The Schachter factor was in high gear on Tuesday night at The Tasting Kitchen in Los Angeles. Good friend David Schachter reached deep in his cellar for a bottle he knew would thrill me (as it would anyone who knows the great wines of the world): Giuseppe Mascarello 1997 Barolo Monprivato Ca’ d’ Morissio, Mauro Mascarello’s top bottling, from one of the great if somewhat maligned vintages of the twentieth century.
The 1997 harvest was and remains a classic example of semiotician Harold Bloom’s “misunderstanding,” what he would have called the anxiety of influence (@Comrade Howard, I know it’s a stretch but I think you would agree!). Similar to what happened for 2000, many American wine writers (and you all know whom I’m talking about) praised the warm 1997 vintage for the fruit-forward, hot (read highly alcoholic) wines it delivered. In the view of most Piedmont producers, 97 was a good vintage… not a great one. Wines from this harvest, in their view, were not “classic” expressions of their territorio. They were good and sometimes great but not worthy of the hype that they attained in their trans-Atlantic crossing.
Winemaker Mauro Mascarello’s bottling of his Ca’ d’ Morissio vineyard (above, visited by me and Tracie P and top Italian wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani in February 2010) was an exception to this paradigm: thanks to the unique microclimate of this deservedly famous growing site (owing to exposure and elevation), Mauro is able to obtain Barolo benchmarks even in hotter vintages. In fact, to my knowledge, he was the only Barolo producer in the five core townships to produce his flagship single-vineyard wine Ca’ d’ Morissio for the extremely hot 2003 vintage (that’s the Ca’ d’ Morissio, “Maurizio’s house,” at the top of the hill, btw).
Mauro Mascarello is a remarkable man, a 19th-century man, a man whose spiritual integrity and wholesome warmth are expressed in his warm, sturdy handshake and personal manner. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and taste with him three times now (each thanks to Mr. Ziliani) and I am always as impressed by the man himself as I am by the incredible wines he produces. Many Barolo insiders point to his winery as the most recently canonized member in the pantheon of the truly great producers in the appellation.
One of the hallmarks of traditional Barolo is large-cask aging: Tracie P snapped the above photo of me when we visited with Mr. Ziliani to show how large “large” is at Giuseppe Mascarello! Mauro’s father was in the lumber business and he built the cask in the photo as an experiment in dimension, said Mauro. (For a fantastic English-language profile of G. Mascarello, I highly recommend this excellent post by my blogging colleague Gregory dal Piaz who knows this winery and its wines perhaps better than anyone else in the U.S.)
I am very fortunate to have tasted a lot of fantastic wine this year (and many of the highlights have been in the last few weeks) but 97 G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato Ca’ d’ Morissio? An astounding wine. Layers and layers of nuanced fruit and earth on the nose, with this fantastic black licorice, almost menthol note that is always a signature in wines from this vineyard. Rich tar and mushroom in the mouth, with harmonious red berry and red stone fruit. But it was the acidity, tongue-splitting acidity, as Tracie P would have said — even in the warm 1997 vintage! — that took this wine over the top. In Italian wine parlance, you often say that the acidity is a “backbone” that “supports” the flavors of the wine: this wine was the embodiment of this notion.
O, and the food at the Tasting Kitchen (yesterday named 4th best new restaurant in the U.S. by Alan Richman in GQ)?
Buckwheat bigoli with lamb and anchovy ragù was my favorite.
I also loved Chef Casey Lane’s unabashed use of heat in dishes like this tagliolini with baby squid (the fact that my WordPress spellcheck knows tagliolini is remarkable, no?). We spoke to Casey before our meal: he is a super cool, mellow guy (unusual for chefs of his caliber) and he’s from Texas! Awesome dude…
Housemade chorizo and roast pork loin were FANTASTIC with the Ca’ d’ Morissio.
Thanks again, David! And congrats, Casey! An amazing meal and an UNFORGETTABLE wine…