After fifteen years of tasting Barolo, I can’t think of any other producer whose wines create both a stir of excitement and a cringe of anxiety as much as the Barolo of Giuseppe Mascarello. There, I said it. The fact is that I can think of no other producer who is as widely loved, yet who also demonstrates such a large degree of variability. The love of Giuseppe Mascarello’s wines, especially Monprivato, runs so deeply that collectors are willing to forgive the high percentage of failed bottles and worries that accompany the decision to open one.
Unfortunately, the reason behind this variability remains unclear to me. Going back over the years, it’s interesting to follow my comments on these wines. If I go back far enough, I would always question why they seemed to never be ready to drink. Then there would be the off bottle, and then another off bottle. However, somewhere in the middle of all of this would be an outstanding performance from one of his wines that would send chills down your spine, hence the reason that we continue to buy Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that the more recent vintages seem much easier to appreciate in their youth. Going back five or more years, I wouldn’t dream of opening a Monprivato before the age of twenty; yet today, we are enjoying the 2004 and 2005 vintages. Without any talk of a change in style or vineyard practices, it’s hard to know what is creating these changes, but as our recent tasting showed, when Giuseppe Mascarello is on–IT’S ON!
Founded in 1881, Giuseppe Mascarello is renowned as one of the classic traditional producers of Barolo. The family started as tenant farmers, who took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a large portion of the Monprivato vineyard in 1904. Over the last century, the Mascarellos have continued to slowly acquire more parcels, and it is thought that they now control over 93% of the vineyard. Today, Monprivato is almost a monopole of the Mascarello family, as no other producer bottles its fruit as a single vineyard. You would need to look all the way back to 1990 for the last Monprivato made by another producer, and that’s the 1990 Brovia Monprivato, which we were lucky enough to have at this tasting.
The Monprivato vineyard is quite unique and visually stands out when surveying the surroundings of Castiglione Falletto. For one thing, the average vine age is 55 years old (quite old for this region), but then there is also its white calcareous soils with a good amount of limestone strewn throughout. The combination of these two attributes makes Monprivato hard to miss.
From Monprivato, Mauro Mascarello (the current owning family member) makes two wines. One is the namesake and iconic Monprivato, which was first produced in 1970 when Mauro realized that the quality of the vineyard justified its own bottling. The other is Ca’ d’Morissio (named for Mauro’s Grandfather), who had the original idea to use clonal selection to begin replanting portions of Monprivato with the rare michet clone. Today, Ca’ d’Morissio (made entirely from the michet clone and from old vines) stands as a towering bottle in both stature and price, yet if you are ever given the chance to taste it, do not hesitate.
This brings us to today and a group of fellow collectors from the Vinous forum, who have been talking about building a Giuseppe Mascarello vertical. As we were short one of the pillars of our group, (we missed you, Ken V.) the lineup was missing the icon ‘89 Monprivato, but with this group, you never have to worry about great vintages being placed on the table. We managed to amass vintages that spanned 45 years’ worth of G. Mascarello Barolo, starting with the ‘61 and ‘64 (which were made with a large portion of Monprivato), then leading into the first Monprivato, the 1970. We finished with the 2006, an amazing wine in the making.
On to the tasting notes:
1961 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Riserva – The nose was sweet and spicy with notes of raisin, dried-spicy citrus rind, and a note of sweet roasted pecan. It gained freshness with air, yet oxidation had taken hold, as this has already seen its best years. On the palate, it was soft and fleshy with notes of dried cherry, dried strawberry, leather and minerals. It finished long on soil tones and minerality. (92 points)
1964 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Riserva – The bouquet was remarkably similar to the ‘61 served before it, adding rosy medicinal cherry and animal musk to the sweetly spiced citrus notes. On the palate, an elevated bump of acidity defined its zesty and persistent performance, yet it lacked the elegance and purity of the best bottles. Dried red berry, leather and minerals lingered on the finish, marred by a slight bitterness. (88 points)
1970 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – In gorgeous form and still with many years of life left, the 1970 Monprivato was a dark, earthy and perfectly mature expression of Barolo. The bouquet was an earthy mix of moist soil, animal musk, parchment, worn leather, and dried strawberry. On the palate, I found an elegant expression with silky textures and a perfect balance of acid and still-lively tannin. Notes of dried cherry, minerals and a hint of tart citrus filled the senses and lasted into the long finish, along with a hint of inner dried florals. I wish I could have spent hours with this wine. (93 points)
1982 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Here I found a darker and richer expression of Monprivato with notes of dried cherry, undergrowth, dusty earth, hints of mint and dried flowers. On the palate, broad fleshy textures were wonderfully offset by zesty acidity, as black cherry and minerals seemed to saturate the senses. It finished long and mouthwatering, yet perfectly mature. (94 points)
1990 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – And then the 1990 hit the table! It’s been five years since I last tasted the ‘90, and it has certainly improved in that time. Here I found and intensely dark and brooding wine. Masculine to be sure, with a nose of ripe strawberry, dried cherries, tobacco, exotic spice, spiced apple and a hint of orange zest. On the palate, I found silky, pure textures with dark spiced cherry, balsamic tones, earth, leather and zesty acidity. Hints of tannin lingered on the long finish, along with tart red berries. There’s so much energy here. (96 points)
1990 Brovia Barolo Monprivato – The nose showed dusty rosy florals, dried strawberry, mineral-stone, tar and dark earth. On the palate, I found feminine, lifted textures with stimulating acidity, coming across as angular, with a stern minerality and crystalline red berry fruits. It finished structured yet energetic, not showing any heat from the vintage. It’s a very classy wine, with more upside potential that most 1990s. (93 points)
1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose showed black cherry, sweet spice, ironborn minerals, tobacco and dried roses. On the palate, it displayed persistent tart cherry fruit that saturated the senses, along with minerals and savory herbs. Both tannins and acidity were in perfect balance, creating a chiseled expression, leading into a tense and structured finish with saturating tart cherry. There’s a perfect symmetry to the ‘96 Monprivato, which placed it as one of my top wines of the night. (94 points)
1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Unfortunately Flawed. (I included a tasting note of a ‘99 opened a year ago; However, it’s important to note that the bottle I had previous to that one was flawed as well. Following is the original note from the previous bottle). Back to form after my last bottle, the 1999 Monprivato was classic and refined, with a nose full of dried cherry, dusty spice, undergrowth, minerals, and rosy floral notes. On the palate, it was angular and austere, yet the potential in this wine lurks right below the surface, with notes of dried cherry, dark chocolate, balsamic tones and minerals hinting at a bright future. Staying red fruit saturated the senses throughout the finish, along with inner floral notes, dried leaves and soil. Wow! (96 points)
2001 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – As the 2001 Monprivato matures, it’s clear to me that it’s one of the vintage standouts. It doesn’t impress for its power as much as it does for its poise and refinement. The bouquet displays an expression of bright, lifted cherry and strawberry tones, with sweet florals, mint tea and a hint of citrus. On the palate, feminine textures mixed with caking minerality, bright strawberry fruits, and inner floral tones created a very pretty expression, as mild tannin set in and reminded me of its youthful state. It appears that the ‘01 will always be a lighter and prettier version of Monprivato, yet with the persistence to mature with decades. (93 points)
2004 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Here I found a beautiful expression of mineral-laden cherry (a touch medicinal), dusty florals, dried citrus, and spice. It was lifted and feminine on the palate, showing silky textures with pure red fruits, saline-minerality, inner floral tones and hints of citrus. The finish was refined and soft with remnants of dried cherry and inner floral tones, which gave way to a coating of fine tannin. (94 points)
2006 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Tasting the 2006 on this night, with the ‘82 and the ‘90 on the table, gave me the impression that it may one day mature into something that would fall somewhere in between these two great wines. The bouquet was dark and rich, but with soaring floral tones and lifting minerality, Black cherry, sweet herbs and hints of undergrowth filled the senses. On the palate, I found a brooding, massive wine that was barely restrained by youthful tannin, with silky broad textures and saturating dark red fruits. It had a way of being powerful and refined all at the same time, finishing of dried cherry and inner floral tones. (95 points)
Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by Eric Guido