Giuseppe Mascarello Vertical Tasting

In May of this year I attended two very special tastings at Cru in New York.  Winemakers Roberto Conterno and Mauro Mascarello were in town to present extensive verticals of their Barolos.  The first tasting took place in the afternoon and featured current releases as well as a few older vintages.  Although I generally avoid trade events because they don’t allow enough time to accurately assess each wine, this sit-down tasting, which was hosted by importer Doug Polaner, was extremely well organized.  Cru Wine Director Robert Bohr and his staff did an outstanding job in coordinating the service of the wines, which was no small feat.  Between the afternoon tasting and the dinner that followed, I don’t think I have ever tasted so many profound and emotionally moving wines in a single day!  The wines were double decanted a few hours prior to serving.

Mauro Mascarello led the group though several flights of his most famous wine, Monprivato, as well as his newer Riserva bottling, Ca’ d’ Morissio.   The Giuseppe Mascarello winery boasts a rich lineage that goes back to 1881 when Giuseppe Mascarello purchased his first plot of land in Monforte.  His son Maurizio purchased vineyards in Monprivato in 1904 that remain the core of the family’s holdings. 

After having spent many years working at the estate with his father, Giuseppe II, Mauro Mascarello made his first wines in 1967.  In 1970 Mauro began to vinify the grapes from his various vineyards separately.  Although Mascarello defines the decade between 1968 and 1977 as one in which he experimented with various vinification techniques, today the wines are made in a very traditional manner.  “There aren’t many of us traditionalists left,” jokes Mascarello.  Mauro has recently been joined in the winery by his son Giuseppe, ensuring that this estate’s heritage will continue into the future.

The Monprivato vineyard, located in Castiglione Falletto, is one of the great monopole sites in Piedmont.  The Mascarello family has owned their parcels, which measure just over six hectares, for over 100 years.  Within Monprivato there had always been a special parcel from which Mascarello hoped to produce a riserva.  In the mid-1980s Mascarello began a quest that would take him over four years to identify the best and most suitable clones of the Michet varietal to plant in the vineyard.  The parcel was finally re-planted in 1988 and Mascarello named the new wine Ca’ d’Morissio (house of Maurizio) in honor of his grandfather. 

Both wines are traditionally made and see a long fermentation lasting between 18-25 days, depending on the vintage, and extended aging in Slavonian oak casks of about 36 months for the Monprivato and at least an additional 12 months for the Ca’ d’Morissio.

The first vintage for Ca’ d’Morissio was 1993, although just a few bottles were made, while full production began in 1995.  Mascarello releases this wine only when he believes there is a noticeable difference in quality between Monprivato and Ca’ d’Morissio.  Other recent vintages include 1997 and the as yet unreleased 1996.  There is no Ca’ d’Morissio for vintages 1998-2000, although there is a 2001. 

Barolo Monprivato 1970-1999

Flight #1

We started with Monprivato and two recent vintages, 1999 and 1998, followed by the 1993 which appeared to be in an awkward stage.

1999 Barolo Monprivato—Lively medium red.  This elegant and understated Barolo displays plenty of sweet cherry fruit and mineral flavors with a very pretty, layered quality.  A delicate wine of great finesse and potential. 93  points/drink after 2014, tasted 05/05

1998 Barolo Monprivato—Dark red.  Very floral nose with notes of tobacco.  Deeper, darker and denser than the 1999, with dark red/almost black fruit flavors, hints of cherries in liqueur, and a riper lusher personality than the 1999.  Like so many 1998s, this is showing beautifully right now.  A terrific effort.  92 points/drink after 2008, tasted 05/05

1993 Barolo Monprivato—Dark ruby.  Shows a dense, classic palate of ripe red fruit, with notes of leather and tar, but the tannins are overwhelming and the 1993 is not as expressive as the other wines in the tasting.  I am sure there is more to the wine, but this bottle is tough to assess accurately today.  90+? points/drink after 2008, tasted 05/05

Flight #2

With the second flight we experienced the magic of Monprivato with four breathtaking wines from the 1970s and 1980s.  As the wines got older, they still retained all of the hallmark aromas and tastes of the younger wines, but the flavors at once become more integrated yet more delineated at the same time.

1989 Barolo Monprivato—Rich ruby.  Nose of spices and fresh cut flowers.  Outrageously massive on the palate and packed with dark fruit, spices, tar and enough tannins to warrant at least a few more years of cellaring.   94+ points/drink after 2009, tasted 05/05

1985 Barolo Monprivato—Medium red.  The beautiful 1985 offers an ethereal, multi-dimensional nose of breathtaking complexity and nuance with notes of roses and minerals, leading to sensations of rich sweet fruit with a balsamic character.  Softer than the 1989, this profound 1985 is at or near a glorious peak of expression.  95+ points/drink now-?-, tasted 05/05

1979 Barolo Monprivato—Medium translucent ruby.  Evolved balsamic nose. This densely structured Barolo shows plenty of red fruit and mineral character, with superb length and a gorgeous youthful finish that belies its 26 years of age.  Perhaps not as complex as the previous wines, but this is still highly enjoyable.  93 points/drink-now-?, tasted 05/05

1970 Barolo Monprivato—An unexpected treat to taste the very first vintage of Monprivato, personally hand-carried on the airplane by Mauro Mascarello himself.  The 1970 displays an evolved ruby color and notes of tobacco, beef broth, minerals and balsam.  Despite its mature age, the 1970 comes across as fresh and youthful, with amazing harmony, elegance, and a wonderful sense of proportion.  93 points/drink now-?, tasted 05/05

Speaking purely objectively, the 1970 and the 1979 don’t have the depth and expressiveness of the 1985 and the 1989, yet I think everyone in the room, myself included, was simply floored by the astonishing performance of the 1970 and 1979 given their age, and especially considering that these are two vintages that are not considered to be first-rate.  This was a memorable flight and a valuable lesson that confirms the stature of Monprivato. 

Barolo Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio 1995-1997

Flight #3

Our last flight explored the first three full-production vintages of Mascarello’s Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio, a wine that is certain to take its place among the elite bottlings of the region.

1997 Barolo Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio—Dark ruby.  A stunning effort, showing generous amounts of deep, dark black fruit, licorice and tar flavors that explode onto the palate, with tremendous length and structure.  A truly outrageous and decadent wine that will require patience.  95 points/drink after 2012, tasted 05/05

1996 Barolo Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio—Lively dark ruby.  Very primary, showing a dense, chewy palate of red fruits in a classic, austere style.  The 1996 is a big wine that remains reticent, showing great purity of expression, but revealing only hints of its multi-dimensional character and holding back so much.  Mascarello has decided to delay the release of this wine because he feels it is not yet ready.  93+ points/drink after 2011, tasted 05/05, (not yet released)

1995 Barolo Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio—Lively medium ruby.  A huge wine…dense and extracted with generous amounts of rich red fruit and a distinct element of minerality, with tremendous length and sustain on the palate.  A super effort.  93 points/drink after 2010, tasted 05/05

—Antonio Galloni