When we visited Barolo few years back, we were fortunate enough to visit the legendary winery – Bartolo Mascarello. This is a winery that has produced some of the best Barolo wines for generations. Mascarello family was almost the first to establish their own cellar and bottle their own wines in 1919. By the 1930s, the family began purchasing their own vineyards in key Barolo crus and became one of the very first grower-producer in Piedmont.
The minute we walked in to the house, we received a warm welcome from Maria Teresa, the current winemaker. She took over the operation after her father, the late Bartolo Mascarello, passed away in 2005. Maria pulled out a few wines for our tasting before leading us to visit her basement cellar. The wines were tasty of course, but we were quickly drawn to the wine label design.
They were unique and interesting, unlike any labels we have seen from anywhere in the world. It’s almost like a painting by a little child. These turned out to be hand-painting from the late Bartolo. In his later years, he could not move around freely and ended up spending most of his time in his office. His artist side truly came up and he hand-painted almost all of his wine labels!
There is huge following globally for Barolo wines from Mascarello. This has a lot to do with their high-quality wines and the extreme persistence to make the wines in the traditional Barolo way.
No Barriques (No Berlusconi)
In the 1980s, international wine critics heavily attacked the use of traditional Slavonian casks in ageing the wines, but preferred the use of French barriques as adopted by many “modernists” at the time. The oak influence from small volume barriques would make the wine more accessible at younger age. Bartolo was one of the most outspoken winemaker against this idea.
In fact, he designed a label for his 1999 Barolo – No Barriques No Berlusconi, which is now highly sought-after by wine collectors globally. Bartolo considered Barriques and Berlusconi the two evils facing Barolo and Italy. It’s actually quite funny that each label featured a headshot of the prime minister, with a little flap that can be used to cover up the photo of Berlusconi.
No Single Vineyard
Many Piedmont producers nowadays promote their wines based on a single vineyard, very similar to those from Burgundy. Bartolo didn’t buy this concept. He believed no single vineyard can produce excellent, high-quality wine consistently vintage after vintage. A blend across vineyards is extremely important to create a balance of aroma and complexity in the wine.
Note that the vineyards owned by Bartolo are the best from Barolo, including Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Rue. So, we are really talking about blending the best with the best in his wine.
Maria Teresa told us: “we don’t care about wine critics and we do not send samples to them. If they want to try our wines, they would come to our wineries.” In a world where wine critics almost determine the prices of any wines, Maria Teresa does not care at all. Well, they actually don’t even have a website.We highly recommend anybody visiting Piedmont to drop by Barolo and visit Maria Teresa. We were lucky enough she was free to meet up with us and gave us a tour of her winery. While the operation is humble and the production volume is small (only 30,000 bottles per year), the influence of this winery in Barolo is gigantic, majestic and long-lasting…