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Ethereal Barolos, Soulful Barbera and Dolcetto

Tasting a range of Italian reds from Giuseppe Mascarello & Figli, including a trio of grand single-vineyard Barolos
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 23, 2011 10:45am ET

Founded in 1881 by Mauro Mascarello’s great-grandfather, the estate of Giuseppe Mascarello & Figli today covers 44.5 acres in Castiglione Falletto and Monforte d’Alba, two towns in the storied Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. About two-thirds of the vineyards are dedicated to Nebbiolo, the region's most famous grape and the one used for the wine of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Mascarello’s grandfather Maurizio purchased vineyards in one of the zone’s most historic sites, Monprivato in Castiglione, in 1904, building a cellar there. He moved to a former ice-making factory in Monchiero in 1919, where the state-of-the-art building offered constant temperature year-round for the wines.

Traditional winemaking is the philosophy here, though Mascarello, who took over responsibility for the vineyards and wines in 1967 (after 15 years working alongside his father), has shortened fermentation time over the years from 60 to 30 days. He also began bottling each vineyard separately, beginning with Monprivato in 1970.

Mascarello’s focus is in the vineyards, however, where his goal is to achieve the best quality grapes. This allows him to express the different characteristics of each vineyard, whether it is planted with Dolcetto, Barbera or Nebbiolo grapes. “For me it’s important to show the difference in the terroirs,” he explained.

The Dolcetto Santo Stefano di Perno 2009 offered rich macerated cherry fruit and flesh, while the Dolcetto Bricco 2009 showed perfume, elegance and structure on a linear profile. The difference comes from more limestone in the soil of Bricco, which faces west, while the Santo Stefano di Perno, with an east-northeast exposure, is mostly clay.

Mascarello has three Barberas in the range, currently from 2007. The Barbera d’Alba Superiore Scudetto comes from the same slope as Santo Stefano di Perno, with a little sand mixed in with its clay soils. It delivered a fruity, open, juicy style, with a black currant flavor. The version from Santo Stefano di Perno exuded dark blueberry and plum notes backed by a firm, lively profile. The Codana, from primarily limestone soils similar to Monprivato (both crus are in Castiglione Falletto) was all finesse and elegance, exuding floral and raspberry aromas and flavors.

The Langhe Nebbiolo Dai Vigneti Di Proprietà 2009 is a fine introduction to the Barolos in the cellar, displaying an expressive nose of flowers, cherry and strawberry matched to a fresh, lively frame that ends in a long, resonant finish. It’s a blend of Nebbiolo from parcels in Bricco and Codana, plus Nebbiolo grapes harvested a week before those destined for the crus in Monprivato, Santo Stefano di Perno and Villero.

Then it was on to those three crus: Villero, Santo Stefano di Perno and Monprivato, all 2007s. The fermentation and maceration is roughly the same, about three to four weeks, in cement and stainless steel. Only the aging in large Slavonian oak casks (a mix of 10, 25, 30 and 60 hectoliters) is different, 30 months for Villero, 32 months for Santo Stefano di Perno and 36 for Monprivato.

“Monprivato is the wine that needs more time, in the cellar and in bottle,” said Mascarello, “but it has the best potential for a long evolution.”

Spicy, perfumed aromas and flavors highlight the Villero, its cinnamon, sandalwood, floral and cherry notes well integrated with the dense, firm structure. It was surprisingly open at this stage, balanced and long. By contrast the Santo Stefano di Perno offered a rich, ample profile allied with cherry and strawberry fruit. I didn’t get the length and finesse of the Villero, but a fine aftertaste nonetheless.

Monprivato combines richness and refinement, exuding ripe strawberry, cherry, floral and spice flavors. The most austere and restrained of the three, it has latent depth, brightness and a lingering mineral finish.

Mascarello described 2007 as “not a great year, but a very good year,” that was hot, but not as hot as 2003. “It’s very perfumed, fruity, elegant and balanced,” he added.

The 2006s are denser and more austere at the moment, yet I give them the edge in quality over the long term. This is a classical vintage for Barolo, with muscular, ripe tannins, concentrated fruit flavors, fabulous textures and complexity. But you must have patience waiting for these wines to evolve.

“The nose of the ’06 is more closed, more difficult than ’07, less expressive, less explosive, less charming,” explained Mascarello. “But these are very classic wines, with the potential to live a long time.”

Macerated cherry, along with hints of flowers, licorice and spice marked the Monprivato 2004, which was just beginning to open. It’s rich and dense, with great freshness and intensity and an expansive finish. This should hit its stride in another seven to ten years.

Mascarello’s Monprivato Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio 2003, made from a mass selection of two biotypes of Michet (one of three popular clones of the Nebbiolo grape) planted in 1922, was big, rich and firmly structured. There was slightly elevated alcohol, but overall it showed balance, building on the palate to a long finish.

These are Barolos of the highest order. If you think Barolo is just a big, powerful wine, treat yourself to a mature version from Mascarello to experience the elegance, finesse and complexity that Nebbiolo from great vineyards can attain.

Tom J Wilson
Canada —  November 23, 2011 5:41pm ET
His Barolo's are the expression of the Burgundy of Italy .....

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