The Mascarello family has produced wine in the Langhe since 1881. That makes them elder statesmen in the Piemontese winemaking fraternity and they bring much-needed constancy to a region obsessed with the latest fashions. New French oak and rotary fermenters may be all the rage but the Mascarellos prefer to stick with the traditional vinification that has stood them in good stead for more than a century. These are wines that are made in the vineyard. Manual weeding, rigorous crop thinning and an exceptionally late harvest all combine to create raw material of the very highest quality. I visited the estate during the 2004 harvest and was struck by the scrupulous care taken during the harvest. Each bunch was carefully placed in a series of stacking trays that brought the grapes to the winery in pristine condition; they looked better than most table grapes! The skins were hard and covered with a healthy bloom and were wondrously sweet. It seemed a shame to ferment them.
Winemaking here is a simple, almost primitive affair. The Mascarellos believe in long macerations and extended maturation in large oak casks known as botte. Such traditional techniques imbue the wines with a velvety subtlety in their youth and the capacity to acquire weight and complexity as they age. A vertical tasting of older vintages of Barolo Monprivato, their top wine, proved beyond doubt Nebbiolo’s extraordinary capacity to age. Even lighter vintages such as 1979 and 1984 remained in glorious form whilst the heavy hitters such as 1970, 1978, and 1982 appeared to be indestructible. Mauro Mascarello is now in his 60s but he continues to rule the roost. Giuseppe, his son, shows the same quiet determination to preserve the status quo which is, in my book, a very good thing.
The wines will unquestionably repay long-term cellaring. The Dolcetto ‘Bricco’ is a triumph - silky tannins and plenty of alcohol are irresistible in this grape. The Barbera ‘Scudetto’ is a stylish and elegant version with the acidity nicely balancing the fruit. The Langhe Nebbiolo is better than most producers’ Barolo, it’s finely aromatic and just tannic enough to provide a faithful introduction to this grape.