BAROLO MONPRIVATO: a celebration of Nebbiolo
A VERTICAL TASTING.
A splendid 6-hectare hillside site at an altitude of 280 meters located in the village of Castiglione Falletto in the heart of the Barolo wine-growing area, Monprivato is a historic vineyard, mentioned in the land registry archives as far back as 1666, and counted in 1985 by the great Renato Ratti among one of only eleven prime historic Barolo vineyards. Its history could be said to have always been intertwined with the affairs of one of the most celebrated wineries in the Langa around Alba. Following the founder Giuseppe himself, Maurizio, and Giuseppe (known as Gepin), “Giuseppe Mascarello and son” is today run by Mauro, a standard-bearer – with no hesitation or sign of giving way – for old-style Barolo. To make it quite clear, the kind of Barolo that undergoes lengthy fermentation prior to being left to mature patiently in large casks of Slavonian oak and then in the bottle; a Barolo that is completely extraneous to any of the modern ideas and short-cuts (let’s call them that) which risk undermining and compromising the image and prestige of this unique, matchless great red wine. Numerous international awards, and the grateful memorials of those who have had the good fortune to come across a specimen of a great vintage of this super cru, have rendered Monprivato famous: articles and praise from the leading international wine experts culminated – in 1985 – in the triumph of the 1978 Monprivato in a tasting of great red wines of the world (including celebrated Bordeaux Châteaux) organized by Master of Wine Clive Coates. Apart from certain commendable exceptions, in Italy Mauro Mascarello’s cru is not given its due consideration, largely on account of a prevailing approach marked out by certain guide-books that tend to privilege new-style Barolos, with enhanced (and sometimes suspect) color, big concentrations, and the aroma of new wood, over the Barolo of the traditions to which Monprivato belongs by right. Too elegant, refined, needy of long maturing and aging in the cellar to arouse enthusiasm and approval in the fanatics for body-building wines: ready-to-drink Barolos (de gustibus…) almost as if they were a Vin Nouveau. Worse for them, and worse too – unfortunately – for their readers, who are disinformed and, rather than being given consolidated values, are subjected to eulogies of strange fashionable wines, whereas Monprivato is – and remains, along with Giovanni Conterno’s Monfortino, and the wines of Bartolo Mascarello, Beppe Rinaldi, Baldo Cappellano, Aldo Conterno, Oddero and just a few others – an exemplary, indispensable benchmark for anyone who wishes to understand exactly what a Barolo, or better still a great Barolo, is. For this reason, to treat ourselves to the pleasure of the moving experience of a journey of discovery through the history of a wine that does honor to the wine-growing of the Langa and Piedmont, and that only the stubborn persistence of this genuine “last of the Mohicans” – i.e. Mauro Mascarello – manages to keep intact, some time ago I asked Mauro to organize a vertical tasting of Monprivato for me and a small number of friends and colleagues: Nick Belfrage M.W. a contributor to Decanter and Winepros, Andreas März a contributor to Vinum and editor of Merum, Andrea Gabbrielli, who writes for the Corriere Vinicolo and Ex Vinis, Juancho Asenjo, author of the Spanish site Elmundovino (www.elmundovino.com ), Martin Kilchmann, a contributor to Merum, and Rolf Bichsel, editor-in-chief of Vinum. The adventure took place in Mascarello’s cellars in Monchiero, and I can assure him that it was one of the most intense, enthusiastic and extraordinary vertical tastings at which this band of Barolo supporters has had the opportunity to participate. The outright winner – needless to say – was…Nebbiolo, which emerged in all its splendor, and ability to provide matchless sensations and demonstrate how – unlike those who, publicly or more subtly, going against the production regulations that call for Barolo to be made 100% from Nebbiolo – secretly declare that the rules should be reviewed, and that a small percentage of other varieties (the usual wretched Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, or Petit Verdot or Syrah…) would certainly not do Barolo any harm. And that growers should be allowed to choose whether to work purely with Nebbiolo, or using other varieties as a “crutch” (damn it though, Barolo has balls, and doesn’t need a wet-nurse, or props of any kind for goodness sake !!). A ridiculous idea: if they are sure that their Barolos will be better still if they are flavored with Merlot or Cabernet, why the hell don’t they throw out the – according to them – dusty old Docg Barolo and turn their wines, like Gaja has done with Sperss, into DOC Langhe Nebbiolo or DOC Langhe rosso, making use of the possibility of using their goddamned “improver” varieties in a public and perfectly legal manner? Blow the extremist barrique-lovers, who are celebrated and extolled for their 4/5-day macerations; that afternoon we delighted in – yes, delighted in – Monsignor Monprivato and Monsignor Nebbiolo, made as God and Bacchus commanded, like the grand old men of the Langa who created, reinforced and handed down the legend of Barolo. Before beginning with the tasting, and the modest notes that we guarantee can in no way do justice to the olfactory sensations, emotions, nuances in taste, and authentic lasciviousness experienced, we wish to provide some technical data on the Monprivato vineyard, with the intention to speak soon as well about the Monprivato Cà d’Morissio which Mauro Mascarello has been making since the 1993 vintage, following a very lengthy, painstaking selection using an old clone of the Michèt sub-variety of Nebbiolo which had had more than fifty years to acclimatize to the special terroir and microclimate of the Monprivato vineyard. The Monprivato vineyard lies on soil originating from the Helvetian age, Miocene epoch, Tertiary period, composed of silty-clayey marl, with good structure, and packed with active limestone and well-proportioned microelements. It faces south-west at midday, has a low yield (never above 5000 kgs per hectare), and until the 1992 vintage was planted with the Nebbiolo sub-varieties in the following percentages: 30% Michèt, 45% Lampia and 25% Rosé. Barolo Monprivato is only produced in great vintages, in quantities varying between 14 and 24 thousand bottles compared to an annual production potential of 41,000. After saying that the wine is matured in non-new casks of Slavonian oak with capacities varying from 20 to 90 hectoliters, and then undergoes a lengthy, soft maceration that can last up to 40 days in vintages like the 1979 and 1978, we can go straight on to the results of our tasting, during which we will – as usual – award from a minimum to a maximum of five stars to each wine, using the system normally employed by the British magazine Decanter. All the samples in the vertical tasting were uncorked more than two hours beforehand.
Barolo Monprivato Cà d’Morissio 1993 4 stars
Bright, deep, clear ruby-red, the wine shows nice density in the glass, and a very clean, inviting, elegant nose, with remarkable precision and the aromas of withered roses, spices, underbrush and plums. Velvety texture on the palate, with considerable structure, and sweet fruit reminiscent of raspberries: the tannins are firm, but not bitter. A fine Barolo, still very young, which must open up to expess itself to the full.
Barolo Monprivato 1990 4½ stars
Rather deep, intense ruby-red, with light garnet shades, its strength lies in its bouquet: an elegant, warm nose, which – alongside the withered roses and spices (particularly cinnamon) – shows aromas of plums in alcohol, brushwood, tar, and even hints of macaroons and damp undergrowth. Together with a smooth sweetness, well-stressed tannins and a precise structure, the wine is astonishing for its wealth of energy, liveliness, and incredible balance and appeal. Many years still to go, and extraordinary quality.
Barolo Monprivato 1989 4½ stars
Nicely bright, strong ruby-red color, lively with glowing garnet highlights; very delicate, stylish nose of withered roses, cinnamon and pomegranate. Still very chewy on the palate, with up-front tannins and warm, velvety stuffing, giving the marked earthy property that is typical of Nebbiolos of breeding. Surprisingly well-balanced, dignified and enormously pleasant to drink
Barolo Monprivato 1988 3+ stars
Astonishing, splendid depth of color, still glowing and very bright; fantastic tarry, wild animal-like nose with overtones of leather, truffles, plums in alcohol, chocolate, raspberries and olive pulp, which genuinely blossoms into a bouquet hinting at withered roses and humus. Slightly less demanding on the palate: warm, nicely gentle, medium-build, though showing good persistence. Much more forward than the 1989.
Barolo Monprivato 1985 3½-4 stars
Very nicely-intense, well-developed color tending to garnet; very varietal nose, warm and smooth, with inviting depth that brings bitter cherries and plums to mind. A certain meatiness is highlighted in the bouquet, with sharp tannins and substance that’s still alive and full of energy. Remarkable balance and overall elegance.
Barolo Monprivato 1982 3 stars
Decidedly more forward and mature than the 1985, still meaty and thick, though it seems affected by a bit of fatigue, a certain lack of brilliance. If earthiness is Monprivato’s distinctive trait, then this wine seems less typical and personal than usual.
Barolo Monprivato 1980 2½ stars
The color is still wonderful, but the bouquet is a little dull, showing signs of oxidation. Its disjointed, prickly taste has rather dry tannins that tend to dehydrate. The fruit has nearly completely gone.
Barolo Monprivato 1979 4½ stars
Fantastic ! A Barolo still brimming with class, intensity, character. Despite its nicely deep, bright ruby color, and seductive, caressing aromas packed with warm nuances, it is on the palate that this wine is really exciting and shows its very best. Meaty pulp, lovely juicy fruit, firm texture, moderate, cherry-like sweetness on the nose, biting tannins, overflowing with vitality and energy, a real champion stacked with expression. Maybe a little too much alcohol, but twenty-two years of age borne with dashing spirit, and a sensationally agreeable tipple.
Barolo Monprivato 1978 3½-4 stars
Surprisingly less grand than the 1979, but a great Barolo nevertheless, with a ruby color that is still bright and deep, a nice closely-packed animal nose recalling marasca cherries, leather, tobacco, shades of dried mushrooms and underbrush, and – dominating everything – a marked note of damp earth. Still meaty on the palate, with lovely consistency and prominent tannins that may still be a little prickly, but without the perfect balance and lively expressiveness of the 1979. Just the idea, though, of having some 78 like this…
Barolo Monprivato 1971 3½-4 stars
A thirty-year-old obtained – strangely enough – from an experimental, shorter-than-usual maceration: just 16 days, very interesting. Wonderfully strong, dense ruby color, warm and deep with no signs of sagging or oxidizing; inviting, velvety nose, with touches of the wild, tobacco, leather, spices (cinnamon) and humus. In the mouth a lovely earthy structure emerges: the powdery-earthiness that is so characteristic of the Monprivato, with tannins that are still firm and powerful. A wine that is anything but tired or at the end of its life !
Barolo Monprivato 1970 4½ stars
The vertical tasting could not have had a better ending. This outstanding 1970: 5796 bottles produced with a maceration lasting no fewer than 40 days. The color is a spectacle: ruby with thousands of nuances and faint garnet streaks; a dense, compact color with extraordinary stability and depth, which we’d like to be able to photograph and thrust under the nose of all those who mumbles about a “problem with the color of Barolo”. If anyone has a problem it’s these short-sighted people with minds contorted by benders on Cabernet ! The nose has spectacular finesse, elegance and smoothness, with an aristocratic delicacy, infinite class, hints of cocoa, brushwood, pomegranate, leather, truffle, dried mushrooms, withered roses, and earthy, face powder-like overtones that pursue each other in composing an out-and-out aromatic symphony; a celebration of the greatness of Nebbiolo. Smooth in the mouth too, with a tight texture packed with firm – but not prickly – tannins, soft, inviting meatiness, and a finish that never seems to arrive, with a stupefying capacity to win you over and never let you go, like a long, passionate kiss. What an incredibly luxurious experience ! In conclusion: what a spectacle, what a great wine, what a great cru Monprivato is: long live Barolo, king of wines and wine of kings !