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.’
A man of culture and wit, he was known for his firm opinions in political and ethical matters. In the last few years, as he was confined to a wheelchair, he described himself as simply a consultant to his daughter Maria Teresa, who has been fully in charge of the winery since the early 1990s.
He began hand-painting his labels, many of which became collectors’ items. One such was the famous ‘No Barrique, No Berlusconi’ label, which lampooned the prime minister. Mascarello said at the time, ‘No Barrique, because I am against the use of barriques in Barolo. No Berlusconi because I don’t like his type of politics.’
He remained a traditionalist to the end. In a recent interview he said, ‘As the time came to change oak casks I made sure that every corner of the cellar was filled, so that when I die there would be no room for barriques.’
Written by Paolo Tenti