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…

Bartolo Mascarello 2008 Langhe Nebiolo [sic]

Talk about mimetic desire! You can imagine my envy when I read Mr. Franco Ziliani’s post this morning on tasting the 2008 Langhe Nebiolo [sic] by Maria Teresa Mascarello of the Bartolo Mascarello winery in Barolo.

For those of you who don’t read Italian, I’ve translated Mr. Ziliani’s tasting notes at VinoWire (here).

Maria Teresa made only 2,000 bottles of this reclassified Barolo (for a vintage, 2008, not ideal in Piedmont because of excessive rainfall).

Man, I hope someone will save a bottle to open with me!

In the meantime, read about it here…

Bartolo Mascarello: an academic look at “collective identity, contention, and authenticity”

Above: I met with Franca and Maria Teresa Mascarello back in 2008 in their home. Our mission was to unravel the mystery of the Bartolo Mascarello beret.

Yesterday, I received an email from my good friend Josh Kranz who lives and works in New York City: “Thought of you last night – walked by a French place on 39th b/t 5th and 6th called Barrique. ‘Jeremy would never go in there on principle.'” (Check out this great story Josh recently published about an adolescent’s fear of dropping the Torah, a sentiment that I certainly shared in my pre-teen and teen years.)

As it so happens, I also received an email from fellow Nebbiolophile Ken Vastola, who sent me a link to a wonderful research paper, published at Stanford, devoted to Bartolo Mascarello and the Mascarello’s famous campaign against barrique and Berlusconi. (The file is large so be patient when downloading.)

Here’s the title and abstract:

    NO BARRIQUE, NO BERLUSCONI: COLLECTIVE IDENTITY, CONTENTION, AND AUTHENTICITY IN THE MAKING OF BAROLO AND BARBARESCO WINES

    Abstract

    How does contention over authenticity unfold through social movement processes of mobilization and counter-mobilization? We address this issue by studying how the rise of “modern” winemaking practices embodied authenticity as creativity, how the success of the modernists triggered a countermovement seeking to preserve “traditional” wine-making practices, and how the emergent “traditional” category was premised on authenticity as conformity to a genre. This countermovement succeeded in a situation in which market forces seemed destined to displace tradition with modernity.

Photo via Spume.

“A modern winemaker is like Berlusconi,” said Maria Teresa to the researchers. “He is the model. He embodies this way of looking at the market, at the economy.”

Have a look at the paper: it’s a great read. I’m glad to report that the “counter-movement” opposing modernization is alive and well and living in Palo Alto!

The smell of money guides the evolution of taste, part 2

barolo

Above: A collection of old large-format bottles at the Bartolo Mascarello winery. I took the photo when I visited and tasted with Maria Teresa Mascarello, Bartolo’s daughter, in April 2008. Those are aging casks in the winery’s cellar, below left.

I received a lot of positive feedback in the wake of my post the other day Bruno Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello meet for the first time. Thank you to everyone who commented and wrote in for the encouragement and the kind words. And special thanks, again, to Franco, for bringing this wonderful piece of writing to our attention.

One of the most fascinating elements — among many — about the first installment was the note about the weather: 95° at the end of July. How did that heat spike affect the 1964 vintage?

Here’s the second and final installment of the translation of Francarlo Negro’s newsletter, “The Smell of Money Guides the Evolution of Taste.”

Buona lettura!

*****

barolo… The same was true of the Barbaresco [I’ve never heard of a B. Mascarello Barbaresco but evidently he was making Barbaresco at that time; thoughts?]

In the glass, the wine was clear, not dark red, but rather light red with gradations of garnet and an orange-rose rim.

In the mouth, the light flower gave way to the tannic freshness that enveloped the elegance of the wine, an austere but inviting sensation, cleansing the mouth and prompting you to take another sip. The elegance of the nose opened with a velvety impression, dry but never bitter in taste.

The 1961 Barbaresco that Bruno Giacosa had brought for the tasting was more evolved. But it showed characteristics similar to those of the Barolo, although with slightly different tonalities. Light impressions of field flowers, rounder on the palate, definitely more velvety and approachable.

Bruno and Bartolo discussed the fundamental roll of the land, of the surì [i.e., the best rows in top growing sites], the vines, and approaches to growing grapes — without abusing the vine, with asking too much of it.

Quality depended on the harvest. During those years, clear-cut differences were evident between one vintage and another. In more than 40 years since the birth of the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations, the wines have been declassified only once to rosso da tavola [red table wine], and that was no haphazard decision. The year was 1972, when excessive rain and incessant fog caused the grapes to rot.

Thirty years later, the 2002 harvest should have met the same fate. But technology and the interests of the large exporters weren’t about to let that happen. Millions of bottles containing low-quality wines were released on to the market bearing the name Barbaresco and Barolo DOCG.

barolo

Above: Historic aging casks for Nebbiolo, no longer in use, at the Fontanfredda winery, one of the original high-volume producers of Barolo, founded in the 19th-century by the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

Subordination to “international” tastes clouds the identity of our wine.

The advent of international demand, which began in the early 1980s, has offered a historic opportunity to the great wines of Langa: to reach the tables of the greater western world, from Europe, to America, to Japan.

This demand is guided by American buyers who want Barolo and Barbaresco to change in order to adapt to the tastes and style of the market in that great country — that gluttonous, powerful, ignorant country.

The greater part of winemakers have adapted their cellars, as sales increase and profits soar. For the most part, the historic enologic culture of our land has been snubbed to make way for new technology in grape-growing, vinification, and aging. The score awarded by U.S. magazines determines the success or failure of sales.

A complex network of relationships has been created between large international merchants, consenting journalists, and willing enologists. A new genre of wine has been born. There are a few exceptions but most wineries have chosen to reshape the identity of the great wines of Langa. These changes have not come about through an exchange of ideas between the old and the new but rather between traditional and modern enology: the wines are the result of an irrational adaptation of enological standards, dominated by the major buying groups and by the multi-national network of the wine industry.

Vanilla, fruity Barolo and Barbaresco.

The “ideal” wine destined for export has changed completely. The color must be darker, as darkly colored as blood, the symbol of power, modeled after Cabernet Sauvignon, the benchmark grape variety for the international market.

Vanilla is desirable in the nose, as are extraneous spicy notes, the fruit of aging in small toasted casks, French barriques, used only if rigorously new, so that they will impart their own aromas and tannins as they corrupt the classic, original traits of our wines.

The taste should be marked by “fruitiness,” notes of ripe red fruit, with intense flavors, enticing and coating, sometimes jammy. When the harvest isn’t the best and the natural alcohol content is only 13%, winemakers resort to the Salasso method: when fermentation begins and the skins form the cap, a certain quantity of must is racked off from the bottom of the cask in order to achieve the desired intensity in color and flavor. The technology behind temperature-controlled concentrators allows the winemaker to avoid cooked-fruit flavors as they reduce the water content and increase the sugar content of the wine.

Fermentation and vinification techniques have undergone a transformation under the aegis of enologic innovation. It’s no secret that the consultation of a certain enologist with ties to the new network of international media and commercial interests is a prerequisite for a good score in the wine guides and the subsequently increased facility to sell the wine at a higher price. The end result is an atypical wine, in cahoots with grape varieties considered “international” because they are the preference of Americans and others unfamiliar with the culture of wine. The uniqueness of the monovarietal wine, made from Nebbiolo, has lost its distinct personality.

Certain media have embraced and supported this production-and-marketing operation: for many years the Gambero Rosso/Slow Food Guide to the Wines of Italy has punished traditional producers by denying them recognition among the Tre Bicchieri winners. Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello are among those who have penalized. Their wines were considered to “rustic.”

—Francarlo Negro

Postscript

In recent years, regional authorities have allowed growers to plan new vines in growing sites where grape growing [for fine wine production] has never been suitable. Many of these sites have never been deforested nor used for cultivation of any kind since they face northward. These are sites where our elders wouldn’t have even thought of planting hazelnut trees: in 2008, production of Barolo and Barbaresco increased 50% with respect to production levels in 1999.

(translation by Do Bianchi, January, 2010)

The story behind La Licenziana vs. Vicenziana Barbaresco

Silvio Giamello 2005 Barbaresco Vicenziana, made from grapes in the Ovello cru of Barbaresco. Vicenziana is a named place (a lieu-dit, in French) in the cru and lies in the northernmost area of this famous growing site. Photo by Tracie B.

We depend so much today on the immediacy of the internet for information and today, more than ever, there is so much information available to consumers on wines, wineries, and wine prices — via blogging, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and subscription archives like WineSearcher and CellarTracker.

I was thoroughly impressed when I tasted the 2005 Barbaresco Vicenziana by Silvio Giamello the other day but deeply disappointed when my Google search for info about the wine proved fruitless. So I figured I’d do things the old-fashioned way: I decided to call Silvio and looked for his number at PagineBianche.it. But this dude’s not even in the phone book!

I finally found another Giamello who owned an azienda agricola (literally a farming estate or farming company) and called him in the hopes that they were relatives (there are a lot of Giamellos in Piedmont!). He didn’t have Silvio’s number but he gave me just enough geographical information to find the winery. Sheesh!

So here’s the story behind this wine…

The estate, Silvio told me, is called La Licenziana. It was planted to Nebbiolo and Dolcetto by Sivlio’s grandfather and it lies in the northernmost part of Barbaresco in Ovello (one of the famed Barbaresco crus), just a few rows in the western part of the cru, with south-eastern exposure. Silvio’s father used to bottle small amounts of the wine but sold most of the fruit to Langa négociants and also made some bulk wine. About ten years ago, Silvio decided to start bottling Barbaresco and when he researched the origins of his family’s growing site, he consulted municipal records and discovered that the name Licenziana was a dialectal corruption of Vicenziana. In antiquity, the estate was owned by a Roman noble named Lolio Vicenziano (I was able to find some info on Lolio but not much and I imagine his Latin name was Lollius, but I’ll have to get to the bottom of that later). According to Silvio, the estate was called Villa Gentiana in antiquity: villa means farmhouse in Latin and my hunch is that the designation gentiana might have been derived from gens, which means race, clan, or house, and often denotes Roman upper-class Roman citizens. In other words, it probably meant noble farmhouse. Somewhere along the way, Villa Gentiana became Vicenziana, according to Silvio.

I liked the wine so much that I bought a bottle and Tracie B and I drank it last night with a little sausage ragù that I made.

This wine was all earth, mushroomy and savory, my favorite style of Barbaresco, what I like to call “rustic.”

Silvio told me that he employs integrated farming practices and vinifies (no surprise here) in a traditional style (large old-oak cask aging).

His maximum production is around 5,000 bottles and he made roughly 3,000 of the 2005.

When I mentioned to him that there is very little info available about his wines on the internet, he said that he likes it that way: “I’m in no hurry to let people know about my wines,” he told me. It reminded of the story that Maria Teresa Mascarello told me about how her father, the legendary Bartolo, didn’t want a phone in their home. When the young Teresa complained, Bartolo finally relented and told her she could have a phone but it had to be registered in her name.

Silvio does have an email address and he promised to send me info on the 2009 harvest… but only when they’re done picking the grapes. I guess I’ll just have to wait!

Great wine, highly recommended for the pricepoint.

The red, white, and sparkling carpet at Vini Veri 2009

Posting hastily this morning as I head out for another day at the fair and then tasting later today at Dal Forno in Valpolicella… Here are some quick highlights from the “red, white, and sparkling carpet” at the 2009 gathering of Vini Veri, the “real wine” movement, “wines made how nature intended them,” as the group’s motto goes.

If ever there were a winemaker who looked like a movie star, it’s got to be Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea. I finally got to taste his 2006 Arboreus, an Etruscan-trained 100% Trebbiano vinified with extended skin contact. In a later post, I’ll write more about the wine and what Giampiero had to tell me about the 2005 vs. 2006 vintages of his Santa Chiara. The 2004 Sagrantino was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Last year, I tasted Maria Teresa Mascarello’s 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo out of barrel (literally, when the cellar master brought it up for her to taste for the first time). I was excited to taste it again a year later in bottle. She’s carrying on her father’s tradition of artist labels with polemical messages. Her “Langa Valley” label (left) is pretty hilarious.

I really dig Adelchi Follador’s natural Prosecco, which he ages on its lees and bottles in magnum. His winery, Coste Piane, also makes a still Prosecco. The wine is great, probably the best Prosecco you can find in America (imported by Dressner).

Franco turned me on to the Barbaresco Montestefano by Teobaldo Rivella. I tasted the 2004 and 2005 and was entirely blown away by how good this wine showed. It reminded me of Giacosa in style and caliber and its power and elegance made me think of an Arabian filly in a bottle.

Marco Arturi is a truly gifted writer who marries wine and literature. He posts often at Porthos. He is a steadfast defender and promoter of natural wine. We had never met before but we write to each and check in from time to time on Facebook: when we met in person it felt like we knew each other well. The whole Facebook thing is pretty cool.

Getting to taste with Franco Ziliani is one of the highlights of any trip to Italy for me. I admire him greatly for his writing, his integrity as a wine writer, and his palate, and I am proud to consider him my friend and colleague. When Franco point me in the direction of a wine, I know I’m not going to be disappointed.

Vini Veri without its co-founder Teobaldo Cappellano reminded me of the Lou Reed song “What’s Good”:

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Baldo was a wonderful man and even though the fair was great this year (and expanded to include the Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir tastings), it just didn’t feel the same without him.

The image of Baldo with his son Augusto (above) hovered over the room where he would have presented his wines.

I’ll write more on my experience at Vini Veri when I get home. Off to Valpolicella and then Alto Adige… Stay tuned…

*****

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like forever becoming
But life’s forever dealing in hurt
Now life’s like death without living
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run

What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good’s a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all

What good’s a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good’s a disease that won’t hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all

What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all

What’s good is life without living
What good’s this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It’s not fair, not fair at all

What’s good?
Not much at all

What’s good?
Life’s good
But not fair at all

— Lou Reed