The Great Debate: To Decant or Not?

Forget about arguments for or against trendy topics like Natural Wines and the existence of terroir, because nothing causes more debate among lovers of fine wine than decanting. And most people have a love-hate relationship with those transparent glass containers.

© Paolo Tenti | Franco Biondi Santi

When it comes to decanting great Italian wines, I happily adhere to the ancient adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, which generally means forgoing the decanter. Case in point: on my recent rip to Piedmont to taste the latest vintages of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero at the annual press tastings, followed by visits to producers who opened up numerous vintages – including a 1971 Barolo Monfalletto at Cordero Montezemolo and a 1978 Barolo Bussia at Giacomo Fenocchio – most winemakers shied away from decanting. Instead, they opened the bottles at the beginning of the visit to let the wines breathe before pouring. Local restaurants rarely recommended decanting either, not even for a 1997 Gigi Rosso Barolo Arione, which the beverage director opened as soon as we ordered and left it to breathe for an hour while sipped on a young white with our starters. All of the wines showed beautifully.

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Bartolo Mascarello

The classically crafted Barolos of Bartolo Mascarello are cult favorites of Barolophiles around the world.

Unlike many of today’s top Barolo producers – growers who started making their own wines in the late 1970’s and 1980’s – the Mascarello family have been making and bottling their own wines for generations.

© Paolo Tenti | Maria Teresa Mascarello

Maria Teresa Mascarello, who runs the firm today, learned to make wine from her father Bartolo, an iconic producer who died in 2005. Bartolo joined the firm in 1945 and learned winemaking from his father, Giulio, who in turn had been trained by his own father, Bartolomeo.

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Barolo patriarch Bartolo Mascarello dies (by Paolo Tenti)

Italy’s Bartolo Mascarello – the patriarch of Barolo – died at his home in Barolo on Saturday at the age of 78.

A teenage partisan during the Second World War (he used to tell German wine lovers, ‘first you chased me, now you chase my wine’) he was dubbed ‘the Last of the Mohicans’ for his dogged refusal to let traditions die.

Deploring the shift from the traditional wooden botti to smaller, 225-litre barriques, he never accepted any method of making Barolo other than low yields, long maceration, big oak casks and minimum intervention in the cellar.

His dedication to the preservation of Barolo’s true character and above all its longevity, made him the patriarch of traditional Barolo and gained him an international cult following – with fans as diverse as the cellist and conductor Rostropovich, and the Queen of the Netherlands.

Mascarello spent most of his life tending four small vineyards in prime locations: Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Rué in Barolo, and Rocche in La Morra. He favoured the old-school practice of blending from those four plots, rejecting the modern style of single vineyard crus. He always argued, ‘We don’t even have a word for cru: we have to import it from France.’

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Anti-Berlusconi label becomes collector’s item

A hand-painted Barolo label lampooning Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has become a collector’s item.

Bartolo Mascarello label: No Barrique No Berlusconi
Bartolo Mascarello label: No Barrique No Berlusconi

The label scandal which erupted in Italy during last year’s elections is continuing to draw wine aficionados to Piedmont in search of the rare bottles of ‘No Barrique, No Berlusconi’ Barolo.

Tourists and collectors are flocking into the area hoping to find bottles of the wine that caused at least one shop to be raided by the military for ‘displaying political propaganda in an unauthorised space’.

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