Lunch at home with Maria Teresa Mascarello

December 13, 2012

italian gardiniera

One of the highlights of my November trip to Italy was a lunchtime visit Giovanni and I made to the home of Maria Teresa Mascarello in the village of Barolo.

That’s the gardiniera (above) her cousin made her. It was topped with hard-boiled egg wedges and crumbled olive oil-cured tuna. The combination of textures was wonderful, one of the best things I ate on this trip.

salame cacciatora

The butcher who makes this cacciatora is di sinistra, noted Maria Teresa, on the left side of the political aisle. And that was one of the reasons it was so tasty.

In the U.S., we rarely discuss the ideology of people whose food we eat. In many homes in Italy, such gastronomic scrutiny is de rigueur.

barolo vinegar mascarello

Of course, Bartolo Mascarello aged vinegar was offered to guests to dress their lettuces.

Conversation was dominated by the center-left primary elections (which would take place the following day). Maria Teresa was one of the polling organizers.

But it soon turned to the sticky subject of Natural wine.

Maria Teresa expressed her frustration with the Natural wine movement, noting that she doesn’t consider her wine a Natural wine by any means.

The obsession with “zero sulfur,” she lamented, was misguided.

luigi oddero

Maria Teresa’s partner David was geeked for us to taste a Barolo — the Luigi Oddero Rocche Rivera — that he’s keen on.

Traditional in style, this wine showed uncommon balance for a 2003. Its earth and tar prevailed over its fruit but its acidity delivered unexpected brilliance in the mouth. Gorgeous wine.

Conversation also touched upon the recent and ongoing Cannubi controversy.

Political discussion and cultural engagement at the dinner table are considered a responsibility in the homes of many Italians.

In the Mascarello home, of course, the di sinistra ideological legacy of Maria Teresa’s father Bartolo still resides warmly.

And in my experience, there is nothing that pairs better with great Nebbiolo…


Colonization of Cannubi Continues in Barolo

November 27, 2012

mascarello barolo cannubi

Above: A drawing of “La collina dei Cannubi” (“Cannubi Hill”) by Eugenio Comenicini, 1981 (reproduced from Martinelli’s monograph Il Barolo come lo sento io, 1993).

When Giovanni and I visited the home of Maria Teresa Mascarello and David Berry Green on Saturday for lunch, conversation was dominated by two topics: the primary elections for Italy’s center-left Democratic Party (held on Sunday) and the Marchesi di Barolo’s continued efforts to redefine which vineyards in Barolo can be called “Cannubi.”

For some time now, Marchesi di Barolo has been trying expand the designation, to include adjacent vineyards. Its application to extend the historic vineyard’s reach was thwarted when a group of eleven producers and owners of rows Cannubi successfully petitioned to block the move in June of this year. (Walter Speller delivered this excellent post on the events that lead up to the showdown.)

As Marta Rinaldi — daughter of Giuseppe Rinaldi, one of the eleven wineries who contested the redesgination — reported in this moving post on Intravino, it took a court order to stop the Marchesi di Barolo, whose motive to remap appellation subzones is rooted in desire to exploit the most recognizable crus of Barolo for financial gain.

Cannubi is considered by many to be one of Barolo’s greatest vineyards and one of its most historically significant growing sites. This fact, coupled with foreigners’ ease in pronouncing the toponym (kahn-NOO-bee), have made it one of the most popular (and lucrative) vineyard designations in the appellation.

ferdinando principiano

Above: Giovanni and I drove from Brescia to Barolo on Saturday morning.

In October of this year, the Marchesi di Barolo filed an appeal with the court to lift the injunction against them. And its outcome is uncertain.

“On the ground” in Barolo, there is even greater concern regarding the vineyard’s future because the Ceretto and Damilano wineries recently partnered with James Suckling to make a documentary about Cannubi (it was shot during harvest this year). And the movie is to be incorporated, Maria Teresa told me, in a marketing campaign to promote the sale of wines labeled “Cannubi” in the ever growing Asian market, where the thirst for high-end wines seems to know no bounds.

As an owner in Cannubi and one of its most well known producers, Maria Teresa was approached by marketers to participate in the program.

“A campaign like this shouldn’t move forward until the question has been resolved,” she told me. “I’m not going to partner with my quote-unquote enemy… the Marchesi di Barolo in a promotion like this,” noting that the Marchesi di Barolo is planning to be part of the campaign.

Above: Will the color of traditional Barolo be sullied by the green of avarice?

It’s not clear when the court will rule on the Marchesi di Barolo’s appeal and the stakes are extremely high.

As David wrote on his blog last year, “Ernesto Abbona, President of heavyweight Barolo producer Marchesi di Barolo (1.6million bts), is cast in the Machiavellian role making a final desperate grab for vineyard rights. Pitted against him are a band of small growers – let’s call them partisans! – defending the honour of an historical site, Cannubi, row by row, bunch by bunch.”

I’ll be following along closely and will report news as it arrives from Langa. In the meantime, a Google image search for “Cannubi” will deliver a number of photos and maps of this historic vineyard if you’re interested in learning more.

I’ve got so much to tell about my recent trip to Italy, including more on my lunch with Maria Teresa and David. But this was most urgent. Stay tuned…


Beppe Rinaldi doesn’t care much for Americans (and he makes truly awesome wines)

April 2, 2010

citrico

Above: They call Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi the “Citrico” (CHEE-tree-koh), the “citric one.” Photos by Tracie P.

When Italian actor Franco Citti told his mentor Pier Paolo Pasolini that he was headed to the U.S. to make a film with Coppola (The Godfather), the director and poet admonished famously: “Go to America but don’t learn how to speak American.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of that famous however apocryphal quote when esteemed Italian wine scrabbler Mr. Franco Ziliani took Tracie P and me to visit and taste with Beppe Rinaldi in Barolo.

citrico

Above: We didn’t taste but rather drank 1982 Barolo Brunate and 2005 Barolo Brunate-Le Coste in Beppe’s living room, accompanied by some excellent cheeses that Beppe sliced for us personally and his ubiquitous Toscano, the spicy “Tuscan” cigar favored by many Italians. The 1982 was one of the greatest wines I’ve ever had the privilege to drink — brilliant fruit and exquisite tannin. Beppe spilled a drop on Tracie P’s jeans as he poured. She still hasn’t washed them.

Beppe doesn’t care much for Americans or America, a sentiment not uncommon in a region of Italy that was once dominated (although no longer) by far-left politics, where the cultural hegemony of Americana was seen as a destructive force that could sweep away the genuine traditions and values of life in post-war Italy. He told of us of a trip he made in the 1980s to Davis, California, when he was still working as a veterinarian. Unlike other Italian winemakers who traveled to Napa during that decade, Beppe wasn’t impressed by the squeaky-clean wineries and winemakers of his antipodal counterparts. Nor was he impressed by the purveyors of Italian wine.

giuseppe rinaldi

Above: The Rinaldi cellar, which lies underneath the Rinaldi 18th-century villa, is old-school all the way. The house is truly one of the most beautiful in the town of Barolo. I regret that we didn’t take a picture of the exterior.

We were thrilled, of course, to get to taste with Beppe and we are forever grateful to Mr. Ziliani for such high-level access. To my palate, his wines are among the greatest produced in Barolo and the style has remained entirely unchanged for at least two generations (i.e, the current and that of Beppe’s father, also Giuseppe).

giuseppe rinaldi

Above: Among other wines, Rinaldi makes a blend of fruit sourced from Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Ravera as well as what is considered his flagship wine, Barolo sourced from Brunate and Le Coste. His expressions of Cannubi and Brunate, in particular, are considered two of Barolo’s historical benchmark wines. To my palate, these are two sine qua non wines, essential to an understanding and appreciation of the greatness of Barolo.

Of all the winemakers we talked to in February in Barolo and Barbaresco (and we asked the very same question during each visit), Beppe was the only one who said he doesn’t use selected, cultured yeasts. “I don’t have problems staring fermentation in my cellar,” he said. On a few extremely rare occasions, he told us, he has used cultured yeast when for whatever reason fermentation needed a nudge, so to speak. When you tour the cellar with him and negotiate the labyrinth of his cluttered laboratory, you cannot help but think that the terroir is not only in the vineyards but also there in the cellar, which has remained unchanged for two generations. It is as if the terroir is “growing” on the sides of the enormous Slavonian casks he uses to age his wines. One of the most fascinating vessels is an enormous fermentation cask built by his father so that he could vinify his entire holding of Brunate in one vat. When you visit this cellar, clean, of course, but not immaculate, you can “smell” the terroir.

giuseppe rinaldi

Above: Playing in a French rock band sure comes in handy sometimes.

Beppe may not be so fond of America and Americans but the “citric one” was an excessively generous host. Maybe he found me slightly more simpatico when Mr. Ziliani told him that I perform and write songs with a French rock band. At the end of our visit, Beppe gave me an unlabeled bottle of 2005 Barolo Brunate-Le Coste.

barolo brunate le coste

Above: I probably hate blind tasting as much as Guilhuame does. But I couldn’t resist “tasting my friends blind on this wine,” as we say in the biz. Of course, they could easily surmise what the wine was because they knew where Tracie P and I went on our honeymoon!

Last night, Tracie P and I shared the bottle with our good friend Mark Sayre and the gang at Trio in Austin (the happy hour there has become our “Mel’s Diner”). What a thrill to share this gorgeous wine with a group of wine professionals here in Austin! It was powerful, with gorgeous fruit and an immensely vibrant acidity (no pun intended!), definitely one of the top 3 examples of 2005 Nebbiolo I’ve tasted.

Beppe Rinaldi is a true iconoclast and his wines are truly iconic expressions of Barolo, sine qua non interpretations of one of the greatest wine producing regions of the world, Langa. Like the man, the wines represent an essential continuity with the past and a hope for the future. Whether you prefer modern- or traditional-style Langa wines, thank your lucky stars for a man who remained true to his people and his land, when others were perhaps seduced by the dollar signs that flashed before them in the 1990s. In the field of trophy wines, Beppe’s bottlings remain more than fairly priced. I cannot recommend them to you enough.

And to be honest, I’m only half-kidding when I say that Beppe doesn’t like Americans. ;-)

barolo brunate le coste


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