Winter in Piemonte: the Krisses Visit Mascarello

La Morra Feb 2013

La Morra Feb 2013


Ah, Italia! Land of the Tuscan sun, golden Mediterranean coasts, and…snow-covered fields? Yes, to those of you more familiar with an Italy of sun-baked hilltop towns or, less romantically, the oppressive summer heat of cities like Rome or Venice, it may seem odd to picture the country under a blanket of snow. But please suspend your disbelief for a moment and imagine Italy in the middle of February: the north-facing slopes of Piemonte are white, the wind is cold, and slush rains down periodically. Maybe not everyone’s idea of Paradise, but it is certainly perfect weather for tasting wine!

This is Nebbiolo country, where the town of Barolo lends its name to what has been called the wine of Kings and the King of wines.
An early morning train ride from Switzerland disgorged us at Milan’s busy central station. After a short bus ride to the airport hillsideWEB[K-Ed. yes, I realize this is counter-intuitive, but it is Italy after all] we found ourselves speeding south down the A7 on our way to the hills of Piemonte.

Our first winery appointment was the most illustrious scheduled. Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio has been producing wine in Barolo since 1881 and has owned the famous Monprivato vineyard since 1905, although it has been cultivated since at least 1666! Although perhaps not was well known as some, Mascarello is definitely an icon, especially of traditional Barolo. Traditional Barolo requires traditional techniques and Mascarello’s philosophy is as old (school) as their vineyard. They focus on making wine in the vineyard and aging their juice in the large Slavonian oak casks that are traditional in this part of Italy. You won’t find any French barriques here.

The winery is located just south outside the Barolo zone in the town of Monchiero which we found out later has something to do with avoiding taxes. We traversed the entirety of hilly Barolo [K-ed. switchbacks] to reach Mascarello. Couple that with our train being late (I guess when Swiss trains go to Italy, that whole punctuality thing goes out the window) and we arrived a good two hours after our 3:30pm appointment was supposed to start. I somehow convinced myself to ring the doorbell and say “we’re sorry, but we’re here.” Fortunately, we were met by Maria, the Mascarello matriarch who said our tardiness was no problem. Maria speaks no English, but does speak a little bit of French, so between my Italian and Kris-A’s French, we were able to communicate quite nicely. We started with a tour of the winery, the highlight of which was the ancient (~100 years old) giant botti barrels. Unfortunately, they don’t use these anymore, but they do still keep ‘em around for geeks like us. And, then on to the tasting!

We tasted through a line-up of seven wines. Let me preface by saying these were the most impeccably balanced, the most incredibly refined, and the most breathtakingly gorgeous wines we tasted in Piemonte or even during the entirety of this Italian trip. At least for these tasters, Mascarello lives up to the hype!

mascarello_entry_btlsCROPWEB2011 Dolcetto d’Alba Santo Stefano di Perno: First up was a Dolcetto from the Santa Stefano hills above the town of Perno. The traditional bistro wine of Piemonte was anything but a light quaffer. The first thing you notice is the incredibly floral nose with hints of frutti di bosco [K-ed. Italian for “berry fruits of the forest”], to which the palate adds an incredible kick of acid [K-ed. The Krisses are self-avowed “acid-phreaks”]. When I mention to Maria that the acid has an almost tropical quality, like that of a tangerine or a pineapple, I think she is a little offended, worried that I would equate her wines to something overripe. But this wine is not overripe at all; instead, the tropical quality adds something very interesting to an already lovely wine.

2008 Masacarello Barbera d’Alba Scudetto: Next we tried a barbera from the environs of Monforte d’Alba. The house style is clear here, as the wine has the darker notes of barbera, but is paradoxically light and filled with energy like the dolcetto. Delicious.

2006 Masacarello Freisa Toetto The third wine was from a grape that is not often seen outside of Piemonte and one we’d certainly never had before. Freisa is always described as very tannic and needing a long aging period, and this is from a region famous for the tannins of Nebbiolo! This Freisa did not disappoint and was filled with tannins and earthy and funk. There were some darker cab elements too, but it was still enjoyable. From the Toetto vineyard in Castiglione Falletto.

Next we started on the big boys. 2008 was a classicist’s vintage in Piemonte, so we were very fortunate to taste the 2008 Baroli which are the current releases.

masca_barolo_vigniWEB2008 Masacarello Barolo Villero: We began with a Barolo that Maria said should not be decanted for long, as the nose is too wonderful to miss. Of course she was right and classic tar and rose characteristics leapt right out of the glass. The palate was a wonderful mouthful of tart cherries and some other unidentifiable fruits too.

2008 Masacarello Barolo Santa Stefano de Perno: From the same vineyard as the dolcetto. In contrast to the fruits and flowers of the Villero, this wine was filled with granite stones. The palate was also quite spicy and that tangerine acidity once again made an appearance.

2008 Masacarello Barolo Monprivato: We finally got to the Baroli of Monprivato. This is their top “regular” Barolo. Incredibly balanced and in virtuous harmony, all the elements of this wine formed a unity that is difficult to put into words. Even though it tasted less tannic then the other Baroli, it was clear that it has more stuffing and will age longer than the other two.

2003 Masacarello Barolo Riserva Monprivato Cà d’Morissio: We ended with the top wine that is only made in the best vintages. You may find it odd as I did that 2003 is the most recent release of this top cuvee, as the summer that year was extremely hot and many 2003 wines from throughout Europe are goopy, stewed messes. But the Cà d’Morissio section of the Monprivato vintage is at a relatively high elevation, so it simply soaked up in the heat in the best way. It is also generally true that top sites show their class in even the most difficult vintages. It was, however, harvested on September 29 of that year, the first time they’d ever done it so early. There was no hint of anything overripe in this wine. The levels of tar and roses were off the charts and the layers of complexity were simly amazing. Another experience that is hard to describe.

After the tasting, I told Maria that I love her wines because they are geeky and I am a wine geek, but, alas, we don’t know the word for geek in either Italian or French, so I don’t think she ever quite understood. We purchased a few bottles and then headed north over the snaking vineyard roads to the hilltop town of La Morra where we stayed the night.

tBoW here. Bravo. Bravissimo. The Krisses – model Young ‘Uns – are busy every day of the week like young people should be but not too busy enough to pull together an off-season trip to Italy with a little consumer awareness and an intrepid nature. They tasted not only wonderful wines but also wines that are hard to find. The Wine House in LA has the 2008 Barolo DOCG for $90. The 2008 Monprivato will set you back $120. We found the 2003 Monprivato Riserva online for $300. Always makes tBoW wonder why anyone wold spend hundreds on “collectible” Napa Cabs when these wines are available at half the price and 10 times the pedigree. I am thirsty for Baroli and more fotos and words on their tour. I know they visited a couple of other Baroli houses and they plan to share those experiences “in the future.” Bella!!

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