Lunch at home with Maria Teresa Mascarello

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…

Judging southern Italian wines

This morning we began tasting and scoring wines in the competitive sessions of the Radici Wines festival. We have to blind taste more than 200 labels between today and Wednesday, when the winners will be announced. All of the wines are made from indigenous grape varieties from Southern Italy.

They’ve gathered a remarkable group of judges for the media jury — Italian and international (there’s also an Italian restaurant and wine professional jury). This morning I was seated next to Jancis Robinson (she’s “number 1″ and I’m “number 2″; how cool is that???!!!). That’s Franco Ziliani center addressing the “jury” and our excellent interpreter, Marilena Balletta, who’s been doing a great job interpreting for the solely English speakers of our group (as a veteran interpreter at events like this, I can’t say that I envy her!).

It’s been great to rub shoulders with über-cool wine blogger Ryan Opaz (in the foreground, sitting to my right, “number 3″).

And I’ve also had a lot of fun horsing around with Jo Cooke, David Berry Green, and Kyle Philips. And I’ve also been enjoying sharing thoughts on Marxist ideology and Latin epithets with Maurzio Gily.

The Borgo Egnazia resort where we’re staying is pretty incredible but so far we haven’t had much time to enjoy it…

And as Alfonso can imagine, there’s no internet in the rooms…

But, honestly, life could be worse… :-)

Bite your tongue, Dorothy

tongueMy Google Reader overflows with feeds these days. It’s hard to keep up with them all and I regret that it took me a few days to catch up to Alice’s post on Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher’s article “A Waning Affair with Barolo”. In their piece, the wife-and-husband team priggishly express their disappointment with the 2004 vintage of Barolo. (I read The New York Times daily. It’s my tie to the Big Apple. And I dogmatically avoid The Wall Street Journal — required reading for the rich, a manifesto and manual for capitalist subjugation of the proletariat. As a result, I was unaware of the piece.)

They say they set out to find 50 bottles under $70 so it’s not clear how many they actually tasted. But their unwarranted, superfluous, and supercilious take on the 2004 vintage is decidedly negative. The wines, they write, “really just weren’t that impressive. You can’t imagine our shock and disappointment. Flight after flight left us cold. They weren’t bad. They were pleasant enough. But with wine after wine, we used a word that should never be used to describe Barolo: simple.” Pleasant enough? Simple?

In another one of her excellent posts wherein she continues her struggle (la lotta continua) to defend the world from Parkerization (and here I take her concept of Parkerization as it relates to the arrogant, chauvinist attitude that his followers — more so than he — exude), Alice rightly laments: “I have a hard time when writers smack down vintage. In this case, especially as they really don’t seem to be experienced when interpreting young vintages, it seems irresponsible.”

It is more than irresponsible. In fact, it’s reprehensible.

When you taste a great wine (like Barolo) in its youth from a great vintage (and it certainly will prove to be an excellent vintage, if not a great one), you don’t look for greatness in the wine. You look for the potential for greatness in the wine. Beyond its tannic structure (dominant in this phase of the wine’s evolution), you look for the presence of defects. In their absence, you can begin to assess the wine’s potential for development. You also ask growers and winemakers what they think of the vintage (they know better than any) and you do your homework by reading your colleagues’s assessment of a given wine.

I looked up Franco’s post on a tasting of 57 bottlings of 2004 Barolo in September 2007 with Roy Richards, Nicolas Belfrage, David Berry Green, and Stuart George. (Dorothy and John, if you don’t know who these guys are, please add them to your reading list. They seem to know something about Italian wine.) According to Franco, Barolo 2004 was “classic vintage.” He noted that “2004 seems to be a great vintage and there are many wines worth buying and cellaring — with all likelihood, wines that will get greater over the years… [In 2004], Nebbiolo triumphed with its elegance and its singularity… One thing is certain, 2004 Barolo is a great wine and it deserves our attention, our trust, and the consensus of all lovers of great wine. In English, you would call these wines fine wines: they are elegant, refined, complex, and nothing less.”

Arrogance, hubris, chauvinism, superciliousness, ignorance, disinformation: these are words come to mind as I ponder Dorothy and John’s irresponsible and reprehensible journalism. Once again, the haughty American attitude shows its ugly head. Once again, American wine writers haven’t considered the most important elements in any wine: the people who made it and the place where they live and work. Bite your tongues, Dorothy and John.