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

Required reading: Dr. V’s Wine Politics

What I like even more than the title of Tyler Colman aka Dr. Vino’s Wine Politics (UC Press) is what the binomial title implies: “wine is politics” and “wine is — by its nature — political.”

In North America, where we consider wine a “luxury product,” we are apt to forget the historically political significance of wine and the wine trade. Over at Divino Scrivere, one of my favorite Italian wine blogs, the authors recently reminded their readers that “il vino è politico” in an eloquent post on one of the world’s most poetically engagé winemakers, Bartolo Mascarello, whose “No Barrique, No Berlusconi” labels continue to inspire the enlightened among us.

The leader of the first generation of critical theory Theodor W. Adorno wrote famously that “under the aegis of cultural industry… art and ideology are becoming one and the same thing.” In reading Dr. V’s book, I couldn’t help but think of Adorno and make an analogy to the contemporary world of wine, driven by a new “cultural industry.”

Few winemakers are as overtly political as B. Mascarello, but today more than ever, the act of winemaking and the act of wine writing are inherently ideological and therefore political. More than ever before in the history of humankind, the acts of vinification and vinography are intrinsically ideological and political expressions, whether it’s the Gallo family concocting wines for the “misery market” or Mr. Bob “the difference with me is the impact is worldwide” Parker dictating which French winemakers will be able to sell their wines this year. (Oops, sawwy Mark Squires!)

From his account of the 1960s “‘magic chef’ who could transform bad grapes into good wine” (p. 69) to his excellent Keynesian approach to the hegemony of American wine writers, Dr. V provides meticulous historical background and astute insight into the powers that drive wine trends and sales in our country:

    “As John Maynard Keynes noted in his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, to try to predict the winner of a lineup of one hundred contestants in a beauty contest, the best tactic is to ‘favor an average definition of beauty rather than a personal one.’ Reviews by a powerful critic can organize the wine market into good, better and best, and prices will follow suit. But they may also steer consumers away from wines they might otherwise prefer.” (pp. 118-19)

Europeans are acutely aware of the political nature of wine: just last week, one Italian politician compared himself to a politically charged wine, Brunello, while another snubbed a famous Italian wine with historically political connotations, Lambrusco. Unfortunately, American wine lovers have remained in the political dark and know little about why they drink and even prefer the wines the find in their wine stores and supermarkets. I applaud Dr. V for this excellent scholarly work, sure to become “required reading” in any serious wine education program.

In other news…

Do Bianchi did not publish a review of Alice Feiring’s new book simply because my friendship with Alice precludes me writing an entirely unbiased assessment but I cannot recommend it more highly. Do check out Leonardo Lopate’s recent interview with Alice: I really liked the definition of “natural wine.”

In other other news…

Check out this 1970s Gallo ad for “Blush Chablis”: “It’s what happens when a white wine decides to blush.”

Is Mascarello the new Che Guevara?

Above: waiter Lindsay Smith was wearing the Bartolo Mascarello t-shirt at Terroir Thursday.

During my junior year of college at the Università di Padova in 1987, dorm life (at Casa dello Studente Monte Cengio) required: 1) drinking sangria from a trash can; 2) knowing the words to Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up”; and owning at least one Che Guevara t-shirt (there were also certain skills that proved useful but we won’t go into those now).

I was blown away when I spotted a camouflage-green Bartolo Mascarello t-shirt reminiscent of the Che t’s we used to wear way back when (and still favored by college students across the world) at Terroir — a new, radical, and vehemently anti-Parkerization wine bar in the East Village (click through the website to read the owners’ manifesto).

One of Italy’s greatest winemakers, Bartolo Mascarello remained a steadfast defender of traditional winemaking and the concept of terroir as others in Barolo and Barbaresco moved toward a more modern style. He was a colorful character, beloved on both sides of the Atlantic, and he never shied from blending traditionalist winemaking, leftist ideology, and charged political views. One of his most famous labels read “No Berlusconi, no barrique” — an apt, poignant, and pungent analogy between the use of barrique aging (and those who favored it) and Italy’s richest man and then prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi (who once famously told journalist Enzo Biagi, “If I don’t enter politics, I will go to jail and become bankrupt.”). Check out Eric’s obituary of the great Bartolo.

My childhood friend and electronic performer extraordinaire Irwin (left) was in New York last week for a recording session and so we connected last Thursday at Terroir.

I asked chef and co-owner Marco Canora to talk to us about the restaurant’s concept and he launched into a zealous diatribe against Robert Parker balanced by a passionate elegiac on Mascarello. One thing that struck me about his harangue was that we, the lovers and defenders of terroir-driven and natural wines, are quick to rail against Parker, but we often neglect to champion and lionize our heroes.

The Che Guevara t-shirt phenomenon may be wrinkle free but it’s not free of irony: the ideals for which Guevara fought and died aren’t exactly embodied by the Andy Wahrolian reproduction of his likeness on t-shirts mass-marketed to naïve college students. But if a locally printed Mascarello t-shirt campaign can help to spread awareness of one of natural wine’s champions, then I’m all for it.

The wine list at neonate Terroir is short and young (Mark and waiter Lindsay Smith told me that it will soon be growing). I ordered the oldest bottle on the list, the 2001 Olek-Mery Chinon Cuvée Des Tireaux. It was fantastic: light in the mouth with earthly Chinon flavors. I also enjoyed a glass of Cicala’s 2005 Asprinio, a citrusy grape from Campania that you don’t see a lot in America.

Irwin and I were both really hungry and we ordered a bunch of stuff: the baccalà (above) had just the right amount of garlic in it and the meatballs were among the best I’ve ever had (Marco’s mother’s recipe) although its tomato coulis was too watery.

Now, if they could just get some older vintages of Mascarello on that list, I’d be sold.