Piedmont is still, slowly, climbing its way into the ranks of great wine regions. It’s a fun moment. There are still plenty of discoveries to be made. This is especially true in Barbaresco, a DOC with a remarkable number of small producers who make fabulous wines that only intermittently make their way over to the U.S. Why bother with exporting when you can sell everything you make to local restaurants?
An example is Musso. Small and off-the-radar, Musso has only six hectares of vineyards in the DOC of Barbaresco. What they do have are well situated, as they lie entirely within the Crus of Rio Sordo and Pora. They have been bottling their own Barbarescos since the 1930s.
One of our trusted sources in Italy came across some older bottles from Musso and recommended them to us. Their arrival several months later felt a bit like Christmas: it is always a pleasure to open up those boxes to see what’s inside. In this case, it was several gorgeous-looking bottles of very mature Barbaresco.
Musso was entirely new to me. I inquired with friends who know more about this stuff than I do, and nobody knew these wines. Kerin O’Keefe had written them up in her great book on Barolo and Barbaresco, which was a good sign, but there was not much detail. There was only one way to learn: open some bottles.
We had a 1967, a 1979 and a 1982. The 79 and 82 were labeled “Rio Sordo” and the 1967 labeled “Riserva”. We stood them up in a cold cellar for several days, and then opened the bottles several hours before dinner. A quick taste suggested healthy bottles.
Kerin’s book says that Musso is a traditional producer who uses, for example, only large Slavonian casks to age the wines. These details are important, of course, but often not relevant when drinking older wines. Back in 1982 and 1979 only a tiny handful of producers in Piedmont — and possibly only Gaja in Barbaresco — were employing anything but large casks. In 1967 nobody was. I applaud Musso for maintaining this tradition, but that didn’t tell us much about the wines we would be drinking that night.
We started old, and poured the 1967. The bottle was in excellent shape, with a long ethereal feeling and even a touch of sappy fruit that belied its old age. Not a life-changer, but an elegant, harmonious wine and an awfully successful showing for a 50 year-old Barbaresco!
1979 is a shadow vintage. 1978 got all the hype but 1979s are almost as good and nobody ever paid attention. So it’s a vintage that’s undervalued in the market place and you should usually pick them up when you see them. The Musso 1979 was another great bottle of wine. Rio Sordo is known to be a bit rustic and gamey, and of the three bottles, the 1979 showed that the most.
Last up was 1982, easily the most famous of the three vintages. This was higher volume and more vigorous wine. Not quite youthful, but certainly not old — like it’s picking up a few white hairs, but in a dignified sort of way. There was that gamey quality of the 79, but also that sappy fruit of the 67, merging together most splendidly.
Drinking these wines made me draw comparisons to other wine regions. When was the last time you drank great 30-50 year old Bordeaux from a producer you’ve never heard of? Or even a Burgundy? It almost never happens. Anyone making wine back then in those regions has been discovered and written about, over and over again. But Piedmont still has so many mysteries — both past and present — to reveal.