If there was one wine that not only defined Barolo for me, but for the majority of longtime collectors, it’s Bartolo Mascarello. When I first fell in love with Barolo, I was quick to learn that to understand not just what Barolo is about but also where it came from, looking back on the great vintages of Bartolo was the place to start and in many cases to end. This remains true even to this day, if not more so. As we often speak about traditional versus modern producers, this was the name that stood for the hardline traditionalists. Bartolo, who referred to himself as the last of the Mohicans, carried the torch of traditional methods and spoke out often about the values that separated the old from the new school.
Up to the very end, his ideals were followed to the letter, even as his health declined and the region changed to appeal to current tastes. A visit to Bartolo Mascarello was on the bucket list of collectors around the world, and in most cases it was a difficult goal to accomplish. Even today as we look back on vintages from 60 years ago, the wines optimize and define Barolo.
The reason for this was his respect for what came before. Following in his father Giulio's footsteps and changing nothing about the way Barolo had been produced in their family cantina since the beginning, Bartolo took the hard stance of speaking out against what most of the region considered to be progress--the modernist movement.
With holdings in the prestigious crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué, and Rocche in La Morra, Bartolo continued to produce one Barolo, which was a blend of crus, instead of giving in to the trend of single-vineyard bottling. In the winery, the only aging vessels you would find were large Slavonian oak casks, and he became known for his venomous remarks toward barrique, as well as various politicians and world matters.
Through it all, the house of Mascarello maintained its loyal following, becoming something of a city of Mecca for collectors, media, politicians, and anyone seeking truth in Barolo. Today we see the entire region bending back to the traditional methods that Bartolo worked so hard to maintain, and we are also quite lucky that in his daughter, Maria Teresa, we have found yet another generation of Mascarellos who have chosen to follow family traditions.
Bartolo’s passing was a moment that will never be forgotten by collectors of the time, yet in the capable hands of his daughter Maria Teresa, the wines have found a new level of purity and finesse, while still maintaining his ideals. Today, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo has ascended to the highest ranks of the region, with respect from producers and wine lovers from across the world. I’m sure the man would be very proud.
Our recent tasting spanned vintages from 1955 (Before Bartolo joined his father Giulio in the wine making process), through the ‘80s,’90s (some of Bartolo’s greatest vintages) and then into the recent vintages of ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 (which show the beginning of Maria Teresa’s time at Mascarello). It was an evening that I will never forget, and it has only reassured me that these wines, from any of the decades past, are worth seeking out and should be in the cellars of any devoted collector of Barolo.
** A note on the naming of the 1955 and 1958. Prior to a renaming by Bartolo in the early '80s, the wines were labeled as Cantina Mascarello. What's more, although the first two wines state Canubbi on the label, they are both blends of the Mascarello vineyards. The name Canubbi was added for it's prestige.
On to the tasting notes:
1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi Riserva - The ‘55 Bartolo was unbelievably youthful at first pour, especially with its gorgeous deep color, yet still perfectly mature, displaying a bouquet of dried flowers, dried cherry, and hints of bitter herbs. On the palate, I found soft textures, with vibrant acid and a flash of dried red berries, before pulling back with a hint of decay. It finished medium-long on tart red berries and a hint of smoke. I could sit with this glass all night. (94 points)
1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi - The ‘58 worried me, with its completely resolved color showing only a slight red hue. On the nose, a display of earth tones, dried flowers, and musk gave way to hints of maderization. On the palate, herb-infused, tart red fruits gave way to elevated acidity that seemed to touch upon all of the senses. It finished long on dried cherry, cedar, leather and a twang of acidity. It was completely mature and on the decline, but still highly enjoyable on this evening. (92 points)
1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘82 showed just how fickle Nebbiolo can be, coming from a bottle that was opened many hours before serving. My first impression was of a closed and hard wine that wouldn’t reveal its treasures, yet over the course of this tasting it blossomed into an elegant beauty. The nose showed hints of pine and parchment up front, yet gained depth in the glass, as dusty dried flowers turned to dark, mineral-laden red fruits. On the palate, I found a deeply focused expression of dark red fruits with still-youthful tannin. It finished long and drying, yet a bolt of acidity enlivened the senses. This is something of a sleeping giant. (95 points)
1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - I’ve always found ‘90 to be a difficult vintage to truly understand, and I’m not sure if this Bartolo has added more questions than answers on this night. The wine itself was tremendous, and it didn’t show any of the attributes I associate with ‘90 Barolo. Here I found deep, yet focused red fruits with dried roses, pine, dusty soil, and balsamic tones, in a feminine and lifted display. On the palate, youthful red fruits were aided by zesty acidity, providing a sensation of pure refinement. As it sat in the glass, its textures seemed to soften and expand while never losing its energy or verve. The finish was long and youthful, with tart red berry fruit lingering on and on. (94 points)
1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - It’s not often that a ‘95 crosses my path and leaves a such an impression as the ‘95 Bartolo Mascarello did. This displayed a rich, spicy and red floral bouquet with notes of brown spice, savory cherry and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures with red berries, minerals and inner floral tones, in a perfectly mature expression of Nebbiolo. It finished on dried cherries and floral tones. The ‘95 was simply a pleasure to drink. (94 points)
1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘96 Bartolo was as puzzling at this stage as most wines from this ‘Iron Vault’ of a vintage. The nose showed depths of dark red fruit with soaring minerality and hints of menthol. On the palate, I found refined, yet tightly-wound, concentrated red fruit with saturating acidity and firm tannin. It finished structured and lean with a mix of cheek-puckering acidity and palate-coating tannin. I wanted so badly to like this wine more, especially from its amazing bouquet, but the palate still leaves me questioning if ‘96 fruit has the endurance to outlive those intense tannins and acid. (92 points)
1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - Another standout from a ripe vintage, the ‘97 displayed a rich, deep and intense nose with mineral-infused red fruits and dried flowers. On the palate, I found a remarkably fresh expression for the vintage, with soft textures which soothed the senses while notes of focused red fruits saturated everything they touched. Dried flowers, tart berry and minerals lasted on on the finish, along with a hint of dried orange peel. Well done. (92 points)
1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - It was hard to decide if the ‘98 was a damaged wine or just a bad bottle, as the nose was overtly intense with herbal-infused medicinal cherry and spice. On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits, yet little else and seriously lacking energy. It finished on minerals with a hint of oxidation. I decided to score this, because it was still a serviceable wine, just not what you would expect from Bartolo Mascarello. (87 points)
1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - What a pleasure it was to enjoy the ‘99 once again. It’s a truly great wine in the making. Here I found a bouquet of mineral-infused, dark red berry fruit with hints of sweet herbs and spice. With time, dusty floral tones came to the fore. On the palate,a focused wave of red berry fruit with acid and mineral-driven tenacity splashed against the senses, leaving inner dried floral tones and hints of fine tannin. It finished structured and classic, with tart red fruits and dried spice. This was a gorgeous showing, and it’s a wine that anyone who loves Bartolo must have in their cellar. (97 points)
2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed citrus-tinged red berry and pretty floral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures, unexpected so for an ‘01. There was also a lack of depth. This finish was dry with fine tannin and tart, mineral-infused tannin. I’ve heard stories of the ‘01 being a variable bottle, and tonight's wasn’t nearly as exciting as my last bottle. (90 points)
2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘05 was gorgeous and a great introduction to Maria Teresa’s winemaking style. The nose was very pretty, and I’d go as far as calling it mesmerizing, showing dusty tart cherry, and exotic floral tones with hints of sweet spice. On the palate, I found lean tart berry lifted by brisk acidity and inner floral tones. It finished on focused, intense red fruit and fine tannin structure, built like a dancer so to speak. This is highly enjoyable already, but sure to drink well for a decade or more. (94 points)
2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘06 was an iron vault of a Barolo, but behind its imposing structure, there was so much potential. The nose displayed deep, dark, spicy red fruit, with dried florals, spice cookie and mint. On the palate, dark, mineral-infused red fruits and rich spices saturated the senses, yet stayed fresh through brisk acidity and refined tannin. It finished long on palate-coating tannin, dried cherry and balsamic tones. This was just a baby, but with 30-40 years of potential. (96 points)
2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - As expected, the ‘07 Bartolo Mascarello showed the heat of the vintage, yet managed to do it with grace. The nose was intense with rich depths of red berry fruits, spice cake and sweet florals. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures giving way to ripe cherry with plenty of flesh, sweet spices, hard red candies and stunning acidity which provided energy. The long finish balanced spicy red fruit with hints of sweet tannin, yet remained fresh throughout. (92 points)
2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed mineral-infused dark red fruits and balsamic tones. On the palate, I found rich black cherry with slick, almost sappy textures in something of a monolithic display. The finish was long with grippy tannin, dark minerality and dried red berries. Unfortunately, the ‘09 does suffer from the heat of the vintage, yet never becomes overwhelming. (91 points)
Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido