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Molto Mascarello

2011 November 1
by Mike

(These are notes from a Giuseppe Mascarello tasting I attended last year. They were recently published in The World of Fine Wine, and I thought I would post them here, as well. Mascarello is a producer I adore, and I did a lot of gushing in the notes.)

Among oenophiles, Italy’s Piedmont region enjoys a stellar reputation, but a case could be made that its finest wines are insufficiently appreciated. That point was rather emphatically demonstrated at a vertical tasting last October in New York of the wines of Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio, one of Piedmont’s most acclaimed producers. The event was organized by the Rare Wine Company, Mascarello’s American importer, and took place at Alto, a well-regarded Italian restaurant in Manhattan that has since closed on account of “unforeseen business circumstances” (reputation evidently offers only so much insurance nowadays). Fourteen wines in total were served, dating back to 1958, and by the end of the evening, there wasn’t a palate in the room that hadn’t been floored by the consistency and quality on display.

The Mascarello winery was established in 1881 by Giuseppe Mascarello, who had previously worked as a vineyard manager for several large landholders in the Langhe. It is now run by his great grandson, Mauro Mascarello, who took over in 1967, and his son Giuseppe Mascarello III. The Mascarellos are among the great traditionalists of the Piedmont region; although they have made some concessions to modernity—stainless steel, temperature-controlled fermentation vats, for instance—you will not find roto-fermenters or French oak barrels in their cellar. Using traditional Slavonian botti, they fashion uncompromisingly classic Barolos, wines that take years to reach their apogee but deliver incredible complexity and pleasure once they do. They are brilliant expressions of nebbiolo.

Although the Mascarellos cultivate grapes in several crus, the estate’s crown jewel is the Monprivato vineyard, in the village of Castiglione Falletto. Records show that Monprivato, a southwest facing hillside rich in white and gray marl soils, was recognized as one of the region’s finest sites as far back as the mid-17th century. The Mascarellos first acquired a slice of it in 1904, and added to their holdings throughout the course of the 20th century. For most of that time, they blended the grapes from Monprivato together with fruit from other vineyards. Mauro took charge of the winery in 1967, and three years later, over the objections of his father Gepin, he decided to bottle the Monprivato as a single-vineyard wine. It proved to be a masterstroke: beginning with the 1970, the Mascarello Monprivato marked itself as one of the finest wines in the Piedmont region.

With the acquisition of a final, tiny parcel in 1991, the Mascarellos became the sole owners of the Monprivato vineyard. Two years later, the estate released the debut vintage of a Barolo called the Cà d’Morissio Riserva. Named in honor of Mauro’s grandfather, Maurizio Mascarello, who had the purchased the family’s original parcel of Monprivato in 1904, the Cà d’Morissio is made from a section of the 15-acre vineyard planted entirely with the Michét clone, regarded as the finest sub-variety of nebbiolo. Only produced in outstanding years, the Cà d’Morissio is a superb wine that is considered Mascarello’s answer to Giacomo Conterno’s Monfortino and Bruno Giacosa’s Red Label Riservas.

Two vintages of the Cà d’Morissio were served during the tasting, the 2001 and 1996. Each was paired with the Monprivato from that year. While the Cà d’Morissios were sensational, they didn’t strike me as being significantly better than the Monprivatos. Perhaps the qualitative differences will widen with time, but it’s hard to imagine either bottle of the super cuvee exceeding the quality of the 82 Monprivato, a stunning wine now at the peak of maturity, or the Barolos from 1964 and 1958, which had the room delirious with pleasure. In addition to a raft of delicious Barolos, the tasting included several Mascarello Barbarescos, including a wondrous 1964 and an equally sublime 1961. Mascarello no longer produces Barbarescos, and judging by the quality of the ones we tasted, I would say that is very unfortunate. At any rate, this was a remarkable tasting of wines that rank alongside the world’s greatest growths.

2001 Barolo Monprivato: cherry and floral notes predominate, along with a pronounced whiff of anise. Still very young, but wonderful depth of flavor, balance, and length. Everything in place for a long and very rewarding lifespan. A.

2001 Barolo Cà d’Morissio: A subtle but enthralling nose redolent of plum, cinnamon, and earth. The aromas and flavors are a step up in intensity from the 01 Monprivato, as are the tannins. Great harmony and fabulous persistence across the palate, and a strong mineral note on the finish. Delicious already, and it’s only going to improve. A.

1996 Barolo Monprivato: A terrific perfume marked by aromas of dark cherry, tea, and anise (again), along with a balsamic note. A dense, almost chewy texture, with rich, deep flavors leavened by excellent acidity. In keeping with the vintage, the tannins are formidable, and by the end of the night, the wine had completely clammed up. But a delectable preview of what will prove to be a classic Monprivato. A.

1996 Barolo Cà d’Morissio: In contrast to the Monprivato, which at least came out to play for an hour or so, this one was still completely closed. For a moment, I feared the tannins were going to snap my tongue off. Over the course of the evening, the wine softened a bit, revealing ripe cherry flavors complemented by rose petal and mineral notes and pinpoint acidity. All the ingredients are in place for an epic wine, but this one needs to sleep for another 20 years. A.

1982 Barbaresco Marcarini: Shows its age with its light, orange-dappled color. A lot of volatility on the nose, along with hints of cherry, mushroom, and earth. Sweetish, almost kirsch-like cherry fruit on the palate, with reasonably good acidity and modest tannins. Pleasantly soft—a floozy, you might say. A-.

1982 Barolo Monprivato: A sensational nose marked by notes of kirsch, flowers, truffles, earth, and a pleasantly complicating whiff of volatility. Fantastically rich and chunky in the mouth, with lovely floral, mineral, and mushroom notes carrying through the finish, which could have lasted until sunrise. A great Barolo. A.

1978 Barbaresco Bernadotti: A big blast of volatile acidity on the nose, along with a dispiriting oxidative note. Dried out on the palate, and clearly past its sell-by date. However, pretty floral, plum, and cherry flavors still manage to burst through; pleasant to drink even in its dotage. B+.

1978 Barolo Villero: Also past its prime. Plum, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce on the nose. Mature but succulent fruit across the palate, with a nice spice note and lovely savory richness. But the flavors fade on the finish. A good wine still, but would have been substantially better a decade earlier. A-.

1964 Barbaresco: After the slight hiccup with the 78s, back on track with this beauty. Medium-bodied and bursting with delicious notes of dried cherries, mushrooms, menthol, cinnamon, and a pronounced nuttiness. A wonderful impression of elegance and completeness that carries through the long finish. A sensational Barbaresco. A.

1964 Barolo: The 64 Barbaresco was gorgeous; this one is majestic. A textbook Barolo nose of kirsch, tar, truffles, flowers, anise, and sandalwood. On the palate, the wine shows deliciously sweet, succulent cherry fruit, amazing harmony and depth, and beautifully integrated tannins. The flavors just linger, and linger some more. Amid all the superlatives, one word in my notebook stands out: wow. A+.

1961 Barbaresco: A sexy beast. A very earthy nose leads to a full-bodied, rich, remarkably opulent wine. How can a wine this age still pack so much stuffing? Fabulous density, with terrific kirsch, floral, truffle, and spice notes echoing across the palate and through the long, soaring finish. A treat. A.

1961 Barolo: Completely oxidized, unfortunately. The only casualty of the evening; given the age of many of these wines, we made out rather well.

1958 Barolo: Almost caramel-colored. A lovely nose of dried cherries, rose petals, tar, cured meats, and coffee grinds. There’s a hint of oxidation, too, but it scarcely matters. Decadently rich, sweet cherry fruit in the mouth, along with balsamic and tea notes. Retains superb structure, and finishes with that telltale anise note. Another sensational wine. A.

1958 Barolo Riserva: A deeper, even more beguiling nose, redolent of cherry jam, dried flowers, incense, menthol, and tar. A wine that unfurls slowly, brilliantly across the palate. Such marvelous richness and depth. Velvety tannins, excellent spice notes, and an eternal finish round out an hypnotically good wine. Forced to pick, I’d give the nod to the 64 Barolo over this, but it would be a choice between Bentleys. A+.

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  6. November 3, 2011

    Mike – I am often jealous of your tasting excursions. This might top the list for me. G. Mascarello ranks as my favorite Barolo producer. It is the first Barolo that truly captivated me, showed me what the wine was all about. And I mentioned a Mascarello bottling in this piece – forgive me if linking comes across as whoring…

    Interestingly, James Suckling has said that he finds this producer to too often produce wines riddled with VA. I haven’t found that problem at all. You mention one wine in which the lift was pleasant to you; I assume a pleasant lift is a bit like a pleasant brett. Not overpowering, and adding complexity, perhaps?

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