Mascarello Monprivato Barolo DOCG 2011
By: Olga Sgibneva
Late fall in the Alpine foothills. Thick morning fog spreads across wooded hills, accented by the red of the leaves and the tiled roofs. It is Piedmont at the end of October, the season of white truffles and the birth of a legendary wine of Piedmont and all of Italy—Barolo. It’s one of the most amazing wines on Earth for several reasons: the incredibly complex character of the grapes, its interesting and rather mysterious location, the labor-intensive production passed from one generation to the next, and finally, the artistry of its winemakers. Altogether, this yields impressive results—the unstoppable development of a truly great wine!
The west of Italy, separated from France by the Mont Blanc massif, is home to one of the most significant and successful winemaking regions in Italy—Piedmont, known for its adherence to local winemaking traditions. Winemakers in this area use autochthonous grape varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and others). The must and skins undergo a long fermentation process, after which the wine is matured in large barrels for a long period. The barrels, called botti, are made of local Slavonian oak.
Piedmont is a hilly area, which becomes more mountainous closer to Mont Blanc—this area is of more interest to downhill skiers than to winemakers. Grapes prefer the slopes of Piedmont’s hills with their wonderful drainage, where vines can penetrate deep into the rich soil.
The majority of wine produced in Piedmont has the Denomination of Controlled Origin designation (DOC and DOCG), with a small amount of table wines. Piedmont has several winemaking regions. The main ones are Langhe and Roero that differ greatly in terms of soil composition and the wines they produce. Langhe is home to the most famous winemaking area in Piedmont, the one that put the region on the map—Barolo.
Piedmont’s signature wines are made from local Nebbiolo (foggy’) grapes. Barolo wine is made from Nebbiolo grapes and is named after the region where the grapes grow. Nebbiolo wines are known for their phenomenal aromatics. A prominent feature of Barolo wine is its combination of resin and rose aromas.
However, this grape is not an easy one for winemakers, behaving more like a difficult child. It presents a number of challenges while growing, then shows resistance—even rudeness—during the maturation process. But the winemaker who can weather these challenges will be rewarded with the perfect adulthood and maturity of the wine, though this can sometimes take several decades.
Barolo: Tradition and Modernity
There is still an ongoing argument about the process for making Barolo. Piedmont is broadly divided into two groups: traditionalists vs. modernists. The first group advocates for the use of old local vinification methods used by their fathers and grandfathers, while modernists seek to improve the winemaking process by embracing new techniques.
This results in two wines that differ in their styles. The ability to differentiate between them is largely reserved for the residents of Piedmont or to true lovers of Nebbiolo who, through trial and error, have gained the experience and knowledge required to navigate the array of different names and producers of Barolo.
Nebbiolo takes a long time to ripen and builds up a variety of different compounds: acids, tannins, and some other polyphenolic substances—but not all of them. It lacks anthocyanins, the pigments that ensure a stable color. It can be quite chilly in Piedmont in late October–early November. In days gone by, fermentation of the must sometimes didn’t begin for several days, and the overall fermentation process was slow and dragged on for months. This gave rise to the traditions of long fermentation of the must and skins (which ensures maximum extractivity and color stability) as well as the years-long wine maturation in large barrels of over 400 liters (called botti). Larger volumes of wine slow the oxidation process—that is, the wine takes longer to mature, but that way it can accumulate its complex aromatics and become silky.
Modernists strive to cater more to modern tastes and make wines that are easier to understand—wines that mature much faster, as opposed to taking years. They believe that there is no need to make the wine over-extracted, so they use a shorter fermentation process. The use of higher temperatures can accelerate fermentation, which also makes the wine fruitier. Maturation occurs in smaller barrels (barriques), which results in a faster oxidation process compared to botti.
Such wines are ready for consumption after several years. They are thick, more concentrated, and have fruity notes to their flavor, but they can lack delicate and diverse aromas. All that said, much depends on the winemaker and their sound judgement in combining tradition with modern technologies.
Thick, viscous, fruity, sweet-tasting wines are easier and quicker to appreciate, while refined and lingering aromas and tastes require attention and a more studious approach. And that takes effort, not relaxation in a modern, fast-paced environment.
Nebbiolo is a symbol of Piedmont. It has featured on the emblem of the Langhe winemaking region for a very long time. There is no exact information on when this variety came into existence. The first mentions of it date back to the 13th century. It’s an autochthonous grape variety, and all attempts to grow Nebbiolo in other regions have been unsuccessful—apart from in nearby Lombardy where the grape feels right at home and makes great wine (in Lombardy, Nebbiolo is called Chiavennasca).
It’s an incredibly difficult and demanding variety that requires a lot of attention, patience, and delicate work from winemakers. But in turn, it makes for amazing Barolo wine that can develop over decades. Nebbiolo blooms early, and for that reason clusters can often shed. The grapes ripen slowly and late, and the harvest is often unpredictable. Due to the long maturation process, the berries accumulate a lot of tannins, and acidity is preserved, but Nebbiolo does not get along with an anthocyanin called malvidin (the pigment responsible for color intensity). That’s why Nebbiolo grapes require a long fermentation process, which enables contact of the must and skins to get maximum extractivity. The wine then needs a long and slow maturation period for the polymerization and smoothing of the tannins it contains. Modern technologies can assist and reduce the vinification period, but this wasn’t always possible.
The grape variety had seemingly no chance of surviving to the present day. But as with to the equally demanding Pinot noir from Burgundy, which farmers tried to substitute with the simpler and more forgiving Gamay, the Piedmont authorities prohibited the uprooting of Nebbiolo. This changed after the phylloxera epidemic, when Nebbiolo was replaced with the more manageable and accessible Barbera and Dolcetto.
At present, Nebbiolo occupies less than 10% of Piedmont’s vineyards, but it’s the only grape variety that makes the refined, elevated, sublime Barolo. There are a number of strict regulations for growing grapes for Barolo and producing the wine. For instance, DOCG wine must be matured for at least three years, and its alcohol content must be 13%. According to local rules, Barolo has to be produced within a commune, but an exception has been for the Mascarello family of winemakers. They are free to make their wine the way they’ve been doing it for decades.
Mascarello Guiseppe e Figlio is a family-owned winemaking company founded by Giuseppe Mascarello in 1881 on a small plot in Monforte d’Alba (Province of Cuneo, Piedmont). The estate has grown over the years, and the Mascarello family currently owns over 15 ha of vineyards in Barolo. It was Maurizio Mascarello who purchased a cellar for the company’s wine at Monchiero, outside of a Barolo commune, in 1919. As a former ice storage building, it is capable of maintaining temperatures at the required level. The Mascarello family sticks to traditional winemaking techniques: a long fermentation period and long-term wine maturation in botti made from Slavonian oak.
Mascarello Guiseppe e Figlio wines reflect the beauty and affluence of their native land, which is in large part thanks to the craftsmanship of the winemaker Mauro Mascarello. The instant you taste Mascarello (Guiseppe e Figlio) Monprivato Barolo DOCG 2011, you can sense how healthy the wine is. And credit for that goes to Mauro Mascarello, his philosophy and his attitude toward the land, the vines, and the wine. Mauro represents the fourth generation of winemakers in his family.
The methods he applies are aimed first and foremost at growing high-quality grapes. The berries need to be fully ripe, and grape clusters must have the perfect bouquet. The vineyards use organic techniques wherever possible; they do hard pruning in the winter and remove any imperfect inflorescences and berries—anything that might stand in the way of the grapes becoming perfectly ripe. The berries are carefully selected individually.
Don Mauro believes that following the traditions of his family and the region is the key to his success. He has spent a lot of time experimenting with the fermentation process but returned to using the traditional methods of the area and his family with only slight adjustments. Just as they did many years ago, they still rely on long fermentation processes. But to maintain the balance between maximum extraction and mild flavor, the process has been reduced from 60 days to 30–40 days, and grapes from different lots are vinified separately.
To create consistent conditions for fermentation and improve its quality, Mr. Mascarello sought advice from the famous oenologist and wine expert Donato Lanati. At his research center Enosis, Lanati studied and examined the specific characteristics of the Nebbiolo clones used for Barolo and developed a special fermenter for the Mascarello family. The fermenter accurately replicates traditional fermentation technology and automatically controls the required duration of the process. It helps achieve the perfect balance between the extractivity, tanninity, and silkiness of the wine. This unique creation is patented in Italy, and all four fermenters have produced amazing results.
They produce wine of unrivaled purity and tone that invites you to appreciate and experience it. You do not want to miss a single gleam of this gem. Bravo to the two maestros!
Spring here is warm and comes early. The difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures causes thick fogs and a greenhouse effect of sorts, which allows the grapes to ripen at a natural pace. Grapes in vineyards on the south-facing slopes experience the most favorable conditions for growth and ripening; such berries accumulate and retain all the elements that will allow the wine to reveal the full complexity of its flavor and its multilayered delicate aromas.
Piedmont has a large number of vineyards divided into small lots belonging to different owners, and producing wine from one’s own grapes here is not just rare but actually considered quite a luxury. That’s why winemaking in Piedmont is still mostly a family business, and the Mascarello Guiseppe e Figlio wine we’re focusing on here is no exception. The soil and unique microclimates have a significant influence on the character and the individuality of the wine in each Piedmont commune.
The most famous and prestigious wine estate belonging to the Mascarello family is located in the very heart of Barolo, at the Castiglione Falletto commune. It’s a small vineyard of around 6 ha. This land was formed back in the Miocene epoch and retains traces of its long history—marine sediments and ammonites. The soil is rich in micronutrients and consists of a mix of clay, silt, and marl, with a significant limestone content. This provides excellent drainage and a wonderful composition for feeding vines.
The vineyard was upgraded by Giuseppe Mascarello in the early 1960s with the planting of select clones called Nebbiolo Michet. This Nebbiolo variety has dense clusters and fairly small berries. The vineyard is located on the southeastern side of the slope, up to 280 m above sea level. It gets plenty of light during daytime, which gives the wine a complex aroma, elegant composition, and silky, thick flavor that transports you to ancient times and evokes the marine history the land with its mineral notes.
Mascarello Monprivato Barolo DOCG 2011 is not an easy wine to drink. It requires a particular state of mind to appreciate, but when all the necessary components come together, it’s a holiday, a firework of pleasure and emotions, a full spectrum of colors and beauty. This wine has a special, very fine bouquet composed of numerous layers. It’s hard to limit its description to mere words. It is beyond that which we see with our eyes; it’s a symphony of color and flavor, a melody of aromas. It demonstrates exceptional work from the winemaker. Everything is harmonious and interconnected. All elements flow into each other like a streamlet running down a mountain of freshness, joy, colors, scents, movement, and continuous change.
Mascarello Monprivato Barolo DOCG 2011 is an elegant, refined, structured wine. Its delicacy is not a sign of weakness but a manifestation of its power and essence. This wine is certainly meant for sensory perception; it fills you up through a state of ecstasy, and the foods accompanying it must follow and highlight the greatness of the wine—subtle but well-deserved!
The foods consumed with this wine shouldn’t have straightforward flavors. Try to make everything a mystery, a complexity, a game. Like hunting for truffles—a secret! The food needs to melt in your mouth before the wine reveals its aftertaste. Chances are you won’t look back on the meal you had—no matter how wonderful it was—but you will definitely remember your impression of this wine for a long time. Ideally, the foods should be natural and express themselves effortlessly. Vegetables, for instance, can be simmered and served with light sauces that complement their flavor and add an extra touch to the dish. Cheese such as Parmigiano is of course a good choice too.
Sommelier Recommendations for Preparation and Serving
Try breaking the accepted rule of having to decant a wine like this. Instead, study and enjoy its changing aroma. Try to catch the moment different aromas appear and soften inside the glass—from dense, resiny notes to a more delicate rose scent, later replaced by resiny notes once again. The choice of glass is crucial for this wine. Opt for the thinnest glass you can get. This adds another element to the pleasure.
Mascarello Monprivato Barolo DOCG 2011 does not fill up your body, but it fills your spirit with its aroma and flavor; it makes the very process of interaction with the wine pleasurable and enjoyable. It certainly requires mental preparation and special attention. This is an intellectual wine, so it is crucial that one is mindful and focused when approaching it.
This wine represents the traditions of Piedmont. It requires aging and is intended to have long periods of development. At five years, the wine is already wonderful, but it is not ready to reveal its full potential just yet. As you open the bottle, take note of the cork—it takes a long time to open. Such corks (55 mm long) are used when winemakers intend for the wine to age for a long time.
Its natural character is the main feature of this wine, and it can only be properly observed with time. In this case, patience and wisdom walk hand in hand. If the storage conditions are adequate, and if the collector has enough patience, ten years is a good waiting period. You will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience, and you’ll require no explanation as to why Barolo is considered the jewel of Piedmont, and how it’s all connected to truffles.
An Ode to the Truffle
Another mystery, symbol, and legend of Piedmont is the white truffle. No, not chocolates, the famous tuber. White truffles are famed for their multilayered and unique aromas. Just like Nebbiolo.
White truffles hide 20–80 cm underneath the surface of the ground. The mycelium of the picked truffle remains in place, so experienced «trufolaos» can revisit the same spot year after year—with help from the keen sense of smell of their animal assistants. Ever since the 15th century, white truffle hunting has involved the use of dogs and pigs, whose amazing senses of smell can detect truffles from 20 m.
Truffles grow on the roots of trees—usually oaks, but sometimes poplars and willows as well. Curiously, truffles appear to use tree roots to «pull’ a multitude of different elements from the ground and create numerous new connections, which then manifest a symphony of aromas as soon as they touch the air—the smell of undergrowth, wet soil, and grass. Something similar occurs with Nebbiolo: vines feed on the micronutrients in the soil, and if the soil, the altitude, and the angle of the sun are all right, and the weather has helped the grapes ripen perfectly and evenly, then the grapes, just like truffles, will express the character of that land. The winemaker’s task is to transfer, safeguard, and encapsulate these treasures in Barolo.