By Martyn Zemavicius
Cantina Bartolo Mascarello
Cantina Bartolo Mascarello is absolutely one of our favourite producers in Barolo. As Maria-Theresa, Mascarello’s daughter, was working in vineyards that day we were met by Alan Manley, one of only five employees of the estate. He is so knowledgeable and articulate about the winery, and indeed the entire region, that it was easy to imagine he had been born and raised on the estate himself.
The estate was founded in 1919, and they own 5 ha of vines across four parcels in Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue, and Rocche del Annunziata in La Morra. Nebbiolo accounts for 3 ha, and there is around one hectare each of Barbera and Dolcetto, with a smattering of Freisa. They produce only one Barolo, with fruit blended and co-fermented from the individual sites.
Harvesting typically occurs over 10-12 days, with the focus on making a big selection in the vineyard. Fermentation is conducted in cement and wooden cuves, with no need of temperature control or yeast inoculation. They allow for anywhere from 14 days maceration (for the 2014) to as long as 56 days (for the 2010). Their Dolcetto is the only wine to undergo some light filtration, the rest are unfined and unfiltered.
Maturation takes place in large oak casks, using demijohns to top up as necessary (they typically lose around one litre a week – think of those lucky angels!)
Not only was Mascarello one of the first estates in the region to start bottling their own wines, they were pioneers of using hand-drawn labels. In the last eight years of his life, when Bartolo Mascarello was confined to a wheelchair, he drew over 500 pictures, which are used on labels.
Magnums are produced in good vintages, and 200 are added to the family’s own collection. Around 900 magnums of the 2010 will be released commercially. From 2011, they moved away from Bordeaux magnums to Piemonte albeisa magnums, due to the darker glass.
Of course, the high quality of these wines is not a secret, and their entire production (around 32,000 bottles) is quickly snapped up each year, by wine lovers from all over the world.
Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2013
Grown on Barolo land.
On the nose, black fruits, sweet spice, depth and concentration. Round and silky, with dark fruit and spice on the palate. Powerful. 87 pts
Bartolo Mascarello Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2013
Rose, subtle red fruit, lovely aromas, sweet spice. Absolutely stunning nose. Big, firm fruit tannin, juicy texture, tea leaves, and red cherry on the palate. Lovely fruit definition, the tannin just needs to settle down. 89+ pts
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo DOCG 2011
Subtle nose, with raspberry, spice and earth. Such a beautiful aroma, with floral depth. So complex on the palate, with grainy tannin, raspberry, fresh sour acidity. Long finish with a firm backbone. Stunning wine! 94+ pts
Of all the wonderful, generous locals we met on our trip, we had probably the warmest welcome of all at Vajra. The family also happens to be making some of the best, and best priced, Barolo around.
We were greeted by brothers Giuseppe and Isidoro, who showed us around their incredible new winery. At Vajra, they were true pioneers of organic viticulture, and the estate was certified organic back in 1971 (the first wine producer, and only the third agricultural business, in Piedmont to be awarded organic certification). They maintained the certification until 1993.
They own around 40 hectares of vines, including Barolo parcels in Fossati, La Volta and Coste di Vergne. They also own 6 hectares of the prized Bricco vineyard, where the oldest Nebbiolo vines date back 65 years.
In pursuit of quality, they sort the grapes three times by hand, and then finish with berry selection in the winery. Fermentation occurs in custom-made tanks with wide openings, which helps to reduce alcohol by around 0.5%. Maceration takes anywhere from 20-50 days, depending on the vintage.
Small oak barriques account for around 5-10% of the harvest, with the rest in large oak casks. The exact percentage depends on the vintage conditions, with harder vintages in barriques. They bottle 15 wines, assembled from around 150-160 cuvees.
In addition to the typical regional varietals, they also grow Riesling, from vines first planted in 1984.
After our tasting at the estate, their sister Francesca took us to one of the family’s favourite restaurants, owned by a famous truffle hunter who has hosted everyone from politicians to movie stars. The meal itself would have been worth a special trip to Piedmont, and the owner managed to find a couple of summer truffles especially for our lunch. The delicious food was accompanied by a vertical of Barolo Luigi Baudana, a ‘garagiste’ estate also owned by the Vajra family.
G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore 2012
12-14 months in large cask, with 35 days maceration, from 65 year-old vines.
Powerful aromas of dark berries, spice. Fantastic fruit concentration, juicy, silky, long finish. Absolutely stunning 90+ pts
G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco delle Viole 2011
‘Viole’ refers to violets. Only the oldest Bricco vines are used.
Violets, flowers, red currant and spice on the nose. So beautiful. So floral on the palate, with notes of blueberry and rose petals. Stunning. 93+ pts
Luigi Baudana Barolo DOCG Baudana 2011
Baudana is the historical family name of the cru. Only 1000 bottles of this Barolo Baudana cuvee are made each year.
Concentrated nose, with spice, intensity and dark fruit depth. Silky smooth, juicy texture, flavours of spice, blueberries. Amazing! 94 pts
Luigi Baudana Barolo DOCG Baudana 2007
Such subtle aromatics, forest fruit concentration, with floral, cedar notes. Almost creamy texture, red berries and blueberries, so long and amazing! 95 pts
Luigi Baudana Barolo DOCG Baudana 2005
So aromatic with rose petals. Depth of aromas, spice, herbal. So powerful, beautiful and elegant, silky smooth and floral, alcohol jumping out just a little bit. 94 pts
One of the oldest names Piedmont winemaking, with production dating back all the way to 1761. This was a visit we deliberately left until last, because they have probably the largest library of old vintages in Piedmont. Some of these old vintages are still available to buy.
Following our tour of the winery – which included a glimpse of the largest cask in Piedmont, not to mention one of most stylishly retro delivery trucks in all Italy – we tasted an incredible vertical of Barolo Riserva going back to 1967. All the while, delicious cuts of meat and cheese kept coming. Ah, the memories…
These are traditionally made Barolos, with 40-60 days’ maceration. Around 45,000 bottles of the Riserva are made annually. Traditionally, 20,000 bottles are set aside in the great Barolo vintages, to be aged for at least 10 years.
2010 Borgono Barolo DOCG Cannubi
Earthy, cigar, forest floor, dark berries on the nose. Traditional, elegant, restrained, not so much of fruit, even it has but more of earthy, mineral and herbal notes. Old school. 92 pts
2008 Borgogno Barolo DOCG Riserva
Comprised of fruit from three single vineyards, Cannubi 30%, Fossati 30% and Liste 40%. Aged six years in wood, one year in bottle before release.
What power and fruit concentration. Focussed, amazing nose. Silky smooth on the palate, what elegance, red fruit, lavender 94 pts
2006 Borgogno Barolo DOCG Riserva
Muscular, dark fruit, earth, tobacco leaf aromas. Intensely powerful, with eucalyptus, spice, concentration. Long. 95 pts
1982 Borgogno Barolo DOCG Riserva
Aromas of dried roses, balsamic, juniper, dry cranberry, chocolate, prunes, raisins, smokey, cigar box. Elegant, dry palate with raisins, prunes, tobacco, smoky notes, bressola. Top level, balanced and so long. 95 pts
1967 Borgogno Barolo DOCG Riserva
Animal notes, tobacco, cedar, leather, dry aronia, balsamic, medicine box, dry cranberry on the nose. Tannin drying, prunes, tobacco, earthy leather on the palate. Backbone, structure are firmer than the 1982. Very long. 96 pts
It was incredible trip. Such a warm welcome from all the people we visited, and the food was delicious too. The friends and clients who joined in were already thinking of their next trip to Piedmont. Truffle season, anyone?
We love the wines of Piedmont wines for their high quality, their value and for the greatness of aroma and nuance they share with our beloved Burgundy.
Our special big thanks go out to Carosso family and to Liberty Wines, for helping arrange the visits. Without them the trip could not have been so special.