There is always a terrific amount of respect to be had for an eccentric style of nebbiolo winemaking; and I found it at Bartolo Mascarello, with winemaking conducted like a traditional orchestra by its owner, Maria Teresa Mascarello.

But then it was at via Roma, number 17 in Barolo village that Maria Teresa produced large barrel samples of 2009 and 2008 Barolos, a terrific opportunity to get a handle on emerging wines at younger ages than other producers who poured from older bottled vintages.

2010 was not testable, it was on skins.

She says “this is an artisan cantina, the nebbiolo from the four highly respected sites are simply harvested when deemed ripe and the origin wines co-fermented. There is no effort to separate between the 5 hectares of sites in La Morra, Bussia, Cannubi and Serralunga (0.2 ha), purchased in 1918 or since”.

2009 Barolo out of big barrel: finished malo-lactic fermentation in August this year-quite recent really, so not long ago SO2 had been added for the second time (and Maria Teresa went to great pains to estimate what minimal SO2 went in).

I felt she needed more or could be more precautionary. But this is her cellar.

This wine was quite bland in colour (a nebbiolo thing), nose dumb from recent handling (again no real problem) yet the palate was long and fine, some bitter almond fruit intensity which was great, and a wine quite drinkable now.

Why age longer in barrel? Well that is the tradition practised by such artisans, probably part of a formula yet well tested.

The 2009 was not an intensely concentrated vintage, so that’s why a new Piemontese recruit like me would be tipping this wine to be a bit short. However, after a wrap over the knuckles I learnt that the house style was about elegance, not power which comes slowly with aging in bulk.

2008 Barolo out of another big barrel (Maria Teresa produces a ladder, climbing on to the tall barrel to collect our tasting samples).

This wine has established itself some more while in barrel longer. Part of the intensity of this wine is the vintage – it’s a cracker. The wine is a class act: complex nose down the floral, honey, barley sugar direction (ripeness on the nose), has a long palate shape, gentle warmth, very, very fine on the tannins, has nothing astringent yet the flavour goes on forever.

I cannot understand why this wine needs another year in barrel before its bottled. Probably nebbiolo heresy to suggest such an act! Here goes: it’s the drying out of the wine, and its fruit to some extent which causes some decent astringency once this wine is sold!

Going back to the artisan principles, Barolo in this cantina is just progressively aged before it is sold, and all is expected to come naturally with the least of intervention. Malo-lactic may be short, delayed or prolonged, and it all happens when the wine does it. No forcing cultures here, just the waiting bacteria sitting in the barrels from previous wines.

“It will happen in the wine life cycle. There are no pressures of the market here, this business makes 30,000-35,000 bottles each year, supporting the family and workers,” says Maria Teresa.

Each wine spends two years in oak (barrels 1500-3500 litres) which are up to 34 years old, then goes through assembly and bottling by August in the third year (before vintage), then receives bottle age up to its four years, and then sale commences. Magnums receive a year extra.

I did not taste 2007. Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2006, (96), 14%, USD 100, is cherry with the brown edges (nebbiolo!), nose is expressive, the total package of traditional funk (including brett), herbs, honey, mint, a very powerful palate, violets, big tannin though not yet settled.

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2005, (94), 14%, USD 90, is mild coloured, has the toffee ripeness, roses, followed by the strong skin aromas (must have been a decent maceration), has svelte tannins, softness and elegance (opposite to the slower-evolving 2006).

Later we sat in the wine library room. Its starts 1955, 1958, 1964, 1974, 1985, 1988, 1996, 1999, 2000, and there were 2007s added. Usually each great year starts as 1000 bottles plus magnums. Wines are sold off to restaurants over time on request.

Recorking occurs every 20 years.

Colorado-born Alan Emil Manley, and cellar hand is our contact with the English-speaking world, working every vintage here since 1993. “Here it is all about tradition. We even practice the ancient practice of passing the freisa (a less well-known Piemontese grape) over the lees and pomace of the nebbiolo to pick up tannin,” he explains.

The following day, Bartolo Mascarello 2006 had collected 3+ glasses for the 2011 Gambero Rosso awards (the most authorative national assessment review in Italy; only 30-odd were awarded for next year), but the media-shy Maria Teresa asked Alan to travel to Rome for the presentation ceremony.

Maria Teresa lost her father, the famous Barolo man Bartolo Mascarello in March 2006, so her first vintage in control was that year. Her dad had been confined to a wheelchair for an extended period following an industrial accident.

To contribute in a special way he hand-painted labels, not as an artist but more as a naive art imitator (he swore he could not paint). Today over 300 colourful pictorial labels are in existence, cleverly added to any sales over a dozen bottles.

To read more of the intrigue of older Bartolo Mascarello and its history: or follow Barolo di Barolo

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