Monday, October 30, 2023

Goulash, The ultimate comfort food

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to food. Having grown up only blocks away from some of the best German restaurants in New York City, many of my nostalgic memories from childhood are of German cuisine and one in particular, Goulash. To this day, a rainy autumn afternoon or snowy winter night will always stir in me the desire for a warm bowl of goulash. Its moderate heat is perfectly tempered by the rich sauce and natural sweetness of the onions. When perfectly cooked the meat nearly melts in your mouth and becomes part of the sauce. This is the ultimate comfort food.

The recipe included below may be very different from what a chef would learn in school or what the typical cookbook may provide, but I assure you that it will create a Goulash of incredible depth and richness. The ingredients are simple, but it requires a certain amount of patience from the cook and passion for the food. This preparation wasn’t taught to me by one person; instead it was constructed from an old traditional recipe and then fortified by the knowledge of a number of people that credit themselves as Goulash aficionados. One may have wanted nutmeg, another to brown the meat, but in the end I took the knowledge of all of them and, through experimentation, constructed what you see below.

However, there has always been one piece missing in this equation: what wine should I pair with it? Firstly, my experience with German reds is limited and most restaurants I’ve dined at consider beer to be the beverage of choice. Even the wine list at one of my local favorites, and possibly the best German Restaurant in New York City, has only a small number of Rieslings and one or two German reds. Secondly, a good Goulash will usually have a certain amount of heat to it, which poses another problem, where it might overpower the average red. Then it dawned on me: Zinfandel.

I choose to pair two wines with this dinner because, like most varietals, Zinfandel is made in many different styles. The one style I wouldn’t recommend with this dish is the heavily fruited and almost sappy sweet Zinfandels that sometimes cross your path. Instead I went with one of my most trusted producers, Ridge, and a bit of a wild card that I discovered this year while in Napa Valley, Trespass.

2006 Trespass Zinfandel, from Napa Valley was, surprisingly, a light ruby red color with aromas of bright red fruit, cranberry sauce and a bit of chalk dust. With time the fruit became darker with clove spice and plum, providing beautiful contrast to the heady, rich, beefy aromas of the goulash. On the palate it showed dark blue fruit, cedar and clove, adding complexities to the dish’s earthy flavors of rosemary and paprika. It's full-bodied and zesty acidity worked wonders, carrying the fruit through the spicy heat of the goulash to end in a long finish reminiscent of sour cherry cough drops. This was a beautifully nuanced and complex zinfandel that ended up as the majority favorite of the night.

2007 Ridge Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard was in many ways the yin to the Trespass Zinfandels yang. The wine was a dark purple color in the glass and wafted aromas of black cherry fruit followed by confectioners sugar, sage, and a bit of nail polish remover (I mean that in a good way) which added a floral perfume and kept me with my nose to the glass for minutes on end. On the palate it delivered big, lush brambly fruit with spicy vanilla and dark chocolate flavors. The wine complimented the Goulash by standing up to its big bold flavors and providing a contrast of lush fruit and firm tannin between each bite of savory beef. The Ridge Ponzo Vineyard was a big, structured, rich, full-bodied Zinfandel with a long red fruit finish. It’s a wine that will age for years in your cellar but probably only moments in your glass.

In the end, I have to say that both wines performed equally well but for totally different reasons. Each wine is, in my opinion, a superior expression of Zinfandel and while the Trespass will capture your soul in its web of elegant fruit and spice, the Ridge will quicken your pulse with its racy perfume and palate of rich bold flavors. The most difficult part of this pairing was deciding what to do next, eat or drink. The Hungarian Goulash captured us all in our own way. For me it was nostalgia while, for one guest, it was a wild and new experience, and another saw it as a taste of home. And for a fellow chef, it was trying to figure out how it was possible to achieve such complexity with so few ingredients. I think it’s time you try it for yourself.

Hungarian Goulash

The first thing to understand is that this recipe is all about patience and low, even temperature. The best cooking vessel to use depends mainly on how much you want to make. The recipe below is made to serve 7 – 8, and the reason I choose this high yield is that you can always use the extra as leftovers and, due to the time it takes to make it, you might as well have extra. For the 7 –8 servings I suggest using a heavy stainless steel roasting pan that can span across two burners on your stove. However, if you were to choose to cut this recipe in half for a small group then I would suggest a cast iron or earthenware vessel such a Le creuset.

Secondly, this recipe can be made the same day you plan to serve it; however I highly recommend making it the night before so that the sauce and meat can truly come together and develop a deeper, richer flavor. This also frees you up to better entertain your guests while also impressing them by how effortlessly you are able to produce such a wonderful meal.

5 pounds beef chuck (fat trimmed, cubed or cut about 1 ½ inch long, ¾ inch thick)
5 large yellow onions (sliced thick wedges)
8 Tbls tomato paste
2 Tbls hot paprika (Go for real Hungarian paprika)
1 Tbls sweet paprika (Go for real Hungarian paprika)
2 tsp dried oregano
¾ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
3 branches fresh rosemary
about 4 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
5 cups water
2 Tbls AP flour
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (as needed)
4 Tbls sweet butter (for the finish)
1 lb fettuccini (Can use egg noodles; serve with potato dumplings or even rice)

1. Place roasting pan over two burners on your stovetop and pour enough olive oil to coat entire bottom of the pan. Set burners to low-medium flame. Once the oil is heated, add onions with a healthy pinch of salt and toss to coat in the oil. Cook over low-medium flame until onions turn translucent but do not allow them to take on any color.

2. Reduce flame to low. Make sure the onions are evenly spread out on the pan bottom and add the beef slices by placing them on top of the onions in an even layer. The beef should cover the onions completely but make sure that none of the pieces touch the side of the pan. The onions should create a cushion between the pan bottom and the beef.

3. Sprinkle another pinch of salt over the beef. Next, sprinkle all the paprika over the beef evenly (I like to use a sifter for this to create a fine and even layer.) Now add the oregano and nutmeg again, evenly over the beef. Lastly, place two (of the three) rosemary branches on top of the beef. (Do not disturb the layers you have created.)

4. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Check to make sure that the flame is on low. After about 3 – 5 minutes you should hear the mixture bubbling. Allow the mixture to cook like this for 35 minutes and then loosen the aluminum foil to allow a little steam out of the pan. After another 5 – 10 minutes remove the foil (do not discard) and turn all the pieces of meat over. Check to make sure the onions are not burning. You should notice that the meat and onions have released a lot of their juices. Place the foil back on top of the pan (loosely) and allow the mixture to cook over low heat for another 45 minutes.

5. Now place saucepot on the stove over medium-low flame, add the five cups of water and whisk in the flour slowly, making sure that no lumps form. Now add the tomato paste and again whisk until it is combined. Allow this mixture to come up to a gentle boil but make sure to whisk regularly.

6. Remove the foil from the roasting pan, remove the two branches of rosemary from the pan and add the boiling water-tomato paste mixture. Turn the beef and onions over in the sauce. The cooking liquid should just barely cover the beef and onions. Bring this mixture back to a simmer over medium-low flame and cover loosely with the foil so that steam can escape from the pan. Cook this mixture for an hour to an hour and a half, and stir gently once or twice to make sure that the mixture is cooking evenly.

7. It’s at this time that you should taste. Check to make sure that the beef is tender. Season with salt and pepper. Then turn off the heat.

8. If you want to serve the same day, let this mixture sit for about an hour before going to the next step. If you want to use this for the following day, move the mixture to a bowl and place in an ice bath to cool it quickly, then cover it tightly and place in the refrigerator.

9. When ready to finish, place Goulash in a pot and set over low heat. Bring another pot of well-salted water to boil for the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the instructions on the package.

10. While waiting for the pasta, set the butter out on the counter and cut into cubes. Strip the last branch of rosemary for its leaves and chop them. By the time the pasta is finished, the Goulash should be perfectly heated through. Taste for seasoning one last time and then add the butter and stir gently until combined.

11. Strain your pasta and toss in olive oil. Set the pasta on a plate and hollow out a circle in the middle. Pour one or two (depending on the party) ladles of goulash into the center of the plate and sprinkle with the fresh chopped rosemary. Clean the rim of your plate with a warm, moist paper towel and serve.

12. Be prepared for praise.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Resurrection of Collina Rionda

In Search of Piedmont’s Greatest Terroir

by Eric Guido (Originally published at The Cellar Table Blog)

As trends go, one which seems to have affected nearly every producer throughout Barolo is the desire to explore the terroir of Serralunga.  With nearly every visit to the region, I am told over and over again, often in hushed tones by a wide-grinned winemaker, that they are incredibly excited to be making wine from just about any vineyard in Serralunga.  In some cases, these proclamations are about vineyards that have yet to make a name for themselves or prove their worth.  However, that doesn’t matter to the lucky few who can buy or rent parcels here, because most of the region believes that Serralunga will be a big part of Barolo’s future.

Much of this has to do with consumers, who have liked what they've tasted from this village for many years now, especially as the great vintages of the last thirty years have matured into such beautiful wines, pushing their collectibility and prices through the roof. Then there’s Monfortino, produced by the Giacomo Conterno winery, one of the first wines of the region to demand prices on the same scale of the best Grand Cru Burgundy.  Of course, many wines have followed suit over the last decade or two, but Monfortino led the way, and today’s current releases nearly double or triple in price the moment they hit the secondary market.  

Then there are the vineyards, some of which are only just beginning to show what they are capable of in the right hands, and a few that history has firmly placed among the best in the village.  You can count them on one hand: Cascina Francia, Falletto, Brea, Lazzarito, and what is considered by most to be the Grand Cru of Serralunga--Vigna Rionda.

In fact, Vigna Rionda has a way of creating a fanaticism among lovers of Barolo, as they search for the best expressions from each of its many terroirs, the bottles that have made it famous, and the wines and producers that have either been obscured by the passage of time, or have only just emerged.  As these wine lovers recount the history of Vigna Rionda, they often do it with an excitement and bravado that you’d expect from a great tale or one of the most closely guarded secrets of the world.  This is the fanaticism that I speak of, and you know what, I’ve been guilty of it myself.

One such story involves what is easily one of the greatest wines ever made in all of Italy; some would even argue that it was “THE” greatest wine ever made in all of Italy: the 1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda, from the Vigna Rionda vineyard.   

For those of you that may have just found their way here without knowledge of Bruno Giacosa, he was without a doubt one of Piedmont's top winemakers for nearly fifty years.  He was a visionary, with a style that no one has been able to copy, and with an ability to find the best expositions and fruit from within any vineyard.  This was one of his greatest assets, as throughout his life, he often purchased the fruit, while working to add his own famous vineyard holdings to the portfolio, such as Falletto.  Yet it was his ability to find and purchase the best fruit that helped him to create the renowned Collina Rionda, which was only ever made in fourteen vintages, starting in 1967 and ending in 1993.  However, it was the 1989 vintage of Collina Rionda that forever sealed it in vinous history.  After 1993, Bruno Giacosa lost access to the fruit from this noble site, and so the story seemed to end.  As time passed and the vintages of Collina Rionda matured, it became obvious that Bruno had indeed found the best location within the vineyard to produce his wine.

However, my interest in Vigna Rionda was actually spurred by a different producer: Massolino. Currently run by Franco and Roberto Massolino, this family winery is the largest land-owner within the vineyard, and it makes what has become the benchmark wine from its slopes, the Vigna Rionda Riserva.  It was this wine that introduced me to what was possible here, as I searched for vintages after tasting the great bottles of ‘89, ‘90 and ‘96.  To this day, it’s one of the greatest wines that you can find from the vineyard, yet it takes decades in the cellar to mature.  This search one day led me to an opportunity to spend some time talking with Franco about his winery and the Vigna Rionda Riserva.  During this conversation, it occured to me that I didn’t know who Bruno Giacosa was buying fruit from when he created Collina Rionda.  

The Quest

The fact is that there are quite a few producers that make a wine from Vigna Rionda (Massolino, Luigi Pira, Oddero, Anselma, and Terre del Barolo, to name a few), but it’s important to understand that the vineyard crests around a hillside, where the vines face west toward Monforte, while the rest of the vineyard faces south-southwest, meaning that not all Vigna Rionda is created equal.  And so with the question in mind, and sitting with the largest land owner within the vineyard, I chose to ask Franco if he knew where Bruno Giacosa was sourcing his fruit from--and he didn’t.  This conversation started me on something of a quest to figure out who was using this fruit and what wine they were making with it.

This question became the most common thing I would ask any Serralunga producer I ran into, and for years, no one could tell me the answer--until 2015.  

While sitting with Luca Currado, of Vietti, at Centro Storico in Serralunga, he reached over to a bottle on the shelf and said, “This wine, watch for this wine, because this comes from the same vines that Bruno used for Collina Rionda.”  You can only imagine my surprise, after so many years of asking, to have someone simply tell me.  This started my interest in the Giovanni Rosso winery and my search for the Tomasso / Ester Canale Barolo Vigna Rionda.

Finding Vigna “Collina” Rionda

The reality was that the answer had been right in front of me for quite a while.  What’s more, I even had wines in my cellar made from the same vines.  The answer was Tommaso Canale, who had been tending to the family’s 2.2 hectare parcel within Vigna Rionda, a parcel planted in 1946, some of the oldest Nebbiolo vines in the region.  Rumor has it that not only did Tommaso’s Father, Aldo, supply Bruno Giacosa with fruit, but that in some cases he even provided him with finished wines (a rumor I would love to be able to substantiate, but haven’t yet.).  Where the fruit went after that is still a mystery to me, although it’s been said that Tommaso preferred selling only to private clients, yet sourcing from Tommaso later happened again between 2003 and 2006, when Luca Roagna began to buy from Tommaso and produce his own Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda, a wine that I have tasted, loved, and even own some bottles of.  In 2007, Luca lost access to these vines, and Tommaso himself produced (yet didn’t release) a 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately, Tommaso passed away in December of 2010 without a will, and his plot was split between the three surviving relatives, Ettore Germano, Guido Porro and Giovanni Rosso.  There was only one problem--much of the vineyard required replanting, and both Ettore Germano and Guido Porro replanted their entire sections of the vineyard.  

However, Davide Rosso, of Giovanni Rosso, had a wonderful idea.  He decided to replant all but a small section of the original vines at the top of the Rionda hill, in his mind, the best of the old vines, which he would use for massal selection of the new plantings, and also to make a Barolo Vigna Rionda.  It’s a wine that only sees between 1800-2000 total bottles made each year, and since Ettore Germano and Guido Porro have replanted, it makes the Giovanni Rosso “Ester Canale” (his mother) Barolo the only wine being made from the same vines as the famous Barolo of Bruno Giacosa.

What is a lover of Barolo and Vigna Rionda to do?

With all of the pieces in place, I decided that I had to taste these two wines together.  It was with that in mind that I first worked to find the wine being made by Davide Rosso, which was much harder than you might think.  In fact, after having been denied the ability to buy the wine in the last two vintages, it was in 2018, with the release of the 2014, that I had finally gotten my hands on one.

Then, as fate would have it, a friend contacted me about a tasting he was organizing that would include Icon wines from Barolo and Barbaresco, and he hinted that there might be a Bruno Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda at the tasting.  Somehow the stars had aligned.

You can imagine the anxiety I felt leading up to this event.  What if one of the wines was corked?  What if the Bruno Giacosa wasn’t a perfect bottle? What if I got sick the day of the tasting?  Luckily, none of that happened, and both myself and the group were able to taste two pieces of history, a mystery solved, and share one of the few times that these two limited and amazing wines would be able sit next to each other at a table.

Yes, the 2014 was young and from a difficult vintage, yet it’s also a vintage that many have called a throwback to the Barolo styles of old.  Still, the ‘89 lived up to its reputation, and the 2014 was an experience I hope to never forget.

The Tasting Notes

1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda
- The bouquet was remarkably deep and layered with masses of pure black cherry and ripe strawberry fruit, giving way to a mix of sweet mineral-infused Indian spice, hints of balsamic, and smoky crushed stone. On the palate, I found the most silky, fine textures imaginable, like a veil being pulled across the senses, ushering in vibrant, fleshy cherry fruit, offset by savory minerals and spice, with inner rose and cedar notes, as hints of fine tannin slowly mounted. The finish was long and showed the first signs of the ‘89’s twenty-nine years, as savory minerals, moist earth, and dried floral tones resonated amidst saturating dried cherries and spice. I am in awe of how the ‘89 Collina Rionda has lived up to all of the hype. (99 points)

2014 Giovanni Rosso Barolo Ester Canale Rosso Vigna Rionda - The ‘14 Vigna Rionda was so densely packed and poised, a quality that I don’t often associate with the vintage. The bouquet was beautiful, both savory and spicy, showing zesty tart cherries and cranberry with hints of spiced dried orange, crushed stone minerality, sweet rosy florals and savory botanicals. On the palate, I found soft textures, which were firmed up quickly by a mix of saline-minerality and brisk acidity, as notes of citrus-kissed strawberry, cedar, and earth tones emerged along with grippy mineral-laden tannin. The finish was long and structured with fine tannins saturating the senses, while dried red berries, savory herbs and hints of cedar lingered. This was one of the most structured and backward 2014s I’ve tasted, in need of a long slumber in the cellar, yet gorgeous. (95 points)

** As a bonus, from the newly planted vines of Vigna Rionda, Davide Rosso creates the Ester Canale Nebbiolo, and if this is any clue to how good these wines will be when these vines are old enough to produce Barolo, then we are in store for something very special.

2015 Giovanni Rosso Ester Canale Rosso Nebbiolo Rionda - The nose was dark, rich and layered with masses of dried florals and earth tones, bright cherry, and hints of animal musk. As it spent time in the glass, its bright cherry evolved into ripe strawberry, also adding hints of leather and crushed stone. Like silk on the palate, it washed effortlessly across the senses, brightened by zesty acidity, as notes of dried cherry and inner rose resonated, showing amazing purity and with slow mounting tannin. The finish was long, opening with dried cherries, then cleansed by zesty acidity, leaving hints of strawberries and rosy florals in its wake. The ‘15 Nebbiolo Vigna Rionda Ester Canale is gorgeous. (94 points)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Following Monprivato Through the Ages

by Eric Guido (Originally published at The Cellar Table Blog)

It all started with the 2009 vintage.  As an avid reader of Antonio Galloni, I remember it well.  What was originally a 93-95 point wine in a difficult vintage had suddenly been downgraded to a “?” in January 2014, with reports that the addition of declassified juice from Mascarello’s top wine, Cà d’Morissio, had done nothing to boost the quality of Monprivato--in fact, it hurt it.  However, with a downgrade like this, we were left to read between the lines.  Then there was 2010, a great vintage, and an 89-point score.  Other critics continued to dole out scores in the mid-nineties, while Antonio held his ground.

Frankly, I’m glad that he did, because it has become apparent to me that something has changed about Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato Barolo, and I know I’m not alone.  Granted, only time will tell if this change is for the better or worse, yet if there’s one thing that tasting this wine multiple times in vertical tastings has shown me, it’s that the Monprivato of today is absolutely a different wine than the Monprivato that most Barolo lovers have come to know over the last forty years.

The Monprivato of yesterday and today

I’ve formed a sincere love for many vintages of Monprivato, yet I’m the first one to admit that it’s a wine that’s incredibly hard to judge in its youth.  However, I’ve learned through experience that the youthful expressions of Monprivato of the past are very different from what we find today.  For me, Monprivato has always been a wine that showed severe austerity in its youth, crystalline tannin against incredibly delicate fruit, making it difficult to imagine the wine ever coming into balance.  Not only that, Monprivato always seemed to take at least two decades before it would even begin to open up.  I can’t recount how many tastings showed younger vintages to be completely shut down.  Yet, once the wines reached maturity, there was really nothing quite like it.

After a recent vertical tasting, led and hosted by Elena Mascarello, I had the chance to taste some of my favorite vintages of the past, along with new releases and recent vintages.  This is where the questions began to arise.  Tasting the 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010, one can’t help but notice that those hard crystalline tannins that used to define this wine in its youth are quite different today.  Yes, the wines are tannic and youthful, but today’s tannins are finer and softer than they were previously.  I know I’m not alone in this opinion either, as fellow tasters began asking questions.

Questions about Monprivato and… Answers?

One of the first questions from the audience that day was asking Elena if the tannin management was being handled differently at any point in the process.  Her answer was a resolute “No.” 

Another taster asked about changes to the pressing of grapes.  Again, a firm “No.” 

Turning our attention to the fruit, today’s Monprivato is more forward, which is not to say riper, just more present with a bright red berry persona, instead of the delicate, almost floral fruit I was accustomed to (this is a vineyard that has often been compared to Rocche). During the question and answer, I asked about replanting, as I had heard that a good amount of replanting had been done recently.  Elena confirmed this, stating that it has been more widespread than in the past, yet also confirmed that those plants are not currently being used for Monprivato.  Struck out again.

As we all continued to try to bend our brains around the apparent differences between older and newer vintages without a satisfactory reason for the differences, another participant asked about yeasts, citing Kerin O’keefe’s book, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, where she explained that Giuseppe Mascarello is using  “...a strain of selected Barolo yeasts, BRL 97, created by the University of Turin.” (p.118).  Elena confirmed that in 1997, the family did decide to switch from naturally-occurring yeasts to selected yeasts, because they discovered that the fermentations went smoother and were more uniform.  This did raise a few eyebrows in the crowd, but the fact is that the majority of wineries around the world use selected yeasts.  That said, yeast could be part of the equation, but not the answer.

As the tasting let out, I found myself leaving without any of the answers I’d hoped for.  Don’t get me wrong, the new vintages are good wines, especially the 2010 which has continued to get better over the last few years.  But that’s just it; with over a decade of tasting Monprivato, I can’t help but feel that a vintage like 2010 should be an iron vault at this time--impossible to read.

This all got me thinking, reading (and re-reading), digging and searching for answers, and through it all, I can’t help but come to one conclusion: the Mascarello family has been experimenting in their vineyards and altering their processes for decades.  Is it possible that they have simply experimented and refined their way into a completely different style of wine?

A Deep Dive on Giuseppe Mascarello and Monprivato

The Mascarello family has a winemaking history that goes back to the mid-1800s.  Originally located in Monforte, and working the vineyards of wealthy landowners of the region, the family aspired to own their own vineyards, and by the early 1900s, moved the winery to Castiglione Falletto.  The key to their success was acquiring Monprivato, a vineyard located in Castiglione Falletto, with vines that enjoy a southwest exposure, planted in white and grey marl soils rich in limestone.  Sourcing fruit from Monprivato as well as purchasing from other sources (Villero and Bussia Soprana among them), Giuseppe Mascarello began to build a reputation as one of the region’s top producers.  I can attest to the outstanding quality of the amazing wines from that time, as they rank among the best Barolo I’ve ever tasted.

Today, the cantina resides in Monchiero, and it still incorporates the large Slavonian oak barrels that were purchased by the current owner’s grandfather, Maurizio, in the 1950s.  Mauro, the head of toady’s Mascarello family, is the fourth-generation winemaker of the estate, having taken the reins from his father Giuseppe and his grandfather Maurizio in 1967.  Any source will tell you that he is a traditionalist, like the generations before him, yet I believe that a better way to describe Mauro is as a progressive.  The winery does employ long macerations (by today's standards, 25-30 days) and aging in large Slavonian oak, calling cards of a traditional estate.  However, Mauro was bent on refining the winemaking and experimenting in the vineyards to create the absolutely perfect representation of Monprivato terroir, and to be more specific, how that terroir could be communicated using the Michét Nebbiolo clone.

It all started with the 1970 vintage, the first single-vineyard example of Monprivato, which was created from a small parcel of old vines in the heart of vineyard.  Mauro had been instructed by his father that these vines, all of the Michét clone variety, were the best that the family had.  Michét is a late-ripening clone of Nebbiolo that is known to give lower yields. In 1920,  Mauro’s grandfather, Morissio, had identified the best Michét vines within the vineyard and planted this section using massal selection.  The 1970 Monprivato was an unprecedented success and remains one of the iconic examples of the region.  With the success of this wine, Mauro decided to use Monprivato to make only one Barolo, a blend of Michét, Lampia, and Rosé Nebbiolo clones from throughout the entire vineyard.

Yet Mauro had an idea which began with the 1970 vintage.  He believed that the vines planted by his grandfather had so perfectly adjusted to the distinct terroir of Monprivato, that they would create a far superior wine if planted throughout the vineyard using massal selection from the estate’s best performing vines.  His father before him had a similar idea, having done some replanting in 1963 using the same logic.

This began the Cà d’Morissio project, which started in 1983 and continued on through the late nineties.  Mauro started by dedicating two acres of Monprivato, where he removed the Rosé vines that were planted, installed drains to help prevent erosion (which had plagued Monprivato in the past), and replanted these locations through massal selection using Michét at high density.  Mauro worked block by block, and by 1993 had decided that it was time to put his theory to the test; the Cà d’Morissio Riserva was born.  Sourced from the blocks Mauro had experimented on and aged an extra year in smaller Slavonian oak barrels (25-27 hectoliter), Cà d’Morissio continues to only be released when the wine itself is unique enough to stand out from the Barolo Monprivato, if not, it’s blended in.  Mauro was so happy with the results of the 1993 and 1995 vintages that he immediately started work on another block of the vineyard in 1996, following the same processes as before.

The Theory, or maybe just a fool’s ponderings

As stated on the Giuseppe Mascarello website, prior to 1992, the clonal makeup of Monprivato was Michét 30%, Lampia 45%, and Rosé 25%.  I could find no reference of the exact current percentages, but since that time, Mauro has ripped up multiple acres of Rosé clones to replant Michét for the production of Cà d’Morissio.  While doing this, he changed the plant density of the vineyard to 5680 plants per acre and added “drainage.”  The only reference that I could find relating to the clones planted in Monprivato today comes again from Kerin O’keefe’s book, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, where she explains that beyond the planting of Michét, that “...the rest of Monprivato is cultivated with Lampia clones… planted in the 1960s” (p.117), making no mention of Rosé.  What’s more, during the tasting event, Elena Mascarello confirmed that even today, when replanting needs to be done in the vineyard, it is completed using massal selection from the best Michét of the estate.

Other than the fact that the winery changed from naturally-occurring yeasts to selected yeasts in 1997, we’ve been told that nothing else has changed.  The fruit is always destemmed, macerated for about thirty days, fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks (since the early nineties, which is quite common in the region today), employing a soft vinification with gentle pumping over, and then aging in large neutral Botti for three years until bottling.

Having said that and circling back to where this all started…

Is it possible that the Giuseppe Mascarello winery has forever changed the profile of Monprivato over the course of thirty years by removing clonal and biodiversity from their vineyards, using their best plots for Cà d’Morissio in all but the worst vintages and planting at a higher density in their vineyard?

This is just a theory, but it’s a theory based on over a decade of experience tasting these wines, and countless (I repeat, countless) hours obsessing over every source and printed piece of material (including the Mascarello website) that I could find.  Until a firm answer is found, what I can assure you is that the recent vintages of Giuseppe Mascarello are quite enjoyable, but they are not the same Barolo Monprivato that I have grown to love over the decades.  How will they age?  It’s anyone's guess.   For now, all we can do is love them for what they are.

On To the Tasting Notes

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2013
- Here I found intense floral perfumes with dusty dried roses up front, followed by notes of ripe strawberry, bright cherry and hints of undergrowth.  On the palate, I found a lifted expression, showing feminine textures with pure ripe strawberry, a light dusting of sweet spices and inner floral tones, remaining remarkably fresh and pure throughout, with hints of acid and tannin.  The finish was shorter than expected with light strawberry and light, fine grain tannin. (91 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2012 - The nose was reserved with mineral-infused dried strawberry, tart raspberry, stone dust, dried flowers and dusty earth.  On the palate, I found wonderfully soft textures with tart raspberry, inner spices and floral perfumes.  The finish was medium in length with lingering spice and floral tones. This showed very little in the way of structure, save for a coating of dry inner florals.  As much as I enjoyed this, it’s a lighter style of Barolo that depends on grace over staying power. (92 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2011 - The nose showed crushed cherry with an herbal tinge, marine-minerality, and hints of spice that emerged over time. The warmth of the vintage showed only in its sweet cherry fruit, being a bit overripe, yet kept in check through earth tones.  On the palate, I found soft, medium-weight textures with pretty notes of strawberry, minerals and light spice.  The finish was long, showing crushed cherry and spices, which coated the senses. This is not one for the ages, yet I found it quite enjoyable today. (91 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2010
- The nose showed dusty dry earth and notes of raspberry, with sweet and sour brown sauce, then lifted by notes of lavender, hints of licorice and cinnamon.  On the palate, I found silky textures with sweet-and-sour cherry, masses of inner floral tones, licorice and spice, yet lacking dimension on the mid-palate.  It finished with medium-length and hints of young tannin, yet remained lifted throughout. (94 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2009 - The nose was darker than the surrounding vintages, with marine-influenced minerals giving way to dark moist undergrowth, hints of animal musk, black cherry, raspberry and herbs.  On the palate, I found silky, pliant textures with notes of bitter cherry, blackberry, lavender and hints of spice.  The finish was medium-long and balanced, showing ripe strawberry and inner florals over hints of grippy tannin. (92 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2008 - The '08 Monprivato showed a pretty bouquet of dusty, mineral-encased bright cherry, crushed stone, dried roses, soil tones and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found zesty, feminine textures, accentuated by brisk acidity with bright cherry and strawberry, sweet herbal tea, saturating mineral tones and the slightest hint of fine tannin. It finished medium-long, fresh and savory, with lingering inner florals, minerals and spice. This is showing beautifully tonight, but it's very hard to gauge how well it will age. (93 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2006
- The nose was dark and brooding with hints of animal musk up front, then opening to reveal exotic florals, dusty spice, earth, and mineral-infused black cherry.  It seemed to seamlessly glide across the palate, where I found silky textures offset by an intense mix of black cherry and tart raspberry, with mineral and savory spice tones emerging along saline-minerals.  The finish was long, with a coating of complex tannin offset by brisk acidity and dark red fruit. (96 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2004 -  The nose was intense yet also quite pretty with marine-influenced minerality, dried flowers, undergrowth, hints of rosemary and animal musk.  On the palate, I found silky textures with an energizing mix of brisk acids and saline-minerality, as notes of tart cherry and inner floral tones emerged. The finish was medium-long with saturating cherry tones, minerals, hints of spice and lingering tannin. This was highly enjoyable and worth every point, yet it fell short of the 2006, as I craved more persistence on the palate. (94 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2003 - The nose was dark with earth and minerals up front, followed by crushed blackberry, cherry and spicy florals.  On the palate, I found silky textures with ripe cherry, violets, brisk acidity and hints of grippy tannin in an unexpectedly balanced and highly enjoyable performance.  The finish was medium-long with lingering dark fruits and hints of gruff tannin. This was a beautifully balanced wine for the vintage. (92 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1998
- The ‘98 showed a mature color in the glass. The nose was dark and earthy with hints of undergrowth, moist fall leaves, sous bois, crushed ripe cherry, and hints of spice.  On the palate, I found silky textures with a wave of balancing acidity, notes of tart cherry, spice and balsamic tones with impeccable balance.  The finish was long and spicy with saturating dark fruits, moist earth and inner floral tones. Wow. (94 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1996 - The nose showed mineral-infused black cherry and crushed stone, as hints of wild herbs, moist soil and animal musk evolved.  On the palate, I found soft textures, which were firmed up by a mix of tart red fruits, minerals and fine tannin, yet the fruit persisted throughout, picking up perfumed florals and spice.  It was remarkably balanced yet still very young, with a long and structured finish that showcased intense tart red fruit that saturated the senses. (96 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1988 - The nose was gorgeous, showing dried cherry and undergrowth up front, opening more with time in the glass as the fruit gained richness, changing more to crushed strawberry, dried orange, smoked meats, wild herbs, dusty earth and hints of animal musk.  On the palate, I found soft textures with sweet cherry offset by savory minerals with saline spray, spice and zesty acidity.  The finish was remarkably long and fresh with lingering dried cherry and inner florals.  What a performance from the ‘88, showing perfect balance and maturity. (96 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1985
- The nose was dark and earthy with iron-borne minerality up front, giving way to dried roses, tomato leaf, dusty earth and hints of dried strawberry.  On the palate, I found soft yet zesty textures with tart raspberry, dried citrus and hints of lingering tannin.  It finished long and a bit spicy, still full of so much life with lingering hints of red berry and rosey florals. This was wonderfully youthful on the palate and finish, promising years of further development. (93 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1979 - The nose showed dark red fruits with dried florals, dusty earth and hints of animal musk.  On the palate, I found soft, perfectly resolved, fresh textures with minerals, hints of earth and dried red fruits.  It finished with medium-length, showing earthy minerals and inner floral tones. It was very pretty with beautiful energy, yet the fruit has dropped out to show more earth and minerals than anything else. (88 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Ca’ d’Morissio 1995 - Here I found a gorgeous, dark and brooding bouquet with animal musk up front, giving way to mineral-infused crushed black cherry, licorice, dried orange, stone dust and dusty roses.  On the palate, I found silky textures with saline-mineral thrust, before giving way to tart black cherry, inner rosey florals and youthful fine tannin. The finish was long with lasting fine tannins and mineral-soaked red berry fruit. (94  points)

Is Monprivato a Monopole

At one time, Mauro Mascarello was thought to have controlled the entire slope of Monprivato, making the vineyard a monopoly for nearly two decades, as no other producer bottled 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 was Brovia.  Today it is thought that Giuseppe Mascarello controls over 93% of the vineyard, with only one other producer that I know of who has begun to bottle a Barolo Monprivato: Giovanni Sordo.  However, having tasted this wine, it is still far off from the quality, of even the lesser vintages from Mascarello.

What is Massal Selection or Selection Massale

Massal selection is a process of replanting vineyards using cuttings from vines which are identified as superior or better suited to the terroir of a specific location.  These cuttings can be obtained through nurseries or from vines within the vineyard that have demonstrated superior performance or health.  It’s important not to mistake this for clonal selection, a process carried out in nurseries to propagate the same genetic clone of a vine for planting.  In the case of Giuseppe Mascarello, he has been identifying Michet vines (Michet being a clone of Nebbiolo) within Monprivato, and then using massal selection to propagate these vines throughout the rest of the vineyard.