if it were just about us keeping the alcohol level down, you would notice some under-ripeness. That’s the beauty of this place. And the refreshing acidity is part of the terroir..which means there are a few things about making wine that we are unable to explain. It may come from our closeness to the sea or the hills behind us that catch moisture and coolness.

LUX: Rich and multilayered, but still fresh; unlike other Tuscan wines from this year, it doesn’t taste of alcohol or jam. A wine for a long, stimulating, thoughtful evening with an old friend you haven’t seen for years – but with the ease at which it disappears, you will need a couple of bottles.

Wine estate

The Ornellaia wine estate

Ornellaia 2000

Axel Heinz: This is similar in character to the 2018, so maybe the 2018 will taste like this in 18 years. This is all about lace and silk, delicacy. I would drink it with something not overpowering, maybe mushrooms or something slow-cooked. It’s ready to drink now, but great wines plateau for a long time.

LUX: A dual-character wine, easy to drink if you feel like something that just vanishes from the glass, but interesting if you want to think about it, with that unique Ornellaia character, fresh, herbs and grilled lamb overtones, and very clean, neither too dry nor too jammy on the finish. Like the others, a unique style of wine, first made only a couple of decades ago, but destined to be one of the world’s great wines for centuries to come.

Find out more: ornellaia.com

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Reading time: 4 min
Snowy mountain village of St Mortiz
Snowy mountain village of St Mortiz

The Alpine village of St. Moritz offers more than just an exclusive social scene; the winter sports are first rate too, say Darius Sanai

With snow already falling in the Swiss Alps, LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai looks forward to another first-class ski season in St Mortiz

The first Alpine snowfall of the season has already happened – there is up to 30cm of fresh powder across Switzerland, particularly in the south of the country, due to a weather system recently pushing up from Italy. So naturally our thoughts are turning to St Moritz. Think St Moritz, and you probably think lavish New Year’s Eve parties, long evenings drinking Masseto in friends’ houses, and early evening aperitifs at Pavarotti’s.

It’s easy to overlook the winter sports when you’re so familiar with the social element – and St Moritz has such an engrossing social, cultural and artistic life that you’d be forgiven for never having snapped on a pair of Rossignols while there. Forgiven, but mistaken.

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So here’s a snapshot of what you could, and should, be doing as soon as the lifts open in a few days: it’s our perfect day in St Moritz. We started our day on the slopes at Piz Nair, the top station on the Corviglia mountain, one of three big ski mountains in the area, and the one directly above the village.

It was snowing lightly when we entered the funicular station in St Moritz; we travelled through a layer of thick cloud, fearing a whiteout day, and then, suddenly, we emerged upwards into a blue and white high mountain peaky wonderland.

Cable car on the way up a snowy mountain side

The Signal cable car is the first stage of the journey towards Piz Nair, the peak at the top of Corviglia, the most celebrated of the many ski mountains around St Moritz

At Piz Nair I shuffled over to a snow shelf to look at the view properly. In every direction, triangular peaks were poking out of a soft, uniform blanket of cloud below us. There was no end to the sea of peaks: St Moritz is famous for its “champagne air”, supposedly the purest in the Alps, as it is so well surrounded by high peaks on every side.

Read more: Why now is the time to book into the Bulgari Resort Dubai

The mountain has a superb selection of mainly red runs, suited to good intermediates; we particularly liked the long run all the way from Piz Nair down to Celerina, below St Moritz, which ran through two valleys and finally descended through the trees, with fantastic views of the Piz Bernina mountains, higher than 4000m, opposite. The clouds melted away during the morning, with more panoramas revealing themselves.

fine dining in an alpine restaurant

The White Marmot restaurant with panoramic views of the mountains

And then – lunch. Lunch on the slopes in St Moritz is almost a religion: you are judged by where you go, and where you sit, so here’s some advice: book a table, as soon as you know when you’re going, at White Marmot. This is the restaurant at the Corviglia mountain station, three quarters of the way up the slopes and directly above the town itself. You can easily access White Marmot without skis, by taking the funicular train up, and many people do. Huge picture windows give you an unremitting panorama, and the decor – bare wooden tables fully dressed with huge Riedel wine glasses, 20th century modern design elements, colourful throws, magnums of Dom Perignon sitting on ice – makes White Marmot look like there’s a party going on even before the party has started. The cuisine is beautiful too, varying from Swiss mountain specialities with a contemporary twist to modern Italian haute cuisine.

Luxury alpine hotel within a forest

The Suvretta House is a palace hotel overlooking forests and lakes, with its own ski lift

After lunch, we took a final lift up to Piz Nair to take in the view of what seemed like all of Switzerland again, and headed down, via a series of lifts, to Suvretta House. One of St Moritz’s classic luxury palace hotels, it sits amid a forest on its own ski slope, with its own ski lift. Having skied to the door, we sat in its grand drawing room, looking out over the forest and the valley, sipping on local Pinot Noir, and preparing for the second feast of the day, at Suvretta House’s celebrated Stube restaurant.

The Stube has an informal atmosphere, plenty of Alpine pine, and serves a perfected selection of Swiss, Asian and contemporary American specialities. The chicken wrap is to die for. And all you have to do after dinner is wander up to your room, with a view over the forests and frozen lakes, and prepare for a reprise the next day. Book for early December, and you’ll have fresh snow this year and no crowds.

For more information visit: engadin.ch
Book your stay: suvrettahouse.ch

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Reading time: 4 min
Contemporary concrete architectural entrance way to a building
Sloping vineyards with a house in the far distance

The vineyards of Masseto slope down towards the sea from the mountains of Tuscany’s Maremma region

Masseto, Italy’s most celebrated wine, is made from spectacular vineyards by the Tuscan coast, backed by ancient forests, looking out over the Mediterranean. This spring, it received a stunning new winery, whose wonders are all contained underneath the blue clay soil, as Darius Sanai, one of the wine’s most obsessive aficionados, discovers

Photography by Marius W Hansen

As you approach the Masseto winery, the overwhelming feeling is one of luminescence. There is a glow from above, and behind, as if the narrow road you’re driving along is the entrance to some new, celestial world.

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There are three shades to the luminescence. The piercing blue of the sky (the sky always seems to be blue around here in the Maremma, the coastal strip of Tuscany halfway between Pisa and Rome); the deep primordial green ahead, which emanates not from the vineyards that surround you but from a thick forest on the mountains in front, forest that looks as wild as it must have been in prehistoric times, with little or no sign of human intervention; and then there is a silver, which seems to come from a different direction altogether, subtle but enveloping. As the road heads up the slope through the vineyards and towards the new winery, you feel that you’re about to be welcomed through into another world.

Contemporary concrete architectural entrance way to a building

The entrance to the new winemaking buildings at Masseto winery

All this makes the entrance itself to the new winery, which opened this spring, even more remarkable. Rather than a great ziggurat to commemorate the otherworldly location of the home of one of the world’s greatest wines, you are greeted by a building that seems to sink far into the mountainside.

And this, perhaps, is the point. It is only when you enter between the stone sentinels at the entrance to the new winery, and disappear into the blue clay soil, that the adventure really begins.

A slim wine cellar with bottles from floor to ceiling

Masseto is perhaps the only Italian wine that has passed into the pantheon of high-luxury brands. It is a wine venerated by connoisseurs, while its serving is also seen as a mark of the ultimate respect by those with just a passing interest in wine, along with names like Pétrus, Lafite, Latour and Domaine de la Romanée- Conti – all the others are French. All the more remarkable, since Masseto has only been a wine since 1987. And since its birth, until the opening of the new winery in 2019, it has always been seen as the ‘big sister’ wine of Ornellaia, made on the same premises.

Read more: Karl-Friedrich Scheufele on Chopard’s partnership with Mille Miglia

This spring, Masseto finally received its own home, distinct from its sister wine, a few hundred metres away on another part of the same slope. The new winery is one of the most striking creations of anything in the increasingly rarefied world of fine wine.

Amid the vineyards, there is a beautiful classical building, terraced, with views across the vineyards and to the Mediterranean Sea, just a couple of miles away. It is the sea that gives Masseto’s vineyards their luminescence, and the wines themselves a kind of olfactory luminescence, lifting up and away, balancing the richness and power and complexity with a kind of angelic delicacy only the very greatest wines in the world can achieve.

Underground wine cellar designed in contemporary architecture

A table of red grapes being sorted by hands wearing white gloves

The glass-cube tasting room, and some of the merlot grapes harvested from the vineyard

But enter inside, and underground, and you are in a different universe. The landing area drops away to a vast, concrete-lined chamber, more redolent of a modern Abu Simbel in ancient Egypt than of a place where wine is made. Rows of wooden barriques line the room; everything is perfect, geometrically, but also puzzling, as if you have entered a kind of contemporary MC Escher drawing. A concrete wall swings open to reveal a room lined with what seem at first to be beautiful black tiles, but turns out to be the ends of Masseto bottles, stored geometrically in racks, black against the grey of the stone. Most remarkable of all is a glass tasting room, a cube in the middle of the winery, where you can taste wines looked on by the wines themselves, buried in the deep underbelly of Tuscany.

The architecture is the creation of Milan-based firm ZitoMori Studio. Masseto CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja comments: “Years of planning and effort have been dedicated to building the right home for Masseto. One that consolidates three decades of experience, where every aspect has been designed to meet the winemaking team’s highly detailed requirements.”

Ordered lines of wine vines in a sloping field

Contemporary clean architecture of a wall and door leading into a wine cellar

The orderliness of the vineyards outside are matched by the clean and uncluttered design of the new winery buildings

Colour portrait of a middle-aged business man

Giovanni Geddes de Filicaja, CEO of Masseto

Commercial director Alex Belson comments about the architecture: “The architectural brief specified the winery must be a masterpiece in its own right. Quite simply, we needed to give Masseto the home it deserves and its own architectural identity. The brief also stipulated the winery must have minimal visual impact, and that the existing Masseto House (a classified building on the hill above the vineyard) be restored with integrity and to meet Italian architectural heritage requirements.”

To do this, says Japanese-born architect Hikaru Mori, “We created a series of spaces, not by construction but by extraction from the hill’s monolithic mass. The diverse internal volumes, heights and levels are reminiscent of a gold mine as it follows seams of precious metal to the core.”

Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard

Axel Heinz, Masseto’s Estate Director

But the architecture would mean nothing without the wine, and Masseto is a wine that is even more special than its setting. Axel Heinz, the estate’s director, has been in charge of the winemaking since 2005 and he says, “The core of Masseto, its warp thread, is a Mahler symphony played by a full orchestra. The weft is a small chamber music ensemble. It’s that orchestral power that needs very careful handling. It has to be balanced by the softer elements, which add complexity. People sometimes describe Masseto as single vineyard wine, but it’s not. There’s an incredible range of plot expressions and different proportions of clay, gravel and earth. It’s more like an intricate patchwork, with the blue clay at its core.”

Heinz also pays tribute to the importance of the sea, both in the light it donates to the vineyards, and the cooling breezes that temper the summer heat and give the wine its freshness, however ripe the vintage. But like the greatest wines, and the greatest poetry, and the greatest vistas, you cannot analyse the beauty of Masseto. It comes from the soil, the grapes, the winemaking, the weather, the microbiome of the earth, the human appreciation of the aesthetic, both in taste and in vision.

For me, Masseto shares with a handful of wines the distinction of being rich, powerful and deep, and also feather light, almost transparent. A big, rich red wine that lifts you up, with a thousand nuances. Different vintages have different characteristics, but there is a commonality in this lightness of being that differentiates it from any other wine I have had from Italy, and which it shares with a clutch of peers at the tip of the world wine tree. Grape variety is irrelevant here. One or two of the great Napa Cabernet Sauvignons have it, as do a handful of top Bordeaux names, and the greatest (and eye-wateringly expensive) wines from the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy, Mugnier and Armand Rousseau from Burgundy. In the context of many of these peers, Masseto, whose price has rocketed over the past few years, seems positively decent value.

And none of them have a view of the Mediterranean across the coast of the Maremma. It’s going to be fun tasting future vintages in that glass tasting room.

Find out more: masseto.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue

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Reading time: 6 min
Underground wine cellar with wooden barrels and concrete walls and ceilings
Underground wine cellar with wooden barrels and concrete walls and ceilings

Designed by ZitoMori Studio, Masseto’s new cellar lies deep beneath the Tuscan soil

Italy’s most celebrated wine producer, Masseto, recently opened a stunning new underground wine cellar. Irene Belluci discovers

Masseto’s new wine cellar has been designed to blend, or rather sink seamlessly into the curves of the Tuscan landscape. Designed by Milan-based architecture practise ZitoMori Studio, the space expands deep underground in a vast concrete chamber that feels like a sacred tomb.

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‘To represent the effort made to produce the wine made here, we created a series of spaces – not by construction, but by extraction from the hill’s monolithic mass,’ explains Hikaru Mori. ‘The different internal volumes, heights and levels are reminiscent of a gold mine as it follows seams of precious metal to the core.’ Inside, the clean lines of glass and steel balance with rows of oak barrels and textured surfaces, whilst cut-outs in the walls, frame the vineyard’s famed blue clay soil.

An underground wine cellar

A slim wine cellar with bottles from ceiling to ground

 

Find out more: masseto.com

 

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Reading time: 1 min
Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard
Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard

Axel Heinz, Masseto’s Estate Director and Winemaker

The maker of Masseto hosts a private dinner for LUX readers in London, along with LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai

Masseto label on wine bottle with red wax stampAxel Heinz is not what you would expect of a Tuscan winemaker. Half German, half French, he speaks English with a perfect Received Pronunciation public school accent, the result of a UK school education. He is also thoughtful and philosophical about the great issues surrounding wine – and how he has helped turn Masseto, the jewel in the crown of the estate he runs, from being just another good Italian red, to one of the world’s greatest wines, on a par with Chateau Lafite and Petrus, within just 15 years.

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Axel was on sparkling form while hosting a dinner for friends of LUX in London this week, introducing some wonderful vintages of Masseto.

Masseto's vineyard director Axel Heinz in a wine cellar

Axel Heinz at the LUX Masseto dinner

wine bottles lined up against a burgundy wall with a decanter

A selection of wines a the LUX dinner

The 1998 showed the mark of a truly great wine, having developed into a subtle kaleidoscope of delicate flavours and layers. I asked Axel what it was that allowed some wines to develop this astonishing complexity with age – to improve, rather than just get older – and his answer was that it is a blend of magic and expertise. Of the eight vintages we tasted, the 2006 is the most celebrated, but my favourite was the 2010, with its blend of power and poetry.

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Masseto is also changing, for the better, with a new winery opening on its estate on a hillside above the Tuscan coast, next year. It’s a magically beautiful place, and the place, and its creations, were celebrated with much gratitude and joy at our private dinner in London.

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Interiors of Michelin-starred Esszimmer restaurant in Munich
purple grapes hanging on the vine in the Masseto vineyard in Tuscany

The Masseto vineyard in the Maremma region of Tuscany

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai was recently invited to a private tasting of Italy’s greatest wine, in a spectacular location. Masseto may now be a global superbrand, but it didn’t disappoint.

Italy makes many serious and famous wines, from the Barolos of Conterno to the Brunellos of Soldera. But there’s only one Italian wine which has crossed the Rubicon from the serious wine community – who examine vintage, vineyard, slope aspect and barrique ageing in exquisite detail – to what we call the general luxury connoisseur.

The latter is the category of wealthy people who live busy lives and, while immersing Chef prepares canapes to accompany the tasting of Masseto fine winesthemselves in life’s pleasures, don’t have time to work out which Conterno makes the great Barolos (it’s Giacomo) or whether Brunelli is the same as Brunello (it isn’t). They know and consume the greatest things in the world: they might own a Ferrari F12 TDF, a house in St Moritz and another in Malibu, eat at Osteria Francescana and own a Heesen boat and a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon. But they’re just too busy to sweat over the arcane detail of the wine world.

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That doesn’t mean they don’t know wine – they drink more fine wine than a Master of Wine could ever afford – and nor does it mean they only consume brands. Wine is a world where there’s nowhere to hide: if Chateau Pétrus really weren’t as good as it’s supposed to be, people wouldn’t buy it.

The wines that pass through the luxury connoisseurs’ lips are mainly French: Pétrus, Margaux, La Tache, Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc. And only one Italian wine makes it into this highest echelon: Masseto. Masseto is made a grape’s throw from the Mediterranean, in a beautiful vineyard sitting on a slope between the coast and an ancient forested hillside, in the Maremma region of Tuscany. This rather unspoiled stretch of Italy, between Rome and Pisa, produces other rather good wines, like Sassicaia, Tua Rita and Guado al Tasso (among many others). But it’s Masseto that has the brand recognition.

Interiors of EsZimmer restaurant for wine tasting of Masseto

EssZimmer: a sophisticated setting for a private tasting of Italy’s greatest wine

It’s made from Merlot, like Chateau Pétrus, and it’s rich, rounded, velvety and hedonistic. LUX had the privilege of being invited to a recent private tasting of no fewer than 15 different vintages of Masseto, held at the two Michelin starred Bobby Bräuer‘s EssZimmer restaurant at the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany. Hosted by winemaker Axel Heinz, and Burkard Bovensiepen, the owner of the BMW Alpina car company (and fine wine importer) and accompanied by such glorious dishes as ‘venison from the region, spice crust, onion ravioli’, it was beyond memorable.

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Masseto label on wine bottle with red wax stamp

Vintages served were the 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Did we have a favourite? The 1989 is no longer available but had a gentle timelessness that we could drink every day. The 2010, we would splash on as the world’s most lavish cologne, before licking it from the belly of…let’s move on. The 2011 was a Roberto Cavalli gown of a wine. The 1997 was a Chanel couture creation in all its perfection. The 2015 should have been undrinkably young; but was like drinking the stars.

Only the most recent vintages are available now, and we recommend drinking them with your favourite person, even if, in some cases, that means sharing them.

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Barricaia Masseto 1 (media)[1]

By Darius Sanai
Editor in Chief

On business in Italy, my route takes me along the coast of the Maremma, the beautiful and curiously unspoiled Tuscan coastlands. Combine the words Tuscany and Mediterranean and images of overcrowded beaches and packed rows of villas interspersed with batallions of ice-cream wielding middle-class children come to mind. But in reality, the Maremma, which stretches down from Pisa towards Rome, is one of the least-populated and least-touristed parts of Italy. Partly, this is because it used to be dominated by marshlands (and was once a malarial zone) and has little of the community history of the rest of Tuscany. But that changed 100 years ago, and the lack of tourism now is a mystery: there are beaches, the pineta (the long stone pine forest that wraps along the entire Mediterranean coast, when it is allowed to), picturesque hills, and now, no malaria.

What the Maremma does have, famously, if you are a wine lover, is some of the most interesting wines in the world. A few decades ago, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a member of the Tuscan wine aristocracy, planted vines here and created a wine called Sassicaia, which shocked the then conservative and inward-gazing world of wine. This was a wine from nowhere, which was of the quality of the Bordeaux first growths (the likes of Lafite and Latour). Was it a freak?

Sassicaia came from a sloping benchland called Bolgheri, between the sea and the wonderfully-named Colline Metallifere, the Metallic Hills, that border the area. To prove it wasn’t a freak, Incisa della Rochetta’s cousin, Ludovico Antinori (from a branch of the famed wine family, but not the main branch) planted his own wines nearby and in the early 1980s created another Bordeaux-style wine called Ornellaia. While not quite as celebrated as Sassicaia, it also make its mark at the top (or rather bottom) of the world’s wine lists.

There was a patch of land just outside the original domain of Ornellaia that Antinori planted to Merlot, one of the grapes of Bordeaux, and the dominant grape of two of Bordeaux’s legends, Chateau Petrus and Le Pin. Like a great patch of land in Burgundy, it was planted on a slope, slightly concave, with different soils and bordered by wild forests at the top. Like the land of Chateau Petrus, the soil was mainly clay. One day, Ornellaia’s owners decided to make a separate wine just out of grapes from this new vineyard, which was called Masseto, just for fun. The wine was so good, they have told me, that they decided to continue making it formally, in 1986.

And a legend was born, because Masseto is now the single wine of Italy that can take its place in the world’s private jets with the luxury brands of Bordeaux (Lafite, Petrus, etc) and California (Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, etc). There may be other wines of Italy which the professional wine tasters find equally good in some years, but they are obscure. Step into a restaurant in Moscow, Dubai or London and order a Masseto, and your companions, whether or not they are wine buffs, will know the card you have played.

“That is the middle part of the vineyard”, Axel Heinz tells me, inching along a sloped dirt track in his Audi. Heinz, handsome, articulate in several languages, and from some theoretical geographical combination of Germany and Bordeaux, is the winemaker for Masseto and Ornellaia, and has been for the past 10 years. “It is the grand cru of Masseto.” He is pointing to a slight hollow in the gentle slope, where grapes of a deep red hang from rows of green leaves. It’s just a vineyard, but I feel the same frisson as when walking the soils of Chambertin or La Landonne in France. The Mediterranean glistens in the middle distance, at its edge the delightfully empty beach by Bolgheri. Brooding forests rise towards the deep blue sky behind.

Vigna Masseto 1 (madia)[1]In the winery, a modernist building constructed in 1989 to blend into the earth, in a tasting room looking out over vines and hills and swathed in late summer sun, we taste some Massetos. The 2012, very young, remember, is deliciously, surprisingly open, broad, layered with bright fruit and cedar. It will be released to the world this autumn. The 2010 is older but tastes younger, more tannic, more closed, proud, just revealing hints of its couture gown from underneath a gabardine Burberry trenchcoat. I make a mental note not to drink the cases I have at home until 2020.

There are others, but the memorable wine, an astonishing wine, is the 2006. It has the breadth and openness of the 2012 but also a tunnel of depth, you can taste all kinds of bosky, subtle, sexy, bedroom-parlour touches and tones. These can only intensify over time. I make another mental note, to buy a case of the 2006 and drink a bottle a year over the next 12 years. Or to use it as perfume.

As I leave, I ask Heinz about the abandoned farm building next to the Masseto vineyard itself. It had been sealed off with fencing; a suggestion that there were plans afoot. “Yes, we are building Masseto’s own winery there,” he says. “Work starts this year and will be finished by the time we harvest the 2017 vintage”. So, Masseto is going it alone within the portfolio? “Yes,” he smiles. I see the flowering of a new, solo, luxury brand.

Darius Sanai

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