VIEW FROM THE CELLAR
PIEMONTE BRILLIANCE AND TRADITION
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2006 DOLCETTO D’ALBA BRICCO – PIEDMONT – ($27.00) – RED – 87
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2006 DOLCETTO D’ALBA SANTO STEFANO DI PERNO – PIEDMONT – ($22.00) – RED – 89
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2004 BARBERA D’ALBA SCUDETTO – PIEDMONT – (not available) – RED – 89
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2006 LANGHE NEBBIOLO – PIEDMONT – ($39.00) – RED – 90
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2004 BAROLO VILLERO – PIEDMONT – (not available) – RED – 92
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2004 BAROLO SANTO STEFANO DI PERNO – PIEDMONT – (not available) – RED – 94
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2004 BAROLO MONPRIVATO – PIEDMONT – (not available) – RED – 96
• GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO – 2001 BAROLO RISERVA CA’ D’ MORISSIO – PIEDMONT – (not available) – RED – 96+
The estate of Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio has a long and illustrious history in Piemonte, and is unequivocally one of the greatest names in Barolo today. This traditionally-styled winery is now run by Mauro Mascarello and his son Giuseppe Mascarello III, representing the fourth and fifth generations of the family to produce world class wine from their parcels of top vineyards in the Barolo region. The estate’s origins date back to the mid-1800s, when the first Giuseppe Mascarello made a name for himself managing the vineyards of large landowners in the region, including those of the Marchesi Carlo Tancredi Falletti, by far the most important vineyard owner in Piemonte in the nineteenth century. The Falletti family had dominated the region since the twelfth century, and the estate was enormous by the time of the nineteenth century, with huge swaths of vineyards rolling across the finest terroirs in the Barolo district, in the villages of La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba. The Marchesi Falletti passed away in 1838, but his wife, Giulietta (who was Parisian by birth) continued to manage the vast estate for several decades after her husband’s death, and it was during this time that Giuseppe Mascarello’s skills as a vineyard manager began to garner attention. The Marchesa Falletti was the first person to insist that her wines from the region be known as Barolo, naming them after the town in which she had her cellars. The Marchesa Falletti had obtained the aid of the French oenologist, Louis Oudart, who had arrived in the region a short time before, to assist in crafting her wines in a “Burgundian” style that would eventually lead to the traditional dry style of Barolo that we know it today. The Marchesa Falletti’s wines were sold to the King of Italy at the time, Carlo Alberto, who eventually purchased his own estate in the Barolo region after having been smitten by the quality of the Marchesa’s wines..
One has to remember that the history of Italy as a united nation and Barolo as a specified wine made from the nebbiolo grape in its current geographic location only date back to this same era, as Italy was not completely unified until 1861. The first estate in the region dedicated solely to the production of Barolo came even a bit later, when the Count di Mirafiore founded a company to produce and sell Barolo produced from his estate, Fontanafredda in 1878. The Fontanafredda property had originally been the agricultural estate of Carlo Alberto (and then his son, King Vittorio Emanuele II) which had begun to be pieced together in the first quarter of the nineteenth century by Carlo Alberto. The Fontanafredda name dates back to the mansion built there by Vittorio Emanuele II for his lover, as she was kept away from royal court in nearby Turin. Throughout this epoch the wines of the Marchesa Falletti were amongst the finest to be found in Barolo, and Giuseppe Mascarello worked for the Marchesa until 1881. Signore Mascarello finally purchased his own cellars and a parcel of just over three hectares of vines in 1881 in the village of Monforte d’Alba, with his first plot lying in the excellent cru vineyard of Pian della Polvere. This vineyard had originally belonged in its entirety to the Bishop of Alba, but when ecclesiastical properties were confiscated by the state in the 1870s, the estate was sold off first to Jewish businessmen (unaffected by the prospect of excommunication threatened by the Catholic church on buyers of former church properties), and eventually in smaller plots to local farmers, amongst them Giuseppe Mascarello in 1881 by these same businessmen.
Giuseppe Mascarello had six children, three daughters, Margherita, Catterina and Rosa, and three sons, Antonio, Luigi and Maurizio Mascarello. Maurizio ended up working alongside Giuseppe, and in 1904 he purchased a farm in the neighboring village of Castiglione Falletto, which included a significant slice of the great cru of Monprivato. Since Maurizio’s purchase in 1904, the family estate of Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio has been inextricably linked with the superb vineyard of Monprivato. Maurizio’s original purchase in Monprivato was 3.11 hectares of the vineyard. Maurizio Mascarello moved the family business to his farm in Castiglione Falletto in 1904, and made his wines there up until 1919, when he had the opportunity to purchase the old ice house in the village of Monchiero, which lies below the hills in the flatlands. The beautiful building that included the ice house had been built in the eighteenth century, and was one of the architectural landmarks in Piemonte. While Monchiero is hardly in the heart of Barolo wine country, the property was irresistible to Maurizio Mascarello, as this great old building came equipped with a brick-lined cellar with walls fully a meter thick, in which the year round temperatures never budge from the twelve to thirteen degree Celsius range, no matter how hot the weather outside. These cellars were sufficient to keep block ice cut from the nearby river when it froze over in the winter still cold and solid until July when the facility was used as an ice house, and it is a perfect environment for the elevage of wine. The Mascarello family has never again moved its winemaking facilities from Monchiero since Maurizio converted this old ice house to a wine cellar back in 1919
Maurizio Mascarello passed away in 1923, leaving the family wine business to his two sons, Giuseppe II and Natale Mascarello. Just prior to his passing away, Maurizio started one of the most important vineyard projects in the history of the estate in 1922, as he began to assemble a nursery of cuttings of the finest strain of nebbiolo found in the family vineyards, the Michét variety. Over time much of the family vineyard parcels would be replanted by selection massale from these first cuttings of Michét isolated and nurtured by Maurizio Mascarello, and much of the perfume and refined elegance of the Giuseppe Mascarello bottlings of Barolo can be attributed to the relatively high percentage of Michét that comprises their wines. There are three main sub-varieties of nebbiolo that are today permitted to be planted in Barolo and Barbaresco: Michét, Lampia and Rosè. As nebbiolo is prone to genetic mutation, these are only three of the more than forty different sub-varieties that have been identified from this grape. Of the three sub-varieties of nebbiolo permitted in Barolo, the Rosè has decreased over the years in most vineyards, as it is the most capricious to grow. However, Lampia, which is not considered to produce a wine quite as fine as those derived from Michét, is the predominant sub-variety now in the region, though there is a program under way at the University of Turin to develop other clones of nebbiolo that will prove to be more resistant to disease, mildew and botrytis than either Lampia or Michét. But when one talks of the wines of Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio, thanks to the efforts started by Maurizio, Michét is the dominant varietal that defines the wines from this estate.
The two Mascarello brothers, Giuseppe II and Natale eventually went their separate ways, splitting up the family vineyards and sharing out the older wines in the cellar. Giuseppe II (also know as Gepin) continued to build on the success of his father Maurizio and his grandfather Giuseppe, and demand continued to grow for his classic wines. During this era, Gepin, made wines both from his own vineyard holdings and also purchased grapes from growers with holdings in other top Barolo crus such as Villero, Bricco, Bussia and there was even a few straight Barbarescos made by Giuseppe II in the early 1960s. The purchase of grapes from other growers with holdings in top vineyards had been started by Gepin Mascarello soon after his father Maurizio passed away, and as the estate’s reputation for high quality continued to expand, Giuseppe II expanded the amount of grapes that he purchased in each vintage. However, throughout this period, the Mascarello wines were blended into two cuvées of Barolo, a normale and a riserva, and none of the crus was bottled and sold separately. Over the course of this time the Mascarello family also sought to buy more good vineyard land as opportunity allowed, and at the top of the list of their priorities was always to add a bit more Monprivato. However, this was fairly difficult, as during this period fully forty percent of Monprivato was owned by the Vatican. Mauro Mascarello recounts that “my father would constantly try to find the right prelate in the church to speak to about purchasing the Vatican’s parcel of Monprivato, but despite knocking on many doors over many, many years, he was never able to speak to the right person about the parcel of Monprivato that belonged to the Vatican.”
Giuseppe Mascarello II had been stationed during the second world war in Slovenia, and one of the things he had noticed during his “extended stay” in the region was the high quality of the oak in Slovenia. He kept this in mind upon his return to Monchiero after the war, and in the 1950s, when he had need of replacing many of the old, large botti casks in his cellar (many dating from his father’s and grandfather’s era), he had the new botti made out of Slavonian oak. At this time, he was the first winemaker in Piemonte to use Slavonian oak for his botti, which are now the standard in the cellars of the traditionally-minded producers who eschew the use of French oak barriques. Today, his son Mauro and his grandson, Giuseppe III continue to use the same oak botti purchased by the estate in the 1950s. However, lest one think that the Giuseppe Mascarello vintages of Barolo from the 1950s and 1960s were marked by a bit of new Slavonian oak, keep in mind that no Piemonte winemaker in those days would put good Barolo into new oak, as the botti were first rinsed out vigorously with water to leach out much of their flavor-influencing characteristics, and then wines such as Dolcetto, Freisa and Barbera would go into the new botti for the first few years, before the Mascarellos would entrust their Barolo to the new casks.
Giuseppe Mascarello II’s son, Mauro Mascarello, worked alongside his father for many years before taking over the primary responsibility for running the family cantina in 1967. Mauro is an energetic and passionate man, with the close-cropped tuft of beard underlining his chin giving him the look of a university professor or a country member of the Protestant clergy. One of Mauro’s first decisions upon taking over the family estate was to begin to bottle the Monprivato as a single cru bottling in 1970. As he notes, “my father was against the idea at the time, as most of the great wines of Barolo were still blends from different crus, and the thought in those days was that the blended Barolo was superior as it had greater complexity from the combination of the various vineyards.” When Mauro decided to bottle some of the Monprivato vineyard on its own, he sought out the best section of old vines, which had been planted to Michét by his grandfather Maurizio in the early 1920s, where the yields were lower and the potential for quality the highest. His father Gepin had started another large replanting of the sections of the family vineyards not planted with Michét in 1962, with the new cuttings being taken from their family nursery of Michét, so that much of their holding in Monprivato was in younger vines at this time, which may have prompted Mauro to bottle the old vine Monprivato fruit on its own.
However, as Mauro Mascarello recounts, the primary impetus for his decision to bottle a portion of the Monprivato on its own in 1970 had to do with both the family history and some of the currents then emerging in Barolo at this time. While Mauro’s father had always made his Barolo bottlings, both Normale and Riserva from a blend of different crus (mostly from top vineyards in Castiglione Falletto or the Bussia Soprana vineyard in Monforte d’Alba), Gepin’s father Maurizio had only made wine from his own grapes, and for most of his career this consisted entirely of fruit from Monprivato. As Mauro recalls, “in 1967, my first year running the family winery, I wanted to vinify Nebbiolo grapes from the Monprivato vineyard on their own because Gepin- Giuseppe II, my father- had told me on many occasions that during the years from 1904 to 1921, when the winery was still located in Castiglione Falletto, his father Maurizio used to vinify them on their own,” with the grapes from Monprivato “producing a great Barolo.” So, Mauro’s curiosity of how the Monprivato would taste on its own already had a firm foothold in his grandfather’s time. On top of this, the mid-1960s were a time when Renato Ratti and Beppe Colla at Prunotto were championing the cause of single vineyard Barolo bottlings, and the influential wine and food journalist at this time, Luigi Veronelli, was strongly behind their efforts. Mauro very much wanted to see the results of Monprivato fruit vinified and bottled on its own, and was willing to do it right from the start in 1967, but because his father was against the idea at the outset, he waited until the next top vintage came along in 1970. During Gepin Mascarello’s time at the head of the family domaine, perhaps only twenty-five percent of the blend for his Barolo would consist of Monprivato fruit, so he continued to be reluctant about the project even when Mauro decided to go ahead with it in 1970. However, by the end of his life he was very much in accord with Mauro that bottling Monprivato on its own had been the correct decision.
Mauro Mascarello’s tenure at the head of the family estate was a time of tremendous change in the fortunes of top producers in Barolo, as the world finally woke up to the quality of Piemonte’s greatest wines, and the current generation of winemakers in the region have a recent degree of financial freedom that would have been unimaginable to their parents and grandparents. Consequently, Mauro has been able to add significantly to the family vineyard holdings over the course of his career, with one of the most important purchases being the vineyards of his uncle Natale Mascarello in 1979, when his uncle passed away. This re-united the original family holdings again under a single label, and during much of his career Mauro was able to add small slices of Monprivato from neighbors, so that by the mid-1980s the only two major owners of vines in this cru were the Mascarello family and the Vatican. While persistent knocking on the doors of the Vatican did not produce the desired effect, the Vatican’s holdings in Monprivato were finally auctioned off in 1986, and Mauro Mascarello was able to purchase them and make this great cru a monopole bottling for his family (after adding a couple more tiny parcels from neighbors at the end of the decade). He has also been able to purchase parcels of vines in some other fine crus, primarily from the families that his father and grandfather before him purchased grapes from, so that today the Mascarellos can offer Barolo bottlings from the vineyards of Villero, Codana and Santa Stefano di Perno, in addition to their beloved centerpiece of Monprivato.
The Mascarello family’s first expansion of their holdings in Monprivato came around the time of Maurizio’s passing in 1923, so that when the vineyard land in this cru was split up between his children, Giuseppe II inherited 2.85 hectares of vines, his brother Natale just over. 70 hectares, and their three sisters .39 hectares of Monprivato vines. In 1959 Giuseppe II purchased his sisters’ share of vines in Monprivato. As noted above, the next significant purchase was his son Mauro’s buying his uncle’s plot in Monprivato in 1979. Most of the original Mascarello holdings were in the northwestern section of the vineyard, with the exception of a plum parcel just below the road and surrounded by the holdings of the Vatican. The following year Mauro officially inherited his father’s holdings in Monprivato, and in 1982 he was able to purchase a .57 hectare piece of the vineyard that was owned by the Castello Maria, which was located in the center of the vineyard at the base of the hillside. Three years later another comparable piece of the vineyard was acquired by the Mascarellos: a .59 hectare piece that belonged to Violante Sobrero and was placed at the northwestern end of the vineyard on the border with the Vigneto Codana. As noted above, the Vatican’s sizeable 1.43 hectares of vines was secured at auction in 1986, which included all of the eastern side of the vineyard closest to the village of Castiglione Falletto, as well as a choice section in the center of the vineyard. The final parcel in Monprivato was finally bought by Mauro in 1991 from Caterina Vietti, a .43 hectare parcel in the center of the vineyard at the top of the slope above the Vatican’s former piece.
The Mascarello wine that emerges from Monprivato is inherently one of the most elegant and perfumed crus in all of Piemonte. Slow to unfold, young Monprivato can often be a bit captured by its structural elements and seem a tad high-toned for great Barolo, with its red fruit, notes of camphor and early signs of the forest floor notes to come seeming a bit out of place amongst so many more overtly powerful young Baroli that emerge from other crus. However, Monprivato continues to build over the first decade it spends in bottle, deepening, broadening and adding layers of complexity to both the nose and palate, while never losing the elegance that this cru is so prized for amongst the Barolo cognoscenti. With sufficient bottle age Monprivato produces a beautiful, full-bodied, red fruity, truffley and soil-driven Barolo, which is also often also redolent of autumnal notes and roses, and which is clearly the equal of the greatest wines of Piemonte. For five generations now the Mascarello family has unwaveringly followed a traditional approach to winemaking that allows the brilliant underlying terroir of all of their wines, and Monprivato in particular, to take center stage and completely define the wines. In this regard, of course, no new French oak barriques are ever used. As Mauro Mascarello observed when interviewed for Maurizio Rosso’s fine book, The Mystique of Barolo, his overriding goal is to produce a wine that carries the signature of its underlying vineyard: “This is my aim: I want a wine to taste of “terroir” and grape, not of wood.”
As noted above, when Mauro Mascarello first took the lead role in managing the family estate, his father was not in favor of producing a Monprivato cru bottling, as like many of his generation he preferred a wine that was a blend of different vineyard sources. As Mauro Mascarello recalled in Signore Rosso’s book, “my father preferred blending and always said use Monprivato as a base and then add good quality grapes to it.” In Mauro’s father’s days, this would primarily be grapes from the crus of Villero in Castiglione Falletto and Bussia Soprana in Monforte d’Alba, which were the primary vineyards that the Mascarello family purchased grapes from to augment their own vineyard production. However the brilliant 1970 Monprivato, not to mention all of the other beautiful vintages that have followed, have clearly shown that Mauro Mascarello made the correct choice in choosing to bottle Monprivato on its own, as it is one of the most unique and compelling wines made in all of Piemonte. However, it is not the only cru that Mauro Mascarello has made over the course of his career, as the variety of single vineyard bottlings he has made from other family parcels or purchased grapes includes the likes of Villero, Bricco and Pugnane from Castiglione Falletto, from Monforte d’Alba he has produced Barolo crus from Bussia Soprana, Dardi and Santa Stefano di Perno, and from Serralunga d’Alba, Vigna Rionda.
Today the Giuseppe Mascarello lineup includes six distinct Barolo bottlings: from Castiglione Falletto there are Monprivato, Monprivato Riserva “Cà d’Morissio”, Villero, Codana and Bricco, and from Monforte d’Alba Santa Stefano di Perno. The cru bottlings are not made in every vintage, with lesser years seeing several or all of the crus blended together. In addition, the family makes Dolcetto bottlings from the vineyards of Santa Stefano di Perno and Bricco, and Barbera bottlings from the crus of Santa Stefano di Perno, Codana and Scudetto. There is also a bit of Freisa produced from the vineyard of Toetto. The Barolo “Villero” has been produced as a single cru bottling by the family since the 1978 vintage, and in 1985 Mauro Mascarello was able to buy outright a 62 hectare parcel from which he had previously purchased grapes. Villero is an excellent vineyard in Castiglione Falletto, with perfect southwesterly exposure and rather deeper, more clay dominated soils than those found in Monprivato. Traditionally, Villero was always described as the perfect blending complement to the most famous vineyard in Castiglione Falletto, the Rocche vineyard. Mauro Mascarello replanted his parcel in Villero in 1988. The Mascarellos’ parcel of vines in the cru of Codana, which is a continuation of the hillside of Monprivato and shares similar soils and exposure, is only .38 hectares in size and was bought in 1991. This small plot is planted with seventy-five percent barbera and twenty-five percent nebbiolo, making the Barolo “Codana” a very small production wine.
The Barolo “Bricco” from Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio was purchased in 1987, with the family’s .63 hectare parcel planted to forty percent nebbiolo and sixty percent dolcetto. Bricco or Bricco Boschis is located in the center of Castiglione Falletto, with a wide array of exposures that bend around from west/southwest to and almost northwesterly exposure, as it is one of the highest points in Castiglione Falletto. The soils here are a blend of clay and limestone, and the relatively higher elevation here tends to be a bit cooler than many of the neighboring vineyards. The Barolo “Santa Stefano di Perno” is the only Mascarello Barolo made these days from outside of the village of Castiglione Falletto, as these vines lie in the neighboring village of Monforte d’Alba. The Mascarellos purchased their 1.7 hectare plot (out of a total vineyard extent of just less than six hectares) in 1989, but only fifteen percent of their parcel in this fine vineyard is currently planted to nebbiolo. The remainder of their holding in Santa Stefano di Perno is planted with sixty percent barbera and twenty-five percent dolcetto. The other recent purchases of vineyards by the Mascarellos include a .69 hectare plot in the vineyard of Toetto bought in 1987, which the family has planted over entirely to freisa in 1989, and a 1991 purchase of a 1.9 hectare parcel in Scudetto, which is planted with sixty-five percent barbera and thirty-five percent dolcetto.
The final distinct cru bottling of Barolo in the Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio lineup is their newly created and profound Riserva from Monprivato, the Cà d’Morissio. The name translates from Piemontese dialect as “the house of Maurizio”, which is named for Mauro Mascarello’s grandfather, who was said to always be out in the vines. The name of the Riserva is a tribute to the first generation of Mascarellos to purchase vines in Monprivato. The first vintage for the Cà d’Morissio Riserva bottling was produced in 1993, which is made from a beautiful section of Monprivato that was replanted in the 1980s entirely with Michét clones nurtured over the years in the family nursery from the original 1922 cuttings. The vines’ yields are kept back to the thirty hectoliter per hectare range for the Cà d’Morissio bottling, and it is today only produced in great vintages. Following the two initial releases in 1993 and 1995, the wine has been made again in 1996, 1997 (a profound example of this rather overrated vintage in general), and will be produced in 2001 (to be released later this year), and most likely as well in 2004 and 2005. The elevage of the Cà d’Morissio is a bit different than the other Barolo crus as Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio, as it is not bottled until six years after the vintage, as opposed to four years for all of the other crus. So far I have only had the pleasure to taste the 1995 and 1997 Cà d’Morissio bottlings, both of which are magical wines and amongst the greatest examples of Barolo produced in their respective vintages.
Mauro Mascarello is often described as an “enlightened traditionalist” when it comes to his winemaking approach. Now working side by side with his own son, Giuseppe III, there are no French oak barrels or roto-fermenters to be found in the Mascarello cellars, and the wines continue to be raised in the Slavonian oak botti purchased by Mauro’s father in the mid-1950s. However, the winemaking here does take advantage of many modern technologies as well, as Mauro Mascarello had his stainless steel fermentation tanks made precisely to his own specifications, and with the temperature control that is now possible during fermentation with these tanks, he can much more precisely control extraction than was the case in the past. As he recounted to Maurizio Rosso, “I had my stainless steel vats made to measure and it took me three years to perfect my method and obtain the results I wanted. I think I’ve cracked it though: with the same material I’m now able to extract more color and tannins, something I could only obtain during the great vintages before.”
The cellaring regimen has also changed over the years at Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio, as the duration of the maceration period has lessened now that the extraction during fermentation can be more precisely controlled by Mauro and Giuseppe. A couple of decades ago the Barolo crus in the Mascarello cellars would typically macerate for sixty days or so after the completion of fermentation, but this has now been cut back to about thirty days in most vintages. They will still spend anywhere from three to three and a half years in cask before they are bottled (depending on the character of the vintage), but remember that this generally in thousand liter casks of Slavonian oak that date back to the 1950s (though the domaine does have a variety of sizes of old oak casks to better match up with the sizes of each parcel). With the old oak, the pores have closed down significantly, so that the oxygen exchange is incremental and the wines unfold very gently in cask, with little fears of their drying out from their comparatively long sojourn in botti. Mauro Mascarello also explains that “Slavonian oak is more compact and less flavorsome than French oak, and after a few years merely facilitates the oxygen exchange.” (The Mystique of Barolo, Maurizio Rosso.) So the three plus years of elevage in old Slavonian oak imparts no flavor elements to the wine, simply allows the Barolo to round off and blossom in a gradual and gentle manner prior to bottling.
The style of the Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio wines are great, classic and slow to unfold Piemonte beauties, with every varietal true to the classic style of the wines of this region, as well as their underlying soils. This is not to say that these are old-fashioned, rustic or inelegant wines, as nothing could be further from the truth. Like all the great classically styled wines of this region, they start out life reticent and a bit more closed down by their structural elements than is the case with most other great wine-producing regions around the globe. However, all that is needed is time for these impeccably balanced and beautifully made wines to emerge from their adolescence and stun appreciative fans with their harmony and refinement. Arguments often bandied about that accuse traditionally-made Piemonte wines as too tannic, too tough and too coarse for modern sensibilities are generally off-base with the great traditionalist winemakers of the region, and are about as far removed from the truth as it is possible to be when it comes to discussing the hauntingly elegant wines of Mauro Mascarello. Throughout his long career, Mauro Mascarello (and one must assume his father, grandfather and great- grandfather before him) has handcrafted some of the most elegant, refined and brilliant wines in all of Piemonte, that unlock within the fullness of time to display all of the perfume, complexity and haunting transparency that makes the wines of Piemonte so uniquely brilliant.
As several of the other iconic traditionalists in the region have begun to wind down their careers or passed away in the last several years, Mauro Mascarello has begun to gain a bit more of the recognition that he has so long deserved for his great wines. Other great producers of his generation, gentlemen such as Bartolo Mascarello, Giovanni Conterno have now left us, and Bruno Giacosa is now in the latter stages of his career, making Mauro Mascarello one of the few remaining stars of his genre still very active in his winery. Mauro is a soft-spoken, reflective and highly intelligent winemaker who wears his new role as the primary spokesperson for the great traditionalists of his generation without a great degree of comfort. It is so clear when one speaks with him that he would be much more comfortable discussing the finer points of Barolo vinification and viticulture while standing in the vines or buried in the cellar, rather than in some elegant restaurant in New York, London or Los Angeles, but he wears the mantle and makes the rounds as he is fully aware that it is part of the responsibilities of a winemaker today to promote one’s wines and region in the ever-expanding universe of wine. Today he is often accompanied by his son, Giuseppe III on many of these trips, and it seems abundantly clear that this is one estate in the traditionalist camp in Piemonte where the transition from generation to generation will be seamless. But this has been the Mascarello tradition throughout its first four generations, and there is little doubt that Giuseppe will one day take over the reigns of the family estate with no break in the exquisite quality of the family’s wines. While Mauro Mascarello is by no means as outspoken as Bartolo Mascarello when it comes to defending Barolo traditions on one hand, and lampooning the new wave style of the modernist camp of Barolo, he is also quite unequivocal when it comes to where his allegiances lie in the dividing line of Piemonte wine today. He has been quoted as saying that in his conversations with Elio Altare, one of the first and greatest producers of the modernist school, Signore Altare has never proclaimed that he was interested in making great Barolo, but rather a great wine period, and in his opinion, all of the great red wines of the world are made in French barriques. To this assertion Mauro Mascarello can only shake his head and politely (but adamantly) disagree. As he summed up when speaking with Maurizio Rosso in The Mystique of Barolo, “In my view, Barolo is a wine that reflects the history of this land and its people and which should be allowed to continue to do so in the future. When vintages excel its right to try and create real works of art. I live by my personal theories and convictions and am not at all put out if I’m called a traditionalist. After all, when I was in London, they defined me as the ‘most modern of traditionalist’, meaning that I know how to live in my time, know how to unite innovation and tradition without short-sighted nostalgia.”
I am deeply indebted to Mauro and Giuseppe Mascarello for the generosity with their time and wines in the preparation of this article, but this piece would still be on the “to do list” if not for an extraordinary opportunity that was afforded by Mannie Berk of the Rare Wine Company, when he extended an invitation to me to attend an amazingly fine lineup of Barolo from Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio that was held at the Osteria Mozza restaurant in Los Angeles in April of this year. The tasting began with the 2003 Monprivato and went all the way back to the 1958 vintage, with both Mauro and Giuseppe Mascarello in attendance. Amazingly, the Rare Wine Company was also able to replicate this same tasting in San Francisco a few night later. All of the wines were in impeccable condition, with a few of the older vintages having been sourced directly from the Mascarello cellars, and the beautiful lineup of wines spanning six decades was able to fill in my archive of tasting notes of Mascarello wines sufficiently to provide requisite depth to write this piece. However, I should emphasize that there are dozens and dozens of other great Giuseppe Mascarello wines out there from the span of Mauro Mascarello’s career that I have not had the opportunity to taste, as the vertical in Los Angeles focused primarily on the cru of Monprivato from 1970 onwards. Please do not conclude that this is an endorsement simply for the Monprivato bottling from the Mascarellos, as noting could be further from the truth. Virtually every wine that I have tasted from the estate has been impeccably made, and I would not hesitate to reach out for a bottle of Villero, Bricco or a Pugnane from the old days if I had the good fortune to cross paths with one. For Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio, in the more than capable hands of Mauro and Giuseppe Mascarello, is unequivocally one of the greatest wine-producing estates in the world
2005 Dolcetto “Bricco”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 2005 Dolcetto “Bricco” from the Mascarello family is a young and serious wine that is still a tad on the reduced side and needs a bit of aeration before drinking. The bouquet is deep and complex, as it offers up notes of cherries, red berries, saddle leather, violets, road tar and fresh herbs. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied, long and tangy, with lovely transparency down to the soil, little tannin, bright acids and lovely length and bounce on the finish. Good juice that will be even better with a year or two to blossom. I have never aged any examples of the Mascarellos’ Dolcetto, but this lovely 2005 certainly seems capable of aging gracefully for a decade. 2009-2020? 88
2004 Barbera “Santa Stefano di Perno”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
This particular bottling of barbera, from the fine vineyard of Santa Stefano di Perno, which is located in the village of Monforte d’Alba, is one of two that the estate produces. The 2004 is a superb bottle of young barbera, as it jumps from the glass in a classic blaze of red cherries, strawberries, woodsmoke, nutty tones and a fine base of soil. On the palate the wine is medium-full, tangy and beautifully transparent, with a lovely core of fruit, tangy acids, modest tannins and excellent length and grip. I am a big fan of the top bottlings of barbera, and clearly the Mascarello Santa Stefano di Perno 2004 belongs amongst the finest in this excellent vintage. 2008-2020. 92.
2005 Barbera d’Alba “Codana”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The Codana vineyard in Castiglione Falletto is a continuation of Monprivato, and is one of the top vineyards in the village. The lower section of the vineyard has deeper and more fertile soils than the upper half, and the Mascarellos, like other top growers with holdings in Codana, have barbera, rather than nebbiolo planted in this cooler section. The 2005 Codana is decidedly more black fruity in personality than the above wine, as it offers up a great nose of red and black cherries, nuts, woodsmoke, a deep base of soil tones and fresh herbs. On the palate the wine is fullish, tangy, long and intensely flavored, with great length and bounce on the complex finish. Another stellar bottle of barbera. 2008-2020. 92.
2003 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 2003 Monprivato is one of the most impressive examples of this torrid vintage as I have yet tasted from Piemonte. What is so striking about the ’03 Monprivato is that it has retained all of its transparency down to the soil, and has remained really quite fresh in a vintage where such characteristics are hardly typical. The bouquet offers up a lovely blend of cherries, orange peel, oregano, woodsmoke, game, just a touch of dried fruit tones and rose petals in the upper register. On the palate the wine is fullbodied, complex and defined by its great terroir, with lovely length, ripe tannins, fairly moderate acidity by young Monprivato standards, but good length and grip on the finish. Perhaps the 2003 Monprivato does not offer up quite the same precision of more classicalyears, but it is a resounding success for the vintage, and a rare Monprivato that will drink well with only a few years of bottle age. 2012-2025+. 90+.
2001 Barolo “Santa Stefano di Perno”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 2001 Santa Stefano di Perno is a terrific young Barolo in the making that delivers superb elegance and transparency, while retaining classic Monforte dimensions of depth and power. The bouquet is deep and beautiful, as it offers up a refined mélange of red cherries, gamebirds, orange zest, roses, great minerality, a touch of camphor and autumnal notes of woodsmoke in the upper register. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, long and classically structured, with excellent mid-palate depth, a very soil-driven personality, and plenty of ripe, chewy tannins that need to resolve on the very, long, precise and palate-staining finish. A great young Barolo, the 2001 Santa Stefano di Perno only needs sufficient bottle age to blossom. It should begin to drink in about eight more years, but will not really reach its apogee until about 2021 or so. 2016-2050. 93+.
2001 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 2001 Monprivato is a great, classic vintage of this wine waiting to unfold its wings with the fullness of time. The bouquet is deep and stunning, as it offers up a youthful mélange of red cherries, orange zest, roses, woodsmoke, a touch of nutskin, a great base of soil and a lovely topnote of fresh oregano. On the palate the wine is fullbodied, very transparent and soil-driven and rock solid at the core, with a firm base of ripe tannin, great grip, tangy acids and stunning harmony and balance on the very long, complex and youthful finish. A brilliant Monprivato in the making, the 2001 will need at least another seven or eight years to begin drinking well, and really should be at its apogee about age twenty-five. 2015-2060. 94+.
2000 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
Like the 2003 Monprivato, the 2000 vintage has produced a more forward version of this lovely wine that is already quite approachable and should be drinking extremely well with another couple of years of bottle age. The bouquet is much more black fruity than is typical with Monprivato, as it offers up a mix of black cherries, tar, damp herbs, spit-roasted venison, a touch of camphor and some bonfire notes in the high-end. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and already showing a fair amount of secondary development, with a riper and less soil-driven personality than the above, and a bit lower acidity as well than is customary with Monprivato. The finish here has good length, and while the deeper, more tarry and black fruity profile is not classic Monprivato, this is still a very fine bottle of Barolo. 201-2025+. 91.
1999 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1999 vintage continues to be one of my favorite of recent memory, and the lovely and classic Monprivato should eventually be regarded as one of the finest examples of the vintage. The wine is now moving into a period of hibernation, but despite its closed state, the nose still delivers lovely scents of red and black cherries, gamebirds, fresh herbs, coffee, a classic base of soil and woodsmoke in the upper register. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and quite tight, with a rock solid core of fruit, great focus and balance, ripe, well-integrated tannins, tangy acids and great intensity of flavor on the complex and soil-driven finish. This is not quite as broad shouldered as the 2001, but it may yet give that great wine a run for its money. Clearly 1999 is the “sleeper” great vintage of the last dozen years. 2015-2050. 93+.
1997 Barolo “Cà d’Morrisio” Riserva- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1997 Cà d’Morrisio is another brilliant Mascarello bottling that transcends its vintage’s characteristics in terms of purity and precision. The bouquet is deep and brilliant, as it soars from the glass in a blaze of black cherries, plum, new leather, game, a great, vibrant base of soil tones and woodsmoke. On the palate the wine is very deep, full-bodied and sappy with black cherry fruit at the core, with tangy acids, substantial, ripe and fine-grained tannins, brilliant focus and great nascent complexity on the very long and brilliant finish. The purity and freshness here is just remarkable for the ’97 vintage. A stunning wine in the making. 2012-2045. 95.
1996 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
Even more so than the 1999 Monprivato, the 1996 is utterly shut down at the present time and in need of some serious cellaring time before it begins to drink well. However, despite its shyness, the wine is clearly a great bottle in the making, as the bouquet offers up a very promising mélange of black cherries, a touch of cranberry, tar, smoke, fresh herbs, a great base of soil, and incipient notes of game. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep, closed and tarry at the present time, with firm tannins, bright acids and a very, very long, very closed and palate-staining finish. While the 1999 Monprivato is beginning to close down in earnest, the 1996 has been hermetically sealed for a few years already, and to open bottles now is to waste this great wine in the making. In the fullness of time this will be magical, but keep it buried in the cellar for the foreseeable future. 2020-2065. 94.
1995 Barolo “Monprivato Cà d’Morissio”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figli
This great bottle was pulled out of a Eurocave at the tale end of a great tasting, and consequently did not receive the respectful extended aeration that it certainly deserved. Nevertheless, the wine showed beautifully, as it offers up a deep and pure bouquet of black cherries, pungent notes of licorice, woodsmoke, road tar, dried roses, fresh herbs and a great base of minerality beginning to morph into the forest floor to come with further bottle age. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and impeccably balanced, with a great core of fruit, firm, well-integrated tannins, tangy acids and outstanding length and grip on the youthful, eventually profound finish. I have to imagine that my note on this wine does not really do the wine justice, as I cannot imagine that what we shared around the table with all of ten minutes in decanter is the same wine that we could have drunk if the wine had opened up in a relaxed fashion over three or four hours. But even popped and poured, the 1995 Cà d’Morissio is clearly a brilliant wine in the making, and is not that many years away from some primetime drinking. I have to imagine that my score on this wine is a tad on the conservative side, given how we drank it. 2013-2045. 94+.
1990 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1990 Monprivato is a very good wine in the making, but like so many other Piemonte gems in this vintage, it cannot hold a candle to its counterpart from 1989. The nose is deep and very, very ripe in its mélange of plums, black cherries, a touch of dried cherry as well, leather, herb tones, roasted game, earth, camphor and a bit of nutskin. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and shows a more roasted fruit character than is typical of Monprivato in the great years, with firm tannins, good length and solid grip on the complex, but slightly inelegant finish. This is a very good wine in the context of the vintage (which has to rate as one of the most overrated in recent memory), but it will never be ranked amongst the greatest vintages of Monprivato, as it simply does not possess the same purity and precision as so many examples of this wine. 2015-2040. 91.
1989 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
In contrast to the roasted and borderline overripe aromatics of the 1990 Monprivato, the 1989 is deep, blazingly pure and precise. It is clearly a brilliant vintage of this wine in the making. The magical bouquet soars from the glass in a potpourri of red and black cherries, intense roses, camphor, great minerality, espresso and fresh herbs. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and laser-like in its focus, with a rock solid core of fruit, ripe, well-integrated tannins, great soil inflection and brilliant length and grip on the pure and palate-staining finish. This wine needs about the same amount of bottle age as the 1990 to reach its apogee, but when the two vintages reach their peak, there will be no competition between the two. The 1989, with its perfect balance and harmony, should prove to be one of the longest-lived and most rewarding vintages of Monprivato ever. 2015-2070. 95.
1985 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1985 Monprivato is now into its apogee of maturity and is drinking beautifully, and while it does not possess quite the same scale as the supernal 1989, it is a vintage of Monprivato that I would be happy to drink anytime. The complex and beautiful bouquet offers up notes of red and black cherries, nutskin, licorice, sous bois, a touch of mushroom, fresh herbs and a faint whiff of woodsmoke in the upper register. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, round and complex, with melting tannins, bright, framing acids and lovely length and grip on the complex and à point finish. This wine still has plenty of life ahead of it, but I can see no reason to defer gratification any longer, as it is drinking very well indeed. 2008-2030. 92.
1982 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
As fine as the 1985 Monprivato is, the 1982 has just a little bit more of everything. The nose is slightly deeper and more complex, as it offers up a lovely blend of black cherries, orange zest, licorice, forest floor, coffee, woodsmoke and a great base of soil tones. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and a touch fresher than the lovely 1985, with melting tannins, a fine, sappy core of fruit, bright acids, beautiful soil inflection and excellent length and grip on the complex and utterly classic finish. The ’82 Monprivato has at least a couple more decades of life ahead of it, and perhaps more, and should delight all who cross its path over the next twenty or more years. A lovely, lovely wine. 2008-2030. 93.
1979 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1979 Monprivato is still a very young wine, particularly when considered in the context of the vintage, and while quite drinkable with a few hours of decanting, will probably be better to drink with a few more years of bottle age. Our bottle was a bit musty when it was first poured, but eventually freshened up to deliver scents of cherries, woodsmoke, rhubarb, tar, camphor and a fine autumnal base of forest floor. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and offers up truly impressive mid-palate depth for a ’79 Barolo, with moderate tannins, sound acids and excellent length and grip. If one were to nitpick with the ’79 Monprivato, the wine today is just a tad dense in the context of the usual refined intensity of this great vineyard, but perhaps this is simply a function of the wine still needing a bit more bottle age to fully apogee. I would love to see it again in a few more years. 2008-2025+? 91+?
1978 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1978 Monprivato is still a fairly young wine, and it certainly has not reached the same point in its evolution as the 1985 and 1982. The nose is deep, youthfully tarry and still somewhat reticent, as it offers up notes of vibrant black cherries, a bit of charred wood, herb tones, game, smoke, tarry tones and a complex base of damp soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and quite tarry today, with a rock solid core of fruit, still a fair bit of tannin to resolve, sound acids, fine focus and a long, soil-driven and still fairly closed finish. Perhaps if the ’78 Monprivato was decanted for several hours it would show more detail than it did at our tasting, but we had to have given this wine at least an hour in decanter, and it still showed little signs of blossoming. It will be an excellent wine in the fullness of time, and I am probably underrating it a bit. This bottle of the 1978 was decidedly deeper, more powerful and more backward than the bottle I reported on back in the first issue of the newsletter, and with sufficient bottle age, will be better superb. It can certainly be drunk now with decanting, but I have to believe that even more generosity and profundity will emerge with further bottle age. 2012-2040+ 92-94?
1971 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
We did not have the ’71 Monprivato in our lineup in Los Angeles, but only a few days before I was to leave for that tasting a crossed paths with a bottle of the ’71 generously shared by Greg Dal Piaz, one of New York’s most passionate Barolo enthusiasts. The 1971 Monprivato is still a tad on the young side, and no doubt will continue to improve as it really reaches its apogee of full maturity. The bouquet is deep, pure and absolutely beautiful, as it offers up notes of black cherries, tar, roses, bonfires, gamebirds, a touch of mint, camphor, fresh herbs and a topnote of cedar. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and blossoming, with fine structure, great complexity, a rock solid core of fruit, still a bit of ripe tannin to resolve and lovely acids on the long, palate-staining finish. This is one of the all-time great vintages of Monprivato, and a few more years should see it completely blossom and commence to drink at its zenith. A great, great wine. 2011-2045. 94+.
1970 Barolo “Monprivato”- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1970 vintage was the first year in which Mauro Mascarello made a Monprivato bottling on its own, and the wine has aged brilliantly. At this time Gepin had just handed over the reigns of the estate to his son Mauro, and at Mauro’s urging they selected a section of the vineyard planted with the oldest michét vines from which to produce their first single vineyard cuvée. The yields for the inaugural bottling of Monprivato were kept in the 32-33 hectoliters per hectare range. The bouquet on the 1970 Monprivato is deep and magnificent, as it soars from the glass in a mélange of black cherries, game tones, a bit of black chanterelle, fennel seed, tar, woodsmoke and a great base of soil. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and à point, with wonderful complexity, a fine core of fruit, melting tannins, sound acids and great length and grip on the beautifully balanced and still very vibrant finish. The ’70 Monprivato has decades oflife still in it, and must clearly be one of the greatest wines produced in this very underrated vintage in Piemonte. 2008-2025+. 94.
1964 Barolo- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
Prior to 1970, the Mascarello estate always produced a blended Barolo for their regular and Riserva bottlings, and to the best of Mauro Mascarello’s recollection, these wines were probably comprised of about twenty-five percent Monprivato fruit. The balance of the fruit would have been purchased from the vineyard parcels that the estate would eventually purchase, such as Villero and Rocche in the village of Castiglione Falletto. The 1964 Barolo is a beautiful wine at its apogee of peak drinkability, as it offers up a deep, refined and beautifully complex bouquet of red cherries, woodsmoke, squab, very delicate notes of tar, a touch of camphor, fresh herbs and autumnal notes of sous bois. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, pure and complex, with lovely sweet fruit at the core, a beautiful base of soil and other tertiary elements, and fine length and grip on the complex finish. The ’64 is now beautifully transparent, and though it does not quite possess the same tangy acidity as the ’58, it has years and years of beautiful drinking still to offer. A beautiful wine. 2008-2025+. 94.
1961 Barolo Riserva- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1961 Mascarello Riserva is another beautifully poised and refined example of mature Barolo, as it offers up a complex and transparent mélange of red cherries, a touch of anise, celery seed, camphor, a kaleidoscopic base of autumnal tones, camphor, a bit of tar, nutty tones and a touch of dried roses in the upper register. On the palate the wine is medium-full, long and soil-driven, with lovely complexity, a superb kernel of sweet fruit buried at the core, and stellar persistence and intensity on the backend. The tannins are now quite faded on the ’61 Mascarello Riserva, but the wine still retains well-integrated acids and superb length and grip on the finish. It does not possess quite the same vigor as the 1964 or 1958, but it will continue to drink beautifully for at least another dozen years, and it would not surprise me to see the wine continuing to cruise along for even longer. A lovely, lovely wine. 2008-2020+. 93
1958 Barolo- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
I have had the ridiculous good fortune to drink both the 1958 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo and the ’58 Riserva in the last few months, and both bottles have been stellar. I wrote up a note on the ’58 Riserva in the last issue, but include that note below as well for the sake of completeness. The ’58 normale that we had in Los Angeles came directly from the cellars of the domaine, and was a perfectly stored example. The bouquet on this particular bottle of the ’58 Mascarello is flat out brilliant, as it soars from the glass in a blaze of red cherries, orange rind, coffee, nutty tones, a bit of onion skin, a great base of soil, gentle notes of tar, autumnal spices and beautiful minerality. On the palate the wine is fullish, deep and quite tangy, with great intensity of flavor, melting tannins and stunning length and bounce on the complex and utterly refined finish. This it the epitome of mature, Castiglione Falletto Barolo, with its myriad of spice and herb tones coupled to haunting transparency and elegance. A great wine. 2008-2025. 96.
1958 Barolo Riserva- Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio
The 1958 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Riserva is everything one would expect from a great producer in a great vintage, with a complexity, transparency and ethereal beauty that only the greatest wines in the world share. In 1958, current patriarch of the family estate, Mauro Mascarello, was a young man working alongside of his father Gepin. The estate was already considered one of the greatest in the region at this time, and owned a significant slice of Monprivato, but this wine was still made of a blend from several different crus. The ’58 Riserva has reached a glorious apogee of delicacy, intensity of flavor and utterly humbling complexity, and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The magical bouquet soars from the glass in a spicebox blend of rose petals, delicate red cherries, orange zest, an utterly profound base of soil tones, a touch of cinnamon stick, fresh oregano, a very understated touch of road tar and autumnal topnotes of dried, fallen leaves. There is absolutely no signs yet of any imminent oxidation, which can often be the case Baroli made in this very traditional style that sees many years of barrel aging prior to bottling. On the palate the wine is fullbodied, beautifully complex and utterly transparent down to the underlying terroir, with perfect balance, bright, zesty acids and haunting complexity and stunning lightness of step on the perfectly focused and extremely long finish. Just a profound bottle of mature Barolo. 2008-2030? 96.