Above: Daniela Mastroberardino, one of the first ladies of Italian wine, daughter of Campanian legacy winemaker Walter Mastroberardino and export manager for her family’s Terredora winery.
Yesterday found me at Tony’s in Houston, a lunch guest of Daniela Mastroberardino, who was visiting Texas and showing her wines.
I have great admiration for Daniela: when her brother Lucio passed suddenly at age 45 in January of last year, she took over his role as export director for the family’s winery.
His were big shoes to fill. Not only was Lucio the president of the Unione Italiana Vini at the time (the Italian Wines Union, one of the most powerful lobbies in the European wine trade), but he was also widely revered for his tireless efforts as an ambassador of Campania wines.
With noble Irpinian equanimity, she broached the subject immediately after we sat down.
“It’s not an easy job,” she said when I asked her about her first year traveling for the winery. “But I’m the one who is here and Lucio is not. And so I am the fortunate one.”
Her uncle Antonio Mastroberardino died almost one year to the day after her brother’s passing, she noted with the classic fatalism not uncommon among those who live in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.
Above: Daniela told Tony that she wanted to eat light and so he created a menu especially for us. The overture was a foamed egg yolk served over Umbrian black truffles and topped with caviar.
Conversation spanned Italian politics, the country’s new prime minister Renzi, his agriculture minister Martina, and the “youngest cabinet” in Italy’s history.
“It’s the first time,” she said, “that young people have the opportunity to govern. It’s their chance, finally, to make a difference” in Italy’s beleaguered economy.
Above: more black truffles were shaved tableside over delicate ravioli stuffed with corn and cheese.
I couldn’t help but ask her about the mayor of Naples’ new plan to collect DNA from the city’s estimated 80k canines so that delinquent dog walkers can be linked to their charges’ uncollected droppings.
She laughed and cited the Bourbon-era Neapolitan proverb, festa, farina, e forca ([give the people] merrymaking, flour, and gallows, an expression akin to the Latin panem et circenses), alluding to the fact that mayor may have an ulterior motive in his campaign to eradicate dog poop.
Above: the tuna belly with flying fish roe was as decadent as it was fresh and light.
Our exchange turned to the recent blog post by SlowWine editor Giancarlo Gariglio on the way Italian whites are perceived beyond the country’s borders.
“The fact that [English-language] wine writers don’t understand that many Italian white wines have aging potential,” she observed, “is owed to the way that producers have marketed them.”
“In recent years, there’s been a trend of drinking white wines when they’re still young. It’s due partly to the fact that aging the wines is a big investment.”
Jeff Porter, tastemaker wine director at Del Posto in New York, she told me, has a vertical of her family’s Fiano di Avellino Campore, which can age for 8-10 years before reaching its greatest expression, she said.
Above: lobster tail and hazelnut orzo. I love how Tony’s ad hoc menus can be so elegantly restrained. I left the lunch feeling energetic, not overwhelmed by heavy food.
Our time together was too short for me to ask her about her role as president of the Movimento Turismo del Vino, Italy’s wine tourism board.
Like her brother Lucio, Daniela is an ambassador not just for her family’s wines but also for Italian wine in general.
Before her tenure as Terredora’s export manager, she worked in the winery’s administration and didn’t travel at all for her work.
Now that she travels regularly, she’s getting accustomed to the rhythms of the road and the often heavy meals that winemakers must endure for the sake of their mission.
She seemed glad for Tony’s “light lunch” and I was glad to share a meal with a brave woman who has embraced her familial duty with gusto.