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.