Bartolo Mascarello 1955 to…from Magnum
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | JULY 06, 2023
When it came time to decide on the Rare Wine Dinner for La
Festa del Barolo in 2023, the year of our tenth anniversary, there was only one
choice. Bartolo Mascarello was the first grower I met in Piedmont. Mascarello
spent several hours with me that afternoon in a wide-ranging discussion that
touched on politics, culture and, eventually, wine. It was an important moment,
a moment in which I began to understand that the wines I loved so much were
deeply shaped by the people who crafted them.
Bartolo Mascarello’s office, pretty much as it always was.
A Personal Journey
I arrived at Mascarello’s front door by accident. It was a
sunny Saturday during the summer of 2000. I was looking for Mauro Mascarello,
whose wines I often drank in those days, but I called the wrong number and
ended up at Via Roma in Barolo. In the blink of an eye, an entire afternoon flew by in Mascarello’s
cramped office, but not before several bottles had been
emptied and countless stories shared. I suppose it was destiny.
A few months before that fateful first meeting, I had a
bottle of Mascarello’s 1982 Barolo, picked off a list at a small restaurant in
Mantova for next to nothing. You could do that back then. It was a magical wine
that was further fueled by a growing interest in Barolo. Three years later, I moved to Italy for work. The Mascarello cellar was a
frequent stop, as I took every opportunity I could to escape the drudgery of
corporate life in Milan. Mascarello was always behind his desk, designing
labels and reading everything he could get his hands on. A bout with myeloradiculitis (a neurological virus that affects the lower limbs) had left Mascarello in a
wheelchair many years before, yet his spirits were always high. Mascarello was incredibly generous with
his time. I think he simply enjoyed chatting with a young American kid
interested in Barolo.
A stunning flight of
wines from the 1980s, including the 1982, the wine that got me hooked on
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.
It was a very different time for Piedmont and Italian wine
in general. The local press was enamored with the younger generation of
producers, those who made what were then called ‘modern’ wines. Meanwhile,
Mascarello, his cousin Beppe Rinaldi, Baldo Cappellano, Mauro Mascarello and
Giovanni Conterno, among other more traditional producers, were completely ignored.
Among his peers, only Bruno Giacosa had somewhat of a profile. The market was completely different. With one or two exceptions, every producer struggled to sell their wines. The curious
oenophile could visit pretty much any winery and buy whatever they desired in
quantity. There were no such things as allocations. Wineries often had several
vintages to sell at any given time, something that was the norm up until 10-15
years ago, no more than that.
Some of the artist
labels Bartolo Mascarello designed. Typically each case includes one bottle
with an artist label.
A Brief History
The Mascarello family is originally from the Torriglione
hamlet in La Morra. Giulio Mascarello founded Cantina Mascarello in 1919 and
began bottling wines shortly after
that, partly in demijohn and partly in bottle. The oldest remaining bottles at
the winery date back to 1926 and 1929, the birth years of Giulio Mascarello’s
son, Bartolo, and his wife, Franca Brezza.
Bartolo joined the winery around 1945, during World War II. Mascarello contracted
his illness in the early 1980s. By 1981, when Giulio Mascarello passed away,
Bartolo could barely walk at his funeral. Although Bartolo Mascarello spent
most of his life confined to a wheelchair, that did not seem to hamper his
overall ebullience and sense of humor, a stark contrast to the more
austere demeanor of Franca,
a schoolteacher who was always by his side and taught many of Barolo’s
winemakers. In 1982, the family changed the winery name to Bartolo Mascarello
to eliminate confusion with other Mascarello wineries in the region.
Mascarello was a true icon in Piedmont. Mascarello was famous for his
wines, but he was at least as well known for his outspoken views on everything
from winemaking to politics. His “No Barrique, No Berlusconi” label was the
stuff of legend. The same was true of his supposed ‘feud’ with the modernist
producers led by Elio Altare. Both men seemed to enjoy the attention this
‘controversy’ brought them, but the conflict was more show created by the media
rather than substance. I always found Mascarello in high spirits, his huge
smile and large eyes ever present. At the same time, I was less convinced
about the wines. Mascarello’s best Barolos were legendary, but the quality of
what was in the bottle didn’t always live up to the image. Some part of wine is
romance, as it should be. But a closer and more objective look can reveal
differences between perception and reality. We will explore that theme later
Mascarello in her office loft.
Against this backdrop, it must have been extremely difficult for
daughter Maria Teresa Mascarello to take over the family winery after her
father passed away in 2005. Today, women occupy leading roles at many estates,
but that was not at all the case twenty years ago. Maria Teresa started working
at the family winery in 1993. Longtime cellarmaster Alessandro Fantino departed
at the end of 1997, and Maria Teresa started making the wines with the 1998
vintage. However, my impression – strongly reinforced by this tasting – is that she was not able to do
everything she wanted until her father’s passing. Part of that may have been a
deference and sense of respect to towards the older generation, a core value at
Maria Teresa cuts a much more laid-back figure than her
outspoken father, although she shares the same views, namely an approach deeply
rooted in tradition. Changes here over the last few years have been measured.
Old botti (casks) have been replaced,
and there is more emphasis on cleanliness in the cellar and better work in the
vineyards, all of which are allowing the wines to unleash their full potential.
The estate’s single Barolo – made from five vineyards and aged exclusively in
cask – is distinguished by its exceptional purity and delineation, making it a
model of elegance and classicism. Not only has Maria Teresa Mascarello
succeeded in living up to her father’s legacy, but she has also taken the wines
to an entirely new level. Over the last decade or so, the Barolos have been
nothing less than stunning. The rebirth of Bartolo Mascarello (the winery) is
one of the great success stories in Piedmont.
Cement tanks are still
used for alcoholic fermentation.
Vineyards & Winemaking
The Mascarello family currently owns about five hectares of
vineyards. The core and oldest holdings consist of 1.3 hectares in Rocche
dell’Annunziata and 0.7 hectares in Cannubi. At the end of the 1970s, the Mascarellos traded 0.4
hectares they owned in Terlo planted with Dolcetto and hazelnuts for a parcel
in Cannubi planted with Nebbiolo owned by another farmer who wished to have
contiguous parcels for greater ease of work. Land values in these two places
were the same, so it was an even exchange, something that is impossible to
Maria Teresa Mascarello gathering a sample from cask. Ever the traditionalist, Mascarello eschews the convenience of casks with spigots on their face.
the same time, the Mascarellos bought another 0.9 hectares in San Lorenzo (0.6
hectares of Barbera and 0.3 hectares of Nebbiolo). The Mascarellos own
another 0.75 hectares in Rué (approximately 0.5 Nebbiolo and 0.25 Dolcetto),
plus 0.85 hectares in Monrobiolo (0.60 Dolcetto and 0.25 Freisa). The Nebbiolo portion of San Lorenzo was ripped out in 2015 and replanted two years
later, so it was out of the blend until 2020. In the intervening years,
Mascarello supplanted production with a rented parcel in Monrobiolo di Bussia adjacent
to her parcel in Monrobiolo that has since remained in the fold, adding a bit
to overall production now that San Lorenzo is back.
As has been the custom here for decades, fruit is harvested
and co-fermented in cement, something that is seldom seen elsewhere in the
region. That said, co-fermentation is only possible when parcels ripen more or
less at the same time, which implies geographical proximity and/or very similar
conditions. For example, the co-fermentation of parcels in La Morra and
Serralunga would be next to impossible because harvest dates are too far apart.
Fermentation, done with ambient yeasts, usually takes several weeks. In the
best years, those with thick skins, Mascarello does submerged cap maceration at
the end of vinification. Bottling is in the summer three years after harvest, a
change instituted in 1998 when aging was in wood was shortened by a year. The
Mascarellos made no Barolo in 1994, so the 1995 went into bottle a year
earlier than had been the case in the past.
The Mascarello cellar
once contained a large collection of older vintages in magnum.
About the Tasting
One of the curious aspects of the winery is that, until
recently, it essentially had no library. Tough economic times dictated that
every bottle be sold, pretty much the same situation everywhere else in
Piedmont. Over the years and decades, though, the Mascarello family amassed a
substantial collection of magnums, wines that no one wanted up until
10-15 years ago, when the craze for Barolo took off in earnest. That may seem hard to believe today, but it is true. I
remember buying magnums of the 1958 and 1964 twenty years ago for what today
would be very modest sums.
Wines from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were bottled in 1.9L
handblown bottiglioni, a large format intended to give the owner enough
wine to fill two standard bottles and have a little left over for sediment. I
began to buy wines from this collection, and those bottles deeply informed my
knowledge of vintages from the past. For this dinner, I chose to present a
selection of the vintages
I have, focusing on iconic years to show the various eras in the estate’s
The venue was Legacy Records, one of my favorite places for
hosting small dinners. Executive Chef Ryan Hardy and his team prepared a
fabulous menu. This was one of the best dinners we have ever had at Legacy. Delicious
Hospitality Group Wine Director Celia Erickson and Legacy Records’ Beverage
Director Theo Lieberman took care of the wines with exceptional care. All of
the wines were double decanted a few hours prior to service and checked for
The Legacy Records team plates the main course in the striking open kitchen.
2016 Langhe Nebbiolo
Selection of Passed Canapés
As I always do, I taste the wines when they are first
opened, record my impressions and then observe as the wines develop over the
course of the evening.
I thought it would be fun to start with something different.
The 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo is
gorgeous. Bright, vibrant and classically austere – in the best sense of the
term – the 2016 is a picture-perfect example of the vintage, but in a slightly
more approachable package than is found in the top wines. It’s a terrific
introduction to the evening.
Our first flight
features three vintages that are ready to drink.
2001, 1999 & 1996 Barolo
puntarella & radish
For this first flight, I chose vintages that are ready to
drink. The 2001 Barolo (magnum) has always been an
enigma at this address. From magnum, the 2001 has always been better than from
750ml bottles, so it is no surprise to see this showing so well. Dense,
powerful and quite rustic, the 2001 offers up dark fruit intermingled with
spice, menthol, tobacco and dried flowers. This potent, old-school Barolo opens
beautifully with a few hours of air. The 1999
Barolo (magnum) is very clenched at first. Chalk, white pepper and
red-toned fruit lend notable vibrancy throughout. There is some lack of focus
in the bouquet at first which is distracting. When I come back to the 1999 at
the end of the evening, I find a wine of greater cohesion. There is still
plenty of drive and persistence. While the wine does clean up, it remains a bit
magnum, the 1996 Barolo is quite the
powerhouse. Dense and potent to the core, the 1996 is packed with dark fruit,
tobacco, leather, incense and dried herbs. This is an impressive showing.
The Epic 1980s
1990, 1989, 1988, 1985 & 1982 Barolo
brown butter & sage
For this flight, well, I simply wanted to taste all the
great vintages of the 1980s together. That’s all the thinking there was.
The 1990 Barolo (magnum)
is in fine shape. Sensual and racy, the 1990 is a fabulous example of the year.
Dried cherry fruit, spice, worn-in leather, tobacco and mint show the signs of
well-worn age. I wouldn’t hang on to the 1990 too much longer, as it is not
going to improve. Explosive and effusive, the 1989 Barolo (magnum) shows terrific density in its beautifully
layered fruit. Time in the glass brings out that characteristic 1989 inner
sweetness that is such
a signature of the year. The 1988 Barolo
(magnum) is a very pleasant surprise. Over the years, it has been inconsistent,
but this magnum is terrific. Bright and nuanced for a wine of its age and era,
the 1988 offers gorgeous Nebbiolo character to complement its mid-weight
personality. Although the 1988 doesn’t have the presence of either the 1989 or
1990, it more than holds its own in this flight, and that is saying a ton.
The 1985 Barolo (magnum)
is a fine example of a wine whose time has arrived. It’s a pretty Barolo with
plenty of aged Nebbiolo character, but the density it had as a young wine has
receded. What remains is a soft, expressive Barolo that has now entered the
first part of its maturity.
Hints of sweet dried cherry, tobacco, crushed flowers and pine linger on the
effortless finish. The 1982 Barolo (magnum)
has always been a special wine for me. It is the first older Bartolo Mascarello
wine I tasted. Ever since then, I have been captivated by its seductive magic.
On this night, it is fabulous. Penetrating aromatics meld into a core of
delineated red-fleshed fruit in a Barolo that gains energy with air. This is as
classic as classic gets. A masterpiece.
brown butter & sage, one of the highlights of a superb menu prepared by the
team at Legacy Records.
A New Vision Emerges
2008, 2006, 2005 & 2004 Barolo
sausage ragu, pecorino & mint
This was arguably the most interesting flight of the night
from an educational perspective, as we had a rare opportunity to watch the
transition from Bartolo Mascarello to his daughter Maria Teresa unfold before
our very eyes and palates.
The 2008 Barolo (magnum)
is a stunner, as it has always been. Intensely aromatic, silky and layered, the
2008 is so elegant. I especially admire its vibrancy and overall freshness,
both signatures of the year. Plum, dried flowers, crushed rocks and lavender
build in an undeniably sexy Barolo that hits all the right notes. Potent and
explosive in feel, the 2006 Barolo (magnum)
is a brooding, imposing wine. Dark fruit, menthol, spice and mocha infuse the
2006 with notable depth. As impressive as the 2006 is, there is a slightly
advanced quality that is worth watching over the next few years. It’s hard to
say if that nuance has always been present or if it simply made more evident
because of the presence of so many strong vintages in this tasting. Either way,
it seems pretty obvious that the 2006 doesn’t reach the level of more recent
vintages. Of course, it is also possible this particular magnum was not totally
The 2005 Barolo is
fresh and vibrant, with bright acids driving a core of red-toned fruit, chalk,
white pepper, plum, licorice and crushed rocks. There is a crystalline purity
that I especially admire. The 2005 will always be a bit lean in construction,
but there is a feeling of classicism that is undeniably appealing. The 2004 Barolo (magnum) is soft and silky,
but it is also more forward than I expect, or want, to be honest. Dried flowers, leather, spice,
game and dark-fleshed fruit fill out the layers. Vertical tastings serve, among
other things, to shine a bright light on a single wine over many vintages. In
this context, the 2004 does not live up to my original enthusiasm.
This flight captures
the transition from Bartolo to Maria Teresa Mascarello. The four wines say it
Modern Day Classics
2016, 2013 & 2010 Barolo
Choice of: Dry-Aged
Ribeye, wild mushroom & charred onion or Farm Chicken, caraflex cabbage
For me, this was the flight of the night. As much as I admire
the much older vintages that follow, or some of the classics from the 1980s and
1990s, the wines I love most are those from 2008 to the present, including the
three reference points in this grouping.
The 2016 Barolo (magnum)
is obviously a very, very young wine, and yet its inclusion in this flight is
essential, both for getting a glimpse of the wine at this early stage and also for
understanding its place among recent vintages. Supremely elegant and
classically austere in bearing, the 2016 is sublime. The vibrancy of the
flavors is captivating, as is the wine’s energy. All the 2016 needs is time.
The 2013 Barolo is, in my
estimation, one of the wines of the evening. Deep, powerful and brooding, the
2013 offers up a kaleidoscope of aromas, flavors and textures that do not let
up. Plum, rose petal, kirsch, lavender and spice lend an exotic flair
throughout. Magnificent. Still embryonic, Mascarello’s 2010 Barolo (magnum) shows all the classicism it did when I first
tasted it from cask many years ago. There is a feeling of crystalline purity
and translucence here that is simply captivating. This is Nebbiolo and Barolo
in all its glory in what has turned out to be an epic vintage for the estate.
Time in the glass brings out scents of lavender, dried flowers and dark fruit,
all wrapped together by huge swaths of tannin. Readers lucky enough to own the
2010 are in for a tremendous treat.
The 2016, 2013 and
2010 are three of the greatest wines ever made here. Tasting them together is illuminating.
Going Way Back…
1978 Barolo, 1964 Barolo Canubbi, 1958 Barolo Canubbi &
1955 Barolo Canubbi
Selection of Artisanal Cheeses
This last flight was pretty special, to say the least. The
opportunity to taste four reference point vintages from perfectly stored
bottles was a real treat. Astute readers will note that some of these wines are
labeled ‘Canubbi,’ with the old-fashioned spelling rather than the modern-day
spelling Cannubi, which could be mistaken for single-vineyard wines. At the
time, the custom was to use the name of the most famous vineyard on labels,
hence the existence of these ‘Canubbi’ Barolos and also some very curious older
bottles of Barbaresco Canubbi. All of the wines in this flight were served from
1.9L bottiglione, a large format that is no longer used. These hand-blown
bottles are historical artifacts in themselves and a poignant reminder of
simpler times in Piedmont.
Four older vintages
from pristine larger formats. That’s about as good as it gets.
The 1978 Barolo (1.9L
bottiglione) shows notable depth for a wine of its age. Then again, that’s the
style of the year. Dark fruit, spice, worn-in leather, menthol and tobacco all
open in the glass. I am surprised to see that the 1978 is the most forward of
the wines in the flight, but at this age, that really comes down to the
specific bottle, or in this case, magnum. The 1964 Barolo Canubbi (1.9L bottiglione) represents my ideal of a
fine older wine, one that has aged with sublime grace. Silky and layered, with
tremendous persistence, the 1964 is pure seduction. Macerated cherry, spice,
tobacco and cedar take on shades of exoticism in this super-expressive Barolo.
On any other night, the 1958
Barolo Canubbi (1.9L bottiglione) would have been the wine of the evening,
but this flight offers a lot of competition for that honor. Even so, the 1958
offers all the power and depth it has always shown. Now fully mature, the 1958
is seamless, its once-searing tannins are now softened by age. Heady aromatics add
to its explosive, soaring feel. Mascarello’s 1955 Barolo Canubbi (1.9L bottiglione) is a sort of time capsule, a
wine that takes us back to another era in Piedmont. Delicate and quite sensual,
the 1955 offers a striking counterpoint to the more assertive 1958. Sweet red
cherry, spice, tobacco and worn-in leather lend nuance to a fully mature,
translucent Barolo that is alluring from the very first taste. It has been a
number of years since I last had the 1955, so my memory may not be entirely
accurate, but I don’t recall another magnum with such exceptional balance. It’s
a superb wine with which to close out the evening.
Seven decades of
Mascarello Barolo. A journey through time.
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