On a Saturday morning in May this year we had the pleasure of meeting up with Alan Emil Manley and the charming and somewhat ingenious Maria-Teresa Mascarello, who is the daughter of Bartolo Mascarello. Alan is an American Barolo lover from Colorado, who has been working at Bartolo Mascarello for quite some time now. At our last visit we met with enologist Alessandro Bovio, but due to our limitations in Italian, we had difficulties in learning more about the estate. Therefore we were certainly more lucky this time, when Alan was around. It is no secret that we are true fans of Bartolo Mascarello and their wines are always a safe and great buy due to their consistency and quality.
The cantina Bartolo Mascarello was founded by Bartolo’s grand father, Guilio, when he returned from WWI. Bartolo Mascarello, who left us in 2005, was the tenacious guerrilla warfare rebel or as he used to call himself and his gang, “the last of the mohicans” (including his fellows Beppe Rinaldi and Teobaldo Cappellano), when it came to protect tradition and important principles to render honest and artisan wines without making any compromises to any international markets. An iconic and stubborn man of old school barolos that opposed any unnatural addition to wine making or adaptations in tough vintages, but relying on traditional best-practice. Among these principles was Bartolo’s strong belief that the best expression for a Barolo was to always blend different vineyards, since in his opinion no vineyard was equally good in each vintage. The cuvée in his case is a blend of four vineyards; Rué, San Lorenzo, Cannubi and Rocche dell’Annunziata, and it is still the only barolo they do here. A truly honest estate that with pride celebrates the unique and great expression of Barolo.
Bartolo is most famous for having made the special designed label “No barrique, no Berlusconi” on his bottles making it absolutely clear that he hated french barriques and was not the least in favour of Berlusconi. Two great evils in his world. Actually, Bartolo used to hand-paint the wine labels that today are heavily sought-after bottles at auctions around the world.
After knocking on the easy to mis front door at Via Roma, 15, in heart of Barolo, we are welcomed by Alan and suddenly, Maria-Teresa arrives as well and she summarises their philosophy by saying, as Alan swiftly translates into English, that “they do not strive to create the perfect wine, instead their goal is to produce honest wines that reflect the expression of each specific vintage”. Therefore they make very few adaptations for any vintage. E.g. they use the same mix of grapes from the different vineyards for their Barolo. Actually, they don’t vinify them separately either like most vintners do and they always use all the press wine. No secondary pressing is conducted here. No fining or filtering either. They always age their wine for 32-34 months in old and neutral Slavonian oak barrels and they always bottle in August. They always use glass-lined concrete vats with a tiny top opening and Alan emphasises the importance of gentle fermentation that they achieve with concrete. They always use 5 ml of sulphur to protect the grapes, but no pesticides or chemicals is ever used in the vineyards except for copper sulphate to protect the leaves from attacks. In the vineyard, 11-12 shoot-outs are winter-pruned on each 110 cm cain from each root. They wave the tops during growing season to avoid cutting, since they believe it stresses the plants. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit any vineyards.
Still they do make a few adaptions and one example of these is the extraction (maceration) period that varies depending mostly on tannin quality to extract more colour and terroir-specific characteristics from the grapes. However, Alan says that in general it is between 30-35 days. While the warm, approachable and short-cycled vintage of 2011 vintage only endured for 32 days. the alike 2009 got 35, but the cold, classic and very long-cycled 2010 vintage went on for 56 days which is the longest in their history. Pump over is done twice a day, but after fermentation is final, they continue extraction on the skins using the traditional method with submerged caps. At this stage, they fill up the tank and leave half of the top opening space to let carbon dioxide go out, but avoid oxygen to get in. Alan points out that he can judge how much air is needed by inspecting the colour. As he puts it, if it is beaujolais, then I add more air, but I need to be careful since it is by then in a very reactive state. Malo is carried out in wood and they rack just a few times.
As we leave the concrete tanks and head for the ageing part of the cellar, Alan show us some really old bottles. Some from the 30’s, 40’s as well as obvious great vintages like 1947, 1955, 1958, etc. With a grin, he says that unfortunately they are not for sale. He says that he has put some work into organising the cellar a lot some years back.
The 2015 vintage is the first vintage when Alan has been granted the opportunity to lead the work in the cellar. Even though he is very excited about this, he admits that it is a little stressful too. He wants to make them proud and not do any mistakes.
During the visit we also learned that their Langhe Nebbiolo, which is made from their younger vines, from the 2013 vintage in addition, includes grapes bought from a grower in Treiso, Barbaresco. It is a vineyard called San Roccá Suo d’Elvia. This should increase the volumes of today’s about 30,000 bottles a year some more. This incredibly low production is the reason why bottles have been so hard to find in the market.
The wines we tasted
2013 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba
Their Dolcetto is mainly on the northern parts of the vineyards Rue and Monrobiolo della Bussia since it will ripen almost anywhere, but here it gets right amount of sun. Alan comments that while it, in contrast to nebbiolo, grows easy, it is hard to vinify.
This is a Dolcetto that is not only about cherries and sharp red fruit. The wine also combines some earthy notes and a slightly tannic structure.
On the palate, the fruit is rather juicy and almost has a chewiness to it. A little classic bitterness, but fresh. The fruit is also well complemented by a fresh acidity.
This is a high quality Dolcetto with a great personality and balance.
2011 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
Alan explains that 2011 had a burst of heat in April through easter and a very quick bud break. Then it got cooler until August, but from there much like the very hot 2003. However, in total it was not extreme, but certainly not classic.
The nose is mainly fruit-driven where red fruit dominates more than usual for a Mascarello where I usually find large amounts of dark fruit. There are fresh wild strawberries, raspberries, Asian spices and balsamic notes in this very seductive wine.
On the palate, the wine has juicy and mouthwatering fruit combined with a energetic and rather precise acidity. The tannins are present but not dominant and has a sweetness to them.
A very approachable Mascarello which is very generous and fresh but still with elegance.
The tasting this time was a little limited, but still a great visit and we learned several about their principles and vinification by the very engaged Alan. We will certainly be back again to check how they are doing in the very near future.
Earlier tastings of Barolos of Bartolo Mascarello can be found here.