Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 65: Mascarello Monprivato vertical

Giuseppe Mascarello is one of the storied names of Barolo. I recently had the pleasure of tasting a Mascarello Monprivato vertical which merely confirmed the greatness of these wines. Mauro Mascarello, now approaching his 90th birthday, decided back in 1970 to bottle Nebbiolo from the Monprivato vineyard as a separate wine. What a great move that was as confirmed by our tasting.

Traditionalist Barolo producer?

Cellar of Giuseppe Mascarello
Cellar of Giuseppe Mascarello

The superficial image of Mascarello is that the estate is hyper traditionalist. The winery itself looks like nothing has changed for centuries. Large Slavonian oak barrels line the single gloomy room. There is very little modern equipment on view. It is certainly the case that there is not a single barrique to be seen, nor any new French oak. However, two things are not entirely in line with the image.

The first is that Monprivato is a single vineyard wine. The history of Barolo was of blending across vineyards to make the most complex wine; and to ensure a good wine in an age when not all the vineyards would ripen. The late 1960s saw the first commercial bottlings of single-vineyard bottlings. Thus, Mauro was very on-trend back then. Secondly, he has reduced maceration times significantly, as reported in my book, The Wines of Piemonte. In the past, the wine stayed on the skins for two months. This was then reduced to 25–30 days and today to 16–25 days with no submerged cap phase. The freshness and aromatic intensity of the recent wines are a testament to these changes, as shown by this Mascarello Monprivato vertical.

Mascarello timeline

1881: Giuseppe Mascarello creates the company having worked for Marchesa Falletti who created the name Barolo for Nebbiolo wine from the region

1904: Maurizio, Giuseppe Mascarello ’s son, bought a farm which included 3.11 hectares of Monprivato

1919: the company bought the old icehouse in nearby Monchiero for use as a winery with natural year-round temperatures of 12–13ºC 

1967: Mauro Mascarello, fourth generation, takes over the family company

1970: the company started to bottle Monprivato as a separate bottling

1979 Natale Mascarello (third generation) died and his part of Monprivato was reunited with G Mascarello. At this point the entire vineyard was owned by Mascarello and the Vatican, plus some tiny parts owned by others

1986: Vatican lands in the vineyard were auctioned and Mascarello bought its plots, plus some scraps of land from others

2016: Mascarello and Sordo are the only companies that bottle Monprivato MGA Barolo

What is special about Monprivato?

Today Monprivato is one of Barolo’s 181 named subzones that can appear on labels, as long all the fruit is grown within the subzone. (Technically, it is an MGA, explanation here.) However, unlike some MGAs that can run to hundreds of hectares, it is just 7.12 hectares. Further, the vineyard is remarkably homogenous. The range of elevation is just 240–320 m above sea level. The soil is based on Marne Sant’Agata sub-soils. It has a pretty uniform steep slope and faces south to south-west. As a result of all these factors and it being situated in the heat bowl that is the Barolo-La Morra-Castiglione Falletto valley, it has one of the earliest harvest dates in Barolo. To cap it all, 85 per cent of the vineyard is owned by Mascarello who has produced consistently great wine from Monprivato. Hence our desire to test this out with a Mascarello Monprivato vertical.

Brief notes on the wines: Giuseppe Mascarello, Barolo DOCG Monprivato vertical, tasted 22 June 2024

2016, 15%

2016 was close to the perfect year with no heat spikes, adequate rain and cool September nights. The last named enables Nebbiolo to reach its greatest aromatic expression. Lifted layers of aromas (violet, blood and savoury tobacco) on the nose; a super complex, luxurious satin mid-palate, very fine tannins, long and elegant, In our tasting, no one found the high abv a problem, 95

2015, 14.5%

This year saw a warm summer followed by cooler autumn weather. Ripe plum, a touch warm on the nose, dark fruited, liquorice, furry tannins, fairly long, not super subtle but rich and satisfying, 93

2014, 13.5%

A cool and wet year, initially slated by the critics but now regarded much more favourably. Close to garnet in colour (i.e., showing a bit of age after 10 years). Light earth and tobacco note over delicate rose and red-berried fruit, finishes with firm, slightly chunky tannins, long, 91

2010, 14%

Somewhat like 2016, 2010 was a regular season with cool nights, if with some rain around harvest time. This was the first of this Monprivato vertical to be predominantly garnet in colour. Intriguing delicate creamy liquorice aromas melded together with black plum and an earthy undertow, fine emery tannins, long, very classic in style with decades ahead of it, 94

2008, 14%

In 2008, a damp spring was followed by a moderately warm summer and low temperatures in the last month before harvest. Rose to lavender floral note, red cherry, elegant lean mid-palate, super fresh with lively, life-giving acidity, very fine powdery tannins, long 94

2006, 13.5%

The 2006 season saw a fairly warm summer and some late rain with cool nights, resulting in fine powerful wines. Full on garnet in colour, smoke, liquorice and beetroot aromas on the nose, with gorgeous ripe red and black plum fruit to follow; subtle satin texture, nearly fully resolved tannins, 94

2003, 14.5%

2003 was a legendarily hot, dry year with the potential to produce high sugars and some unripe tannins. It has only been surpassed by 2022 but by then producers had learnt how to deal with the new normal of hot, dry years. A low-intensity nose with walnut, caramel and a hint of dried fruit, a very rounded mid-palate with dried plum and tobacco notes, lightly grippy tannins which will probably never soften, 91  

2001, 14%

In 2001, warm days and cool nights typically produced graceful aromatic wines. Medium garnet, walnut and soy, underlying black cherry and prune, fully mature, fine tannins which were a touch drying. This wine tasted much older than its 23 years and drank well, if more like a 35+-year-old Barolo. 92 As you can see below, the Mascarello corks are extremely long, 55mm/2 1/8 inches, but this wine showed more oxidation than expected.

Our Mascarello Monprivato vertical confirmed what Barolo lovers have known for decades. This is a company that consistently produces great wine in good and not-so-good years from a prized vineyard. Of course 2016, 2015, 2010, 2008 and 2006 showed really well. And at the same time 2003 and 2014 were creditable examples that reflect the vintage conditions. Mascarello may not be a pure traditionalist but there is no doubt that his Barolo Monprivato is genuinely stellar wine.

With many, many thanks to Allan Stinson who provided the majority of the wines.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Scroll to Top