Every once in a while you come across one of those amazing pieces of writing that makes you stop in your tracks, put down your coffee during breakfast, and focus all of your thought and imagination on the words on the page (or, as the case may be, screen) before you. A text where the experiential and the aesthetic sensibility combine to transfigure the words’s meaning and sound, revealing unexpected and welcomed clues to the mystery of life that surrounds us.
That’s what happened to me this morning during our daily breakfast ritual chez Tracie B, as I scanned The New York Times online and my Google reader feed.
I think the same thing happened to Franco, when the same text appeared in his inbox earlier today.
The below translation has been culled from an e-letter authored by Francarlo Negro, restaurateur, Nebbiolo and Langa afficionado, and owner of the Cantina del Rondò in Neive (Cuneo, Piedmont). Franco re-posted it earlier today on his excellent blog Vino al Vino.
It’s entitled, “The Smell of Money Guides the Evolution of Taste,” and in the first part, Francarlo recalls a meeting organized by his father between Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa (their first!) in late July, 1967 (not long after I was born!).
After I read it to Tracie B this morning over coffee, she said, “You have to translate that!” By the time the words left her delicate lips, I had already begun… Buona lettura!
1967: Bruno Giacosa meets Bartolo Mascarello
At the end of July, 1967, with the hills inundated by a delicate, sultry fog, my father, who was a friend of Bartolo Mascarello from Barolo, organized a visit with Bruno Giacosa from Neive. I was 17 years old and I was excited: I didn’t want to miss a word of the conversation that I was about to witness.
Back then, there was no demand from the international market. It was difficult to sell fine wine, which, at the time, was only opened on special occasions. Adulteration was rampant: large wineries like Marchesi di Barolo inundated the market unchecked and dishonest farmers cut our wines with concentrated must that arrived from the South. Manduria in Apulia was the principal source of the supply.
Everyone knew of the case of a Fiat worker, originally from Neive, who would obtain this hodge-podge from a large local cellar and would proceed to fill his casks every spring and sell his “authentic wine” to his fellow factory workers.
Together with a few others, Giacosa and Mascarello waived the flag of authenticity high. With confidence, they identified the words authentic and local character with the purity and identity of the two great wines of Langa, the fruit of Piedmontese enological culture.
The cool air of Bartolo’s cellar greeted us when we arrived: we had traveled over 12 kilometers of asphalt at 35° [Celsius, 95° F.] in our Fiat 600 with the windows rolled down. The tall casks [botti] bulged around the waist, made from Slavonian oak. Some held 50 brinte (2,500 liters), others 100 brinte. In all, there was just over 15,000 liters of Barolo, from different vintages and different vineyards, all from hills in the township of Barolo.
Bartolo climbed up the ladder leaning against the casks, he drew off a little bit of wine, and handed us the glasses. And so the ritual of tasting began.
Despite Bartolo Mascarello’s repeated pleas that Bruno address him using [the familiar] tu, Bruno Giacosa addressed Bartolo using Voi, a sign of ancient respect for the authority of his interlocutor. The air was filled with great respect, between the men and for the wine. In silence, we delicately sipped the wine, as we aerated the small tastes in our mouths.
I remember that the 1964 Barolo leapt from the glass, the elegant, regal wine already releasing its full magnificence. The nose revealed subtle notes of violet and white spring flowers. In the mouth, you perceived the tart sensation of the small buds of the vine during blossoming. You could not taste any wood, as wood was not meant to be apparent. The cask — the botte — was intended to play one role alone: it was meant to accompany the Nebbiolo, sharp and brusque at birth, on its slow journey as it aged and became austere and elegant.
That’s all I had time for today, but, wow, what power in these 450 words! How much information — so many clues to the history and story of Barolo — in this dense text! I’ll translate more in the days that follow. But, wow, just ponder this passage for a few days. Stay tuned…