“International Wine Cellar” N° 98 – September/October 2001 Stephen Tanzer.
Three Vertical Tastings Mauro Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
The Mascarello family’s impressive southwest-facing Monprivato vineyard in Castiglione Falletto has been producing some of the finest traditionally styled Barolos for the past 30 years. The Mascarello Monprivato, the first release of which was the 1970 (Mauro Mascarello took over from his father Giuseppe in 1967), offers a classic Barolo balance of structure and elegance. The young wines, with their sappy red fruit and floral perfume, frequently remind me of great Burgundies. A few vintages of the ’90s are deceptively approachable in their youth, but history shows that the optimal drinking plane for the Barolo Monprivato is generally between 7 and 25 years after the harvest, with the more powerful vintages requiring a good 10 to 12 years to approach peak drinkability.
The Mascarellos own just over six hectares of nebbiolo vines in Monprivato. (There is one other small owner of vines here, but the Mascarellos are the only producer to use the Monprivato name). The well-drained Monprivato hillside, which the late Renato Ratti ranked in the top category in his famous 1990 map of Barolo vineyards, lies at an altitude of about 280 meters and consists of chalk and clay marl. Mauro Mascarello, who looks younger than his 64 years, is clearly in love with this special site. From the mid-’80s through the mid-’90s he carried out an extensive improvement project, the objective of which was to produce more structured and complex wines without sacrificing elegance. He began the work with a one-hectare parcel at the southwest end of the vineyard, pulling up the old michét and lampia vines in 1985 and replacing them with “superselections” of the same two clones in 1988 following the construction of a drainage system in the vineyard and an elaborate soil redistribution project. The wine labelled Cà d’Morissio (the ’93, reviewed in Issue 93, was the first release) comes from these vines.
In ’92, Mascarello uprooted another two hectares planted to the rosé clone, and replaced these vines in ’96 with the superselections of michét and lampia. The rosé, Mascarello explains, contributes elegance and perfume, but offers little in the way of color or structure. Thus, beginning with the ’93 vintage, the Monprivato bottling includes no rosé.
Over the same period, Mascarello has taken a number of steps in the vineyard and at harvest to improve fruit quality, including short pruning, green harvesting and stricter selection at the time of the harvest. Mascarello practices a traditional long but soft maceration, pumping over the must but not punching down the cap, in order to extract maximum varietal character from his nebbiolo fruit. Prior to 1995, vinification took place in cement vats, but since then it has occurred in temperature-controlled stainless steel. The wine is then aged in Slavonian ovals of 20 to 90 hectoliters. Resisting the trend toward earlier bottling and sale of Barolo, Mascarello continues to bottle the Monprivato between three and a half and four years after the harvest (the ’97 was scheduled to be bottled in September.)
I tasted the following series of vintages with the Mascarello family last fall at their home and winery in the town of Monchiero, located several miles to the southwest of Castiglione. Falletto, along the Tanaro River. (Mauro’s son Giuseppe-actually the third Giuseppe, including the original founder of the estate-has worked with his father since 1994.)
1997 Barolo Monprivato (14.8% alcohol): Good saturated full red. Januny, liqueur-like perfume on the nose. Silky, highly concentrated and quite penetrating, with an intriguing floral complexity. Boasts superb depth of fruit and inner-mouth perfume. Really builds on the back half, finishing with big, tongue-dusting tannins.92-94.
1996 Barolo Monprivato: Medium-deep red, with a hint of amber at the rim. Classic aromas of roasted strawberry, dried rose and brown spices. Very silky for ’96 but with strong acidity (the pH is a rather low 3.35) contributing to the impression of power. Not as obviously sweet as the ’97 but has terrific thrust and grip. Tannins coat the gums, teeth and cheeks. This will require another 10 to 12 years to fully blossom and may eventually merit a score in the mid-90s. 92+.
1995 Barolo Monprivato: Medium reddish-orange color. Aromatic nose of red berries, leather, tar and marzipan. Sweet and silky; not quite as dense as the ’96 or ’97 but boasts lovely fruit and balance. Finishes with big but lush tannins. A very elegantly styled Barolo that’s still evolving. 92(+?).
1993 Barolo Monprivato: Brick-edged pale red. Red cherry, strawberry, mint and a whiff of leather on the restrained nose; actually less floral and expressive than the ’93 Cà d’Morissio bottling. Then rich, firm and precise; broader than the Cà d’Morissio but also more backward and brooding, and less spicy, today. Finishes with lovely subtle sweetness and length. 91(+?).
1990 Barolo Monprivato: Good medium red, no lighter or more evolved than the ’95. High-toned aromas of red fruit jam, leather, dried flowers, cola and spice cake. Offers compelling volume and exotic sweetness in the middle palate; fat and seamless. Large-scaled, spicy and very long on the aftertaste, with smooth tannins buried by the wine’s lush fruit. Carries its 14.4% alcohol gracefully. 93.
1989 Barolo Monprivato (14.5% alcohol): Very good deep red. Brooding, complex, superripe nose combines rose, truffle, prune and smoke, plus an exotic whiff of pineapple. Powerful, penetrating flavors of tar, minerals and orange peel. Classic, rather elegantly styled but highly concentrated Barolo, distinctly different in style from the younger wines that preceded it. Finishes very long, with subtle notes of pepper and spice. The round tannins give the aftertaste an impression of sweetness. 94(+?).
1985 Barolo Monprivato: Good medium red with an amber rim. Rather closed nose hints at roasted plum, minerals, raisin and orange peel. Sweet and pungently minerally, with lovely acidity giving this highly concentrated wine excellent clarity of flavor. Very firmly structured and still youthful. Finishes with toothcoating tannins and terrific persistence. 93(+?).
1982 Barolo Monprivato: Medium red with an amber rim. Plum and nut skin on the nose, along with a faintly medicinal eucalyptus note and a whiff of Madeira. Quite fat but less deep than the ’85 or ’89; 1 got an impression of uneven ripening. Lacks the class of the best vintages of Monprivato. Finishes with big, chewy tannins and a hint of dryness. I’ve had better bottles of this vintage.89.
1978 Barolo Monprivato: Good deep red. Idiosyncratic, evolved aromas of bonfire, minerals and celery seed. Flavors similar to the aromas; minerally, smoky and impressively concentrated. Finishes with distinctly rough tannins and a faint dry edge. “This wine will always be more rustic,” admitted Mascarello. But it also offers terrific vigor and thrust. 91.
1974 Barolo Monprivato:Good deep red. Impressively youthful aromas of red fruits, orange peel and exotic floral scents. Almost miraculously young and vibrant, with superb retention of fruit and penetrating acidity. Not especially dense or sweet but sharply focused and fine, without the hardness that characterizes so many Barolos from this vintage. A classic, traditionally made Barolo with backbone of steel. If the ’82 was marginally disappointing in the context of its year, this ’74 was the positive surprise of the entire series. 94.
1971 Barolo Monprivato: Good amber-edged medium-deep color. Musky aromas of red berries, truffle, gunflint and mint. Sweet, thick and generous in the mouth, but the enticing red fruit flavors also boast superb vinosity and definition. Finishes with huge tongue-coating tannins that turned drier as the wine opened in the glass. 90.
1970 Barolo Monprivato(the first vintage for this bottling, from a crop level of 29 hectoliters per hectare and all michét): Saturated red color. Highly nuanced, vibrant nose combines red berries, dried flowers, nuts, raisins, clove and mint. Wonderfully silky in the mouth, but still amazingly youthful, with strong underlying minerality contributing snap. Extremely concentrated Barolo. Perfectly integrated acidity frames and extends the fresh fruit flavors. Has the sheer extract and depth to support its major tannins.95.