97 G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato Ca’ d’ Morissio and great food at Tasting Kitchen LA

The Schachter factor was in high gear on Tuesday night at The Tasting Kitchen in Los Angeles. Good friend David Schachter reached deep in his cellar for a bottle he knew would thrill me (as it would anyone who knows the great wines of the world): Giuseppe Mascarello 1997 Barolo Monprivato Ca’ d’ Morissio, Mauro Mascarello’s top bottling, from one of the great if somewhat maligned vintages of the twentieth century.

The 1997 harvest was and remains a classic example of semiotician Harold Bloom’s “misunderstanding,” what he would have called the anxiety of influence (@Comrade Howard, I know it’s a stretch but I think you would agree!). Similar to what happened for 2000, many American wine writers (and you all know whom I’m talking about) praised the warm 1997 vintage for the fruit-forward, hot (read highly alcoholic) wines it delivered. In the view of most Piedmont producers, 97 was a good vintage… not a great one. Wines from this harvest, in their view, were not “classic” expressions of their territorio. They were good and sometimes great but not worthy of the hype that they attained in their trans-Atlantic crossing.

Winemaker Mauro Mascarello’s bottling of his Ca’ d’ Morissio vineyard (above, visited by me and Tracie P and top Italian wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani in February 2010) was an exception to this paradigm: thanks to the unique microclimate of this deservedly famous growing site (owing to exposure and elevation), Mauro is able to obtain Barolo benchmarks even in hotter vintages. In fact, to my knowledge, he was the only Barolo producer in the five core townships to produce his flagship single-vineyard wine Ca’ d’ Morissio for the extremely hot 2003 vintage (that’s the Ca’ d’ Morissio, “Maurizio’s house,” at the top of the hill, btw).

Mauro Mascarello is a remarkable man, a 19th-century man, a man whose spiritual integrity and wholesome warmth are expressed in his warm, sturdy handshake and personal manner. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and taste with him three times now (each thanks to Mr. Ziliani) and I am always as impressed by the man himself as I am by the incredible wines he produces. Many Barolo insiders point to his winery as the most recently canonized member in the pantheon of the truly great producers in the appellation.

One of the hallmarks of traditional Barolo is large-cask aging: Tracie P snapped the above photo of me when we visited with Mr. Ziliani to show how large “large” is at Giuseppe Mascarello! Mauro’s father was in the lumber business and he built the cask in the photo as an experiment in dimension, said Mauro. (For a fantastic English-language profile of G. Mascarello, I highly recommend this excellent post by my blogging colleague Gregory dal Piaz who knows this winery and its wines perhaps better than anyone else in the U.S.)

I am very fortunate to have tasted a lot of fantastic wine this year (and many of the highlights have been in the last few weeks) but 97 G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato Ca’ d’ Morissio? An astounding wine. Layers and layers of nuanced fruit and earth on the nose, with this fantastic black licorice, almost menthol note that is always a signature in wines from this vineyard. Rich tar and mushroom in the mouth, with harmonious red berry and red stone fruit. But it was the acidity, tongue-splitting acidity, as Tracie P would have said — even in the warm 1997 vintage! — that took this wine over the top. In Italian wine parlance, you often say that the acidity is a “backbone” that “supports” the flavors of the wine: this wine was the embodiment of this notion.

O, and the food at the Tasting Kitchen (yesterday named 4th best new restaurant in the U.S. by Alan Richman in GQ)?

Buckwheat bigoli with lamb and anchovy ragù was my favorite.

I also loved Chef Casey Lane’s unabashed use of heat in dishes like this tagliolini with baby squid (the fact that my WordPress spellcheck knows tagliolini is remarkable, no?). We spoke to Casey before our meal: he is a super cool, mellow guy (unusual for chefs of his caliber) and he’s from Texas! Awesome dude…

Housemade chorizo and roast pork loin were FANTASTIC with the Ca’ d’ Morissio.

Thanks again, David! And congrats, Casey! An amazing meal and an UNFORGETTABLE wine…

12 thoughts on “97 G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato Ca’ d’ Morissio and great food at Tasting Kitchen LA

  1. Ciao Jeremy,
    I remember visiting Mauro Mascarello in 1986. I had been selling Italian wine for only six months. I will never forget that experience. I remember standing in the cellar and commented on how very cold it was. Mauro told me the cellar was used to store ice cut from the river before there was refrigeration. Every time I see a bottle of Monprivato I think of that wonderful morning. Mascarello is a “giant” of Barolo (weather Mauro or Bartolo).

  2. Buongiorno Franco,
    Yes, I worked at Winebow for 14 years and I have very fond memories of meeting you at Berlucchi. I left Winebow in 1999 and joined Calatrasi for two years as their agent in North America. I have now been with Vias Imports for nine years. 25 years of selling great Italian wines in America. It’s a wonderful thing. Buon Natale to you and your family and Felice Anno Nuovo!

  3. Reminds me of the time at Babbo that we were drinking the already open ’97 Giacosa and sent a glass over to the Wine-Writer-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named as he was drinking ’99 which was still tight and shut down.

    p.s. Love the plug for my fave bardoholic … Professor Bloom!

  4. I remember our meeting with the unforgettable Cosimo Taurino, at a Vinitaly dinner and maybe in Cosimo holiday house in Salento. I would be happy to have a contact with you: can you send me an e-mail at my address francoziliani@yahoo.it ?
    Thank you! Warmest regards and Buon Natale to you and your family!

  5. Yes, a wonderful, wonderful post. But, with great deference to someone trained in literary criticism, it’s not the way I thought Bloom used misprision–I’ve always thought it was an ^intentional^ (usually, subconscious) misreading of a strong poet by a successor poet, in order to provide creative space for the latter as well. Did the famous unnamed American wine critic ^intentionally^ misread the 97 harvest? From what you describe, it seems like his evaluation was consistent with his stated aesthetics….or did I subconsciously misread you wrongly?

  6. @Chris and Franco glad to see you guys reconnect at Do Bianchi! That’s what it’s all about!

    @BrooklynGuy man, I would love to drink that wine with you! You would dig it…

    @Robin I remember you telling me that crazy story! Sorry we missed you last weekend. Looking forward to drinking something great with you in ’11!

    @Bags thanks for the kind words. And yes, you are entirely right: my analogy is a stretch! But I do think that there is a nugget there inasmuch as I think you-know-who’s assessment was based partly in his feeling the weight of his counterparts that came before him. I feel a Woody Allen joke coming: G-d is dead, Marx is dead, the wine writer is dead, and I don’t feel so good myself! Thanks for reading.

  7. Great post, J. I can’t say for sure whether Mauro Mascarello was the only producer in the top communes to release his top wine in ’03 but, having tasted in that same room in May of this year, I can vouch for the fact that the ’03 “Cà d’ Morissio” Riserva showcased (even more so than the quite finely balanced “regular” Monfortino) Mascarello’s ability to produce classically balanced wines in less than classic vintage conditions.

  8. Just tasted the 2001 Cà d’ Morissio Riserva this week. Thanks to Justin at Triage in Seattle. What a treat. Great acid and fruit…. layered long. Very unique. Tasted the 2005 Barolo as well.

    Good to read from my friend Chris Zimmerman here! See you soon I hope.

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