Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is it Napa or Friuli? Neither. It's Massican

When you hear the words Napa Valley, there are a number of things that may come to mind. Certainly the large scale Cabernets and Meritage blends that Napa is so proud of. Maybe the 1976 Judgment of Paris that put California on the international map. Or, if you’re truly initiated, it might be the exciting Sauvignon Blanc that has been hitting the market. However, one thing that doesn’t easily come to mind are Northern Italian-inspired wines that taste more of the old world than the new, yet somehow manage to still be truly Californian. Yet that is exactly what Massican has captured in each of their bottles.

Ribolla vines
photo courtesy of Dan Petroski
Now on its second vintage, Massican has succeeded in showing that lightning can strike twice. Headed up by Dan Petroski (of Larkmead Vineyards) and sourcing its fruit from around Napa Valley, Massican strives to show the world that California is capable of creating white wines of verve, rooted in the earth, and electric on the palate.

Is it just another gimmick? Absolutely not. The white wines of Friuli have been wowing palates around the world for well over a decade now. Names such as Jermann, Miani, and Vie di Romans have been finding their way into collectors’ cellars for a long time, and not just the cellars of the committed Italophile; these wines are pleasing to a wide range of palates. Such was the inspiration for Massican.

Sixty-four year old Tocai vines
photo courtesy of Dan Petroski
Having sourced their fruit from Tocai vines that are sixty-four years old, Ribolla from the only known Ribolla vineyard in California and Chardonnay, which is planted in the coolest climate areas of Napa Valley, Massican is showing us that California is capable of more. It's a refreshing take on a region that has proved it can make big, bold wines to compete with Bordeaux. Now Massican has set out to show that it is capable of wines of refinement, earth, acid and stone. Those who love the white wines of Austria, Germany and Northern Italy... These are are for you.

Sauvignon Blanc air-drying for the Passito
photo courtesy of Dan Petroski
To truly set off the environment for this tasting, I invited a fellow wine writer to join me in a taste of Friuli dinner, during which we followed the wines for over four hours all paired with the regional cuisine of Friuli, Italy. It was a stunning success. The Massican wines paired beautifully with the flavors of Friuli. I could almost imagine myself sitting by the fogolar (hearth, cooking, meeting and eating spot in the traditional Friuli home), sipping wines made by the same people who tended the fields and raised the animals that provided us with our meal.

On to the wines:

2010 Massican Annia – The 2010 Annia, a blend of tocai friulano, ribolla gialla and chardonnay, is truly rooted in the earth as aromas of minerals and schist filled out the nose. With further exploration, I found white flowers, lemon zest and green melon. On the palate, an earthy salinity followed by citrus and honeydew melon glided across the senses. There was a lean acidity that provided laser-like focus and a mouthwatering zing that lasted into the finish with flavors of herbs and melon. This wine continued to gain depth and nuance over the course of 24 hours. I would have never expected the Annia came from Napa, and I mean that in the best possible way. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

The food for the wine: The Annia was paired with a salad of baby greens with Prosciuto san Daniel and figs poached in sweet Marsala. The dressing was a reduction of the poaching liquid with a splash of red wine vinegar and olive oil. The pairing was perfect.

2010 Massican Gemina – The nose was floral with honey, almond skins and green apple. On the palate, it showed a fuller body than the Annia with a similar acid profile. Flavors of nectarine and white fruits filled the senses and gained sweetness toward the back palate. The finish was fresh and mouthwatering, as the fruits turned to sour melon. This blend of chardonnay and ribolla gialla was very pleasing, right out of bottle, but really came to life with time in the glass. (91 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

Photo courtesy of Dave Trieger
of Vigna Uva Vino
The food for the wine: The Gemina was paired with Paparot (a cornmeal-spinach soup) with a side of Salsicce al Vino (pork sausage poached in white wine). The softer character of the Gemina lent well to this pleasing peasant dish from Friuli. The biting acidity also gave a much-needed lift to the polenta and spinach.

2010 Massican Sauvignon Blanc – The nose on the Sauvignon Blanc showed lemon sabayon, a classic whiff of cat pee, buttery crust and herbs. On the palate, I found a beautiful balance and structure with flavors of lime and granny smith apple. The finish was long and tangy with citrus and stone fruits. It was a complete and highly enjoyable wine that had an alluring "drink me" personality. It will be hard to keep your hands off this now, however this bottle should continue to improve for a few years in bottle. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

The food for the wine: Costicine di Maile con Verze (braised pork chops with savoy cabbage) with Rape e Patate All’Aceto (tangy skillet turnips and potatoes). This combination was a perfect example of how the bracing acidity of these wines can truly liven up a meal. The pork loin chops over cabbage were seductive in their rich and inviting flavors, but it was the zest of citrus from the Sauvignon that made it so memorable. Add to that the tangy turnip and potatoes with thick sliced pieces of bacon and you have a meal that was pure sinful indulgence.

2010 Massican Passito – The Passito, a sweet wine from air-dried sauvignon blanc and a small part ribolla gialla, showed a bouquet of honeysuckle with mint and sage pudding. On the palate, I found peach, sweet melon and lemon curd with a lush full body and zesty acidity that promised years of development in bottle. The finish went on and on with notes of sweet melon. (91 points)Find it: Wine-Searcher!

The food for the wine: What would you pair with a sweet Pasito-style wine? Some might say a cheese plate, but I’d rather go for a dessert that doesn’t depend on its own sweetness to satisfy—how about a tart? Torta di Mele is an apple tart with a crust made from toasted hazelnuts and breadcrumbs. Without the Passito, it’s a beautiful dessert with flavors of sour apple and roasted nuts in butter and toasty goodness, but with the Passito, it truly shined. Neither the Passito nor the tart took center stage; instead they complemented each other with sweet versus sour and a crispy buttery shell versus a smooth lush sweetness. It was a match made in heaven.

You can also join the Massican mailing list from their website. Here!


  1. This sounds really amazing. Can you post some of these recipes? The Sauvignon sounds awesome. I'm placing an order as I type.

  2. These were a test run on the recipes. I'm happy to share them you like but they're not perfected yet. Drop me an email if you like. As for the Sauvignon, you can't go wrong.


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