a superb post on #BartoloMascarello by @Levi_opens_wine

from the departement of “ubi maior minor cessat”…

I highly recommend Levi’s truly superb post on his visit to Bartolo Mascarello. I know that you will find it as thrilling and vital as I did…

Chapeau bas, Levi, and thanks for this great post…

98 & 03 B. Mascarello, 85 Tignanello, 90 Quintarelli Recioto Riserva @TonyVallone

Where do we go from here?

When my friend and client Tony Vallone opened last Thursday’s dinner (at Tony’s in Houston) with 1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, I wondered how the subsequent wines could possibly compete with such a stellar entry.

Tony paired this extraordinary bottle with a porcini mushroom risotto, made with Acquerello rice and prepared rigorously all’onda — an indisputably traditional and ideal match.

Even though the wine had begun to disassociate slightly (i.e., some light solids had begun to form in it), this bottling was the apotheosis of Barolo: earth, tar, and mushrooms on the nose, rich ripe red fruit in the mouth, all “supported” (as the Italians say) by Mascarello’s signature acidity. I was surprised by the solids in this wine (and will revisit the 98 in my cellar) but was nonetheless thoroughly impressed by the balance and nuance of this superb wine.

When I had breakfast with Angelo Gaja last month in New York, we talked about how the warm 2003 Langa vintage was such a great restaurant wine inasmuch as the wines are already showing very well (he declassified nearly 50 percent of his crop that year, he said, noting that it was an “honorable” but not “great” vintage). For producers with great growing sites (like Mascarello and Gaja, however divergent in style), it was still possible to deliver excellent wines from the early and very small harvest. Tony paired with halibut (yes, fish!) dressed with an Amatriciana sauce — a creative and decadent match that worked surprisingly and brilliantly well. I loved the way the richness and ripe fruit in this expression of B. Mascarello worked with the acidity and savory of the sauce and creamy flakiness of the fish. While I don’t think that the 03 will be a thirty-year wine, I was taken with how fresh it was and how nervy its acidity. How can you not love Bartolo Mascarello? Always a great.

The last time I tasted 85 Tignanello was in 2005 in New York. I was blown away by how different this wine was from the 1990 we tasted in 2009 at Alfonso’s. I might be wrong about this but I ascribe the difference in style to the change in winemaker that came about in that era: although the wine was conceived by Giacomo Tachis, who made its early vintages, Riccardo Cotarella took the reins at the winery in subsequent years and he nudged the wine toward a bolder and more American friendly expression.

The wood was perfectly integrated in this wine and it was vibrant and remarkably fresh. Not only was I impressed by its fitness, I also thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tony’s general manager Scott Sulma has every right to tease me about my across-the-board disdain for Super Tuscans, given my request for a second glass of this wine with my rack of lamb. A truly original wine — in its twilight but not in decline.

Quintarelli was at the peak of his genius in 1990 when he made this wine… an extraordinary vintage by one of the greatest winemakers of the twentieth century (he even made his rare white Bandito in 1990).

What an incredible bottle and what an unforgettable experience! The 14.3 alcohol in this wine was perfectly balanced by its acidity and freshness and its unlabored, subtle notes of ripe red and stone fruit were answered in counterpoint by a gentle hint of bitter almond. Absolutely brilliant, unique, and thrilling… One of the most memorable wines I’ve ever had the chance to taste…

And dulcis in fundo

For his birthday, Tony surprised cousin Marty with Baked Alaska. I love Tony’s playfulness and his love of baroque presentation, especially when it comes to nostalgic desserts like this one.

Cousin Joanne, Marty, and I were still talking about the dinner when we got back to their place in Houston. And we were STILL talking about it over breakfast the next morning.

Tony, thanks again for a night I’ll never forget.

This woman made me drink Merlot

I profiled Houston wine professional Marcy Jimenez today for the Houston Press. Here’s the link (and the story about the Merlot is true; it was a Merlot and Dolcetto blend by Trinchero, one of my favorite Natural winemakers).

In other news…

So many wines and so little time… I haven’t had a chance to write up my notes from last night’s dinner at Tony’s: 98 and 03 Bartolo Mascarello, 85 Tignanello, and 90 Quintarelli Recioto Riserva. Each one of the wines was fascinating in its own right and I’ll post my impressions early next week.

In the meantime, buon weekend yall!

Remembering Giorgio Bocca: Bartolo, pop open a bottle!

The following is my translation of Franco Ziliani’s tribute to the great Italian partisan, journalist, anti-globalizationist, lover and connoisseur of Nebbiolo, Giorgio Bocca, who died Sunday in Milan…

Photo via Il Journal.

He was allergic to any form of rhetoric and he was truly un-Italian in his respect: Italian journalist, partisan, and essayist Giorgio Bocca, 91 years old, died in Milan on Sunday. He deserves to be remembered with a dry eye and not without a touch of irony.

For this reason, I’ve decided to remember this surly, free-thinking, independent man from Piedmont not as a maestro of Italian journalism (which he was, indisputably, regardless of your political leanings) but rather as the great (and demanding) connoisseur of wine whom I had the pleasure to interview twice in his home on Via Bagutta in Milan.

One wine, above all others, was often cited in his books: Barolo, a wine for which he reserved great passion, a wine he drank only when produced by a few carefully selected and trusted producers.

And so, as I think of how Bocca has left us, it’s only natural to evoke the name of another great man from Langa, whose dry, ironic personality was intimately familiar to Bocca. When ever the writer was in the area, he’d go visit this man and they had much more in common than their love of wine: they shared a keen interest in culture, politics, and, of course, in Barolo.

I’m thinking of Bartolo Mascarello, an indisputable leftist like Giorgio Bocca, leftist but not sectarian, enlightened and enlightening, rigorous in his being in favor or against something or someone but not intolerant, perhaps not open to dialog with those whose ideas he opposed but always willing to listen.

And so as I reflect on this goodbye to the great journalist from Cuneo, Giorgio Bocca, I’d like to think that somewhere — in some corner of the imagination, I don’t know where — Bartolo Mascarello is waiting for Giorgio. He’s sporting one of his ironic, amused smiles and of course, he’s speaking in the noble dialect of Langa. He’s opening a buta — a bottle — of a special wine intended to welcome Giorgio to this truly special parlor…

Bartolo, pop open a buta! Giorgio is here!

—Franco Ziliani

The following profile appeared yesterday on the English-language version of the ANSA website.

(AGI) Milan – Giorgio Bocca died on Christmas day in Milan at 91 years of age. He had been a wartime partisan, journalist, founder of the newspaper ‘La Repubblica’ and a long-time collaborator of the Fininvest TV networks. News of his death was released by Feltrinelli, a publishing company who published several of his books and that recalled him as “a great journalist, a great combatant and a great friend”. “Since the partisan war of resistance up to these last few days of the Italian and global crisis – the publishing company continues in a note – he witnessed, observed and told the history of our Country through seven decades. Giorgio Bocca’s enquiries, short polemic articles and books have accompanied and nourished the building of civil society through many generations of Italians”. In January, Feltrinelli will pubish his latest book: ‘Grazie no, 7 idee che non dobbiamo piu’ accettare’ (‘No, thanks: 7 ideas we can no longer accept’). In the past, in addition to his journalistic activities, Bocca – who was born in Cuneo on the 28th of August 1920 – wrote several essays and his having fought with the “Giustizia e Liberta'” Partisan division often led him to tackle the issue of fascism and resistance although he also wrote books on terrorism during the ’70s, on journalism and on the problems of the South of Italy.

During the last few months, some of his comments on the ‘Meridione’ had placed him at the center of controversy after he defined Naples as ‘flea-bag’ with ‘unhealable areas’ or Palermo as a city “stinking rotten, with monstruous people gushing out of slums”. A skilled polemicist, during the last few years, he had often delved into the condition of journalism in Italy: in 2008, in an interview on the ‘Le invasioni barbariche’ TV show, he said that while the journalists of his generation “were driven by ethics” today “truth is no longer of interest” and “publishers are always on the payroll of advertisers”. Among the last recognitions awarded to him was the 2008 Ilaria Alpi Prize for his Life-Long Achievements: “All those that go into journalism do so because they hope they might reveal the truth: even if it’s difficult, I call on them and encourage them to continue along this road”.

95 B. Mascarello and Alba truffles, a marriage made in heaven

Within the gentle heart Love shelters him,
As birds within the green shade of the grove.
Before the gentle heart, in Nature’s scheme,
Love was not, nor the gentle heart ere Love.

(the incipit of “The Gentle Heart,” by Guido Guinizelli, 1230-76)

You can keep your DRC, your Bond, your Pétrus… No, those wines are not good enough and do not deserve to touch the lips of the one I love. No, their aromas and flavors are not worthy of her noble nostrils and chaste tastebuds.

No, when I dine with my wife, my signora, my lady, my dame, my donna, my domina… such wines will not suffice.

When I share a special repast with Tracie P, bring me Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello.

Many great wines have been opened, tasted, and drunk in 2010, but perhaps none thrilled us more than the Bartolo Mascarello 1995 Barolo that we shared on Saturday night at Tony’s in Houston. Over these last two years (my first two in Texas), Tony has become a friend and now a client (I write his blog). Over the weekend, he generously treated Tracie P and me to dinner in celebration of our first year as a married couple.

Sometimes a wine is only as good as the person you share it with… Tracie P had never tasted Bartolo Mascarello and it was high time that this travesty in the annals of enological history was rectififed!

Bartolo Mascarello is one of the great icons of Nebbiolo, a steadfast defender of traditional winemaking, producer of one of the greatest wines in the world, and more recently, a founder and promoter of the “real wine” movement in Italy. Like many of the great houses of Langa, the Mascarello legacy began with a grape broker, Bartolo’s father Giulio, who intimately knew the best growing sites for Nebbiolo, as his granddaughter Maria Teresa explained to me the first time I tasted with her at the winery in 2008. Today, their Barolo is still made from grapes grown in four vineyards purchased by Giulio: Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué, and Rocche. Extended submerged cap maceration and large-cask aging are still employed at the winery today, a tradition that now spans three generations.

The pairing of great Nebbiolo and shaved Alba white truffles is no cheap date but it’s one of those gastronomic experiences that will literally change your life (and when done correctly, is worth every single penny).

Tony had captain Vinny shave us truffles over a perfectly cooked white risotto by chef de cuisine Grant.

95 was a classic although not great vintage for this wine and at 15 years out, it was drinking stupendously. Bartolo Mascarello has all the hallmarks of great Barolo: the savory tar and earth flavors. But to my palate, its sottobosco flavors, notes of woodsy underbrush, are its signature. Gorgeous acidity and IMHO perfectly evolved tannin for this vintage, although this wine could certainly age for another decade or more.

Regrettably, B. Mascarello is tough to find in this country and Tony is the only restaurateur I know in Texas who features the wines on his list (in a mini-vertical no less!). Thanks to my line of work, I’ve been fortunate to taste a lot of B. Mascarello and I was thrilled to share this bottle with the love of my life.

What else did we eat?

We were disappointed that we missed Tony’s bollito misto (with bollito cart!), but he had reserved a poached capon studded with black truffles just for us. Utterly delicious…

And a night like that just couldn’t end without chef Grant’s soufflé, expertly sliced and served by captain Vinny.

What a night!

Some guys have all the luck and Nebbiolo and truffles are some girls’s best friends. I am one lucky dude to be married to one such lady.

Thanks again, Tony! That was one of the most memorable meals of our life together! We had a blast…

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:



    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!

Veronelli’s handwriting, Bartolo Mascarello’s backward thinking, and the “triumph” of barrique

You may remember a post I did not long after I launched my blog on Luigi Veronelli as Poseidon and a Trident of New Oak (and Eric the Red’s subsequent post). In that post, I translated a passage from Luigi Veronelli’s landmark 1983 Catalog of the Wines of Italy.

In my never-ending quest to apply the tools of textual bibliography* to wine writing, I chomped at the bit when I came across two subsequent editions of Veronelli’s almanac of Italian wine. After breaking away from the pack on a tour of the Tangley Oaks manor, where Terlato Wines International has its corporate offices, I found myself alone in the library: to my joyous surprise, when I opened the tomes to the title pages, I found Veronelli’s personal dedications to Tony Terlato.

I am very proud that Thony [sic] will use this book. Gino (LUIGI VERONELLI), May 12, 1989.

To Tony, in Bordeaux (but with my heart “in” Italian wine), with friendship, Luigi Veronelli, June, 22, 1989.

What a find! And what a wonderful document and example of handwriting! The “autograph” (or even better, the “idiograph”) as we call it in the study of textual bibliography reveals so much about the intentions of the author. In June of 1989, the renaissance of Italian wine in the U.S. had yet to take shape and both men played fundamental roles in the emergence of Italian wine as a fine wine category. The dedication in the second instance leads me to believe that the two men met in Bordeaux but their “hearts were in Italy.”

In Veronelli’s 1983 preface, he called the introduction of barrique aging a “provision” that “must not be delayed” in Italy. By 1986, only three short years later, he wrote of his dissatisfaction at the limited number of Italian wines he was able to include in the catalog due to space and time constraints. At the same rate, the increased number of wines “raised in barriques” marked his “triumph.”

He also writes of how he has lobbied for a single-vineyard (cru) system in Italy. He didn’t give his top rating (the Sun) to the “sublime” bottlers Bruno Giacosa or Beppe Colla in this catalog, he observes apologetically. But he did give it to Bartolo Mascarello, however reluctantly.

“Bartolo Mascarello,” he writes, [is an] “advocate of a theory that I’m forced, in his case, to accept: the best Barolo is composed by using different vineyard supplies.”

He also bemoans Violante Sobrero’s sale of his rows in Monprivato and Villero (to Mauro Mascarello?).

There’s so much more wonderful information to be culled from this bundle of sheets but that’s all I have time for today. In another lifetime, I hope to be employed by a royal court as a textual bibliographer of wine. In the meantime, I gotta make a living… thanks for reading!

* From the Bibliographical Society of America website: “Textual bibliography, the relationship between the printed text as we have it before us, and that text as conceived by its author. Handwriting is often difficult to decipher; compositors make occasional mistakes, and proofreaders sometimes fail to catch them; but (especially in the period before about 1800) we often have only the printed book itself to tell us what the author intended. Textual bibliography (sometimes called textual criticism) tries to provide us with the most accurate text of a writer’s work. The equipment of the textual bibliographer is both a profound knowledge of the work of the writer being edited (and of his or her period) and an equally profound knowledge of contemporary printing and publishing practices.”

The wine world mourns the loss of Alfredo Currado, one the “great elders” of Langa

Above: Alfredo Currado (left) and Bartolo Mascarello. Photo courtesy Weimax.

My friend Michele Scicolone sent me a Facebook message yesterday to let me know that one of the most beloved figures of Italian wine, Alfredo Currado, has sadly passed away. He will be remembered for his “pioneering” work in crafting cru Barolo and Barbaresco, for his revival of Arneis, his winery’s single-vineyard expressions of Barbera, and his legacy as a true humanist winemaker. Mr. Franco Ziliani and I have published an obituary this morning at VinoWire.

Bruno Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello meet for the first time

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…