Nebbiolo fetishization: a religious experience with the amazing Ken Vastola

1958 bartolo mascarello bis

Bartolo Mascarello 1958 Barolo, a holy grail of wines for me. If ever there were a wine that embodied the “unbearable lightness” of Nebbiolo, this would be it. A wine from an extraordinary vintage in Langa and an apotheosis of Barolo. One of the most remarkable wines I have ever tasted — perhaps the greatest.

fetish, “an inanimate object worshipped by preliterate peoples on account of its supposed inherent magical powers, or as being animated by a spirit [Oxford English Dictionary],” from the Latin factīcĭus meaning factitious (made by or resulting from art).

bartolo mascarello 1980

Everyone agreed that the Bartolo Mascarello 1980 Barolo was a standout in the flight. It had that electric vibrancy and magnetic focus in its rich, dark fruit. Wow, what a wine this was… 1980 is regarded as a fair to poor vintage in Langa and this wine was a great example of how great winemakers can deliver outstanding wines even in challenging vintages.

Dayenu! If only just one of the bottles in the flight had been opened over lunch at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria in lower Manhattan, it would have sufficed to satiate our Nebbiolo fetish!

On Friday, I had the immense fortune to be invited to a meal and tasting by Nebbiolo connoisseur and Langa chronicler Ken Vastola (check out his amazing blog).

Even though we’d never met in person, I’ve known Ken for many years virtually: we follow each other on social media and often exchange notes and information about the winemakers we both follow (remember this post on the origins of the term piè franco that I wrote a few weeks ago inspired by Ken?).

rinaldi barolo 1985

The Giuseppe Rinaldi 1985 Barolo was another standout for me personally. Like the 1980 Bartolo Mascarello, it seemed to be at the peak of its evolution, a “great wine” on a “great day.”

We’d been trying to get together for some time now. But the fact that I no longer live in NYC and he lives outside the city have made it tricky to make our schedules and travels align.

But on Friday, the stars smiled upon me: Ken invited me to join him and his regular group of collectors and Nebbiolo fetishists.

rinaldi barolo 1974

A great wine from a good (but not great) vintage, the Giuseppe Rinaldi 1974 Barolo was in the late fall of its evolution, with an ethereal lightness of nuanced fruit. One of my personal favorites, although not the best of the best.

Fetishists, you ask? No, I’m not referring to the colloquial usage of the term fetish. There was nothing sexual or otherwise titillating about our lunch and tasting.

I’m talking about the way that Nebbiolo from Langa often assumes a a cultish and even spiritual significance among collectors and connoisseurs (the same way high-profile restaurateurs and top-spending diners often fetishize beef in our country).

produttori barbaresco pora 1970

Like the 1980 Mascarello Barolo, this wine was stunning for its vibrancy and richness. The Pora cru tends to be generous with its fruit in the wine’s early years. And this was a illustrative example of how Pora retains that brilliance of fruit even as it evolves. I think that all agreed that this, the 80 Mascarello, and the 58 Mascarello were the top wines in the flight.

After all, between the eight persons in attendance, we could have never consumed all the superb wine on the table before us. Much of the wine was left over — a libatio, a drink-offering, a “pouring out of wine or other liquid in honour of a god” (OED).

In fact, the purpose of the gathering wasn’t to nourish ourselves or to employ or apply the wines as they had been conceived — as nutrients themselves, an accompaniment and complement to food.

Instead, we were there to worship these wonderful, wonderful wines. And before us, my generous hosts had erected a temple that literally overflowed with rare treasure and religious artifacts.

borgogno barolo 1966

Over the last decade, shiny library-release bottles of old-vintage (topped-off?) Borgogno have made their way to the U.S. market. I was thrilled to taste an original release from the 1966 vintage and was impressed by how fresh and lively this wine was. A personal stand-out for me.

For me, such an opportunity is golden. Although I do collect wine and have a nice library of twenty or so cases of Nebbiolo, I rarely get to taste old vintages of top wines like this.

And I am humbly and eternally grateful to the whole group — Marc, Frank, Jamie, Carl, Joe, and Ken (in the order that they sat at the table) — for its extreme generosity.

Guys, I can’t thank you enough for inviting me to “pray” with you.

And Ken, as much as the wine thrilled my senses and my mind, the best part was gleaning your insights on Nebbiolo, Langa, and the people who produce (and who have historically produced) these wines.

You are a rabbi in my world and anytime you need me for a minyan, I am available to daven on the bema of the Langa hills.

money shot nebbiolo

One of the most remarkable flights of wine I’ve ever seen before me. Other highlights were Taittinger 1995 Comtes de Champagne, Mastroberardino 1968 Taurasi (classic, not single-vineyard designate), and Ruffino 1961 Chianti Classic Riserva (gold label).

5 thoughts on “Nebbiolo fetishization: a religious experience with the amazing Ken Vastola

  1. Pingback: Borgo del Tiglio one of Italy’s greatest white wines (& the ancient cult of the linden tree) | Do Bianchi

  2. Jeremy, I really enjoy your blogs. They are well written with great mouth watering photos and great wine recommendations. Recently picked up some Borgo del Tiglio. Amazing stuff.

    This luncheon must have been amazing. Great food and great Nebbiolo, a match made in heaven.

    • Mark, thanks so much. It means so much to me that people enjoy the blog. And wow, Borgo del Tiglio, so incredible, right? So glad you enjoyed it. We’ll have to taste it together some time. Thanks so much for the kind words.

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