Category Archives: Italy

Barolo’s Maria Teresa Mascarello and Her Bad-Ass Mom

We arrived in Barolo, rang the doorbell at Cantina Mascarello and the squat, silver-haired, extremely bad-ass looking nonna who answered the door almost immediately started berating us for not being able to speak Italian. I can’t translate what she said, of course, because I don’t speak Italian, but the nut of her complaint was this: Weren’t you supposed to learn another language in high school? What languages did you learn? Thus: shouldn’t you understand Italian?

I liked her immediately.

She waved us down a corridor, where her daughter Maria Teresa Mascarello, the 42-year old winemaker of Bartolo Mascarello, stood watching with some amusement.

Maria Teresa Mascarello in her wine cellar

Maria Teresa Mascarello in her wine cellar

My mother is very authentic, she later sighed. A bit too much so, sometimes.

Bartolo Mascarello—named for Maria’s father, who died in 2005—is renowned for its very old-school, very traditional Barolos which a bunch of wine geeks, myself included, adore. (Its Barberas, which may be had at a significantly gentler price point, are nothing to sneeze at, either. I haven’t tasted Mascarello’s Dolcetto or Freisa wines yet, but I wouldn’t bet against ‘em.) How traditional? Until this current vintage, the winery handpasted labels on the 32,000 bottles a year it produces; this year, the winery finally sprung for a machine that will do this grunt work.

Dangerous modern technology sighted at Cantina Mascarello

Dangerous modern technology sighted at Cantina Mascarello

Maria also refuses to use email, and apparently, refuses to use the Internet at all. But that’s nothing. Her Dad refused to have a telephone, and when a younger Maria finally convinced him to get one, he insisted it be listed under her name, not his.

Laurel and I adore the wine, but we also totally adored Maria, who’s intense and focused and impassioned and a fascinating character: at ease in the modern world of today and blah blah blah, but ferociously bonded to the wine ethos hewed to by her Dad and grandfather. I don’t have as many conversations with someone around my age who is so comfortable throwing around the words “tradition” and “history”—as in, my traditions and my history. The wine world is all high-falutin’ and monied; highly mannered, highly auctionable and wholly globalized. But meeting Maria hammers home that wine is, at heart, an agricultural process, one long run by people whose families have been rooted in certain small towns forever. Barolo’s population is under 1,000. Maria grew up in the house connected to her winery. She still lives there, with her mother. Her Mom—the same bad-ass nonna who gave us grief for the shortcomings of our schooling—was, dear God, Maria’s teacher for three years of elementary school. (Maria claims not to remember those three years particularly well.)

Mascarello produces its wines organically, and has forever, but Maria refuses to make a big deal out of this fact. (Her forebears didn’t either.) I’ve been thinking a lot about biodynamic wine lately—and Laurel and I had a blast visiting Stefano Bellotti (Cascina Degli Ulivi), who’s believed to be the first Italian winemaker to go biodynamic—but Maria made a couple of strong old-school arguments against it. One, biodynamic wine requires a very particular and forgiving environment to produce it: it’s easy in a climate like Sicily’s, she said, but not so much in the hills above her town that produce the nebbiolo grapes Barolo is made from. (The biodynamic purists will argue back that wine grapes don’t have to be grown in places where they’re hard to produce biodynamically. I admire this argument for its purity, but it’s one that would pretty much entirely knock both Piedmont and Burgundy off the wine map.) And that there are limits to a totally chemical-averse lifestyle: “When I have polmonite [pneumonia], I take antibiotico, not homeopatico.”

In any event: her wines completely rule. In a quick tasting after a lengthy interview and a long, lingering look at  the private Mascarello cellar, Laurel liked the ’04 Barolo the best. But I was surprised by how enjoyable—how purely pleasurable– the 2005 Barolo is today. And this for a young Barolo from  a traditional producer whose wines are invariably tagged “austere”.

We did our best to drag Maria to dinner, but we caught her the night before her winery was to begin harvesting its nebbiolo grapes—the Barolo grape–and for this reason she turned us down. Alas, we didn’t persuade her to part with any of these:

1958 Barolo, back when the winery was called Cantina Mascarello

1958 Barolo, back when the winery was called Cantina Mascarello

Or these:

Magnums of Mascarello's 1990 Barolos. I think I was weeping at this point.

Magnums of Mascarello's 1990 Barolos. I think I was weeping at this point.

Ah well. Next time, perhaps.



Filed under Italy, Wine

Biodynamic wine — it’s alive!

Bellotti is a well-known biodynamic wine maker

Bellotti is a well-known biodynamic wine maker

Today, we spent the afternoon at the farmhouse/vineyard of Stefano Bellotti, the “father” of biodynamic wine. Jon has become very taken with this subject of late and has been setting up daily excursions to meet the makers of such wines. Biodynamic wine is made with no fertilizer, pesticides, sulfites or other additives. It ferments through the action of wild yeast. My favorite line of Bellotti’s: “We do not make wine. We accompany [it]. The micro-organismos make the wine.”

Here are some pictures on Flickr from the day.

By the way, here is our trip itinerary for the six weeks of this leg of our trip. Feel free to make suggestions, although the days are pretty jam packed!

The Itinerary


Filed under Italy, Natural Wine, Wine

Mombaruzzo, Italy

Thus begins the next leg of our three-week trip to Italy. While here, we will be exploring the wines, cheeses, sausages, and truffles!@! of two highly-regarded food and wine regions: Piedmont and Tuscany. Today we drove to Mombaruzzo, Italy, which is the Piedmont region.

This is the view from our bathroom window where we are staying at Hotel LaVilla, which I highly recommend! Check out my review on TripAdvisor.

There are some other shots of our Tour di Piedmont here: more PHOTOS.

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Gargnano Graffito

Yesterday, we had a lovely walk up a long and rock-strewn road, shedding the irritation of cars and people the further along we got. Toward the end, there was a long-abandoned concrete overpass jutting out of the mountainside. And, of course, the requisite graffiti.

Man cannot seem to resist painting caves. In this case, the vivid drawings made a luscious visual addition to the  already stunning landscape.

For more PICTURES, click here: Gargnano.


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Yes To Italy. No To The IHT.

GARGNANO, ITALY:  Before I left I was thinking about the things I would miss the most about New York, and the first things that came to mind was the print editions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Each morning I’ve been away—thus far, two—I wandered around a little nervously until I could get a International Herald Tribune into my hands.

The IHT is, essentially, the foreign edition of the New York Times, which has owned it singlehandedly since it broke some china in late 2002 in order to stop sharing it with the Washington Post. (This has allowed the Times to own 100% of its losses since then, but that’s another story.)  But it’s not the same as getting the New York Times.  The IHT feels distant. It lacks all urgency. It doesn’t demand your attention—a problem I have with “serious” English-language European newspapers in general.  The IHT feels Canadian in its remove from the events in America and elsewhere it describes, even though practically everything in it was written by an American and for an American audience. I have to squint at it really hard to make it resemble the New York Times; it’s the Times through a blurry glass. I don’t think this is just the jetlag talking, either.

Other than that: Italy is beautiful. Immediately after landing in Venice we headed over to Al Covo to talk about natural Italian wines with Al Covo owner Cesare Benelli and his fabulous and hilarious sommelier sommelier pal Mauro Lorenzon. (Lorenzon also writes a blog–hope you can understand Italian–and runs this wine bar where we had a rollicking late dinner. Late for us, at least.)

Yesterday it took Laurel and me several hours to realize it was Saturday, not Sunday.


Filed under International Herald Tribune, Italy, Natural Wine, Wine

a Villa to die for (seriously, bury me here!)

MORE PHOTOS posted here.

It is Day 4 in Italy and it’s hard to believe how quickly the hours in each day are passing. What have we done in the last four days since we left New York City? Gotten fatter, mostly.

We’ve eaten like hogs about to be slaughtered and exercised about as much. Hate that lousy feeling. Trying to avoid eating bread; but in Italy, I could eat an entire bread meal, the bread is just so good. Waiter, per favore, solo pan per me.

This place where we are staying, Villa Feltrinelli, is like a rest home for the rich. I don’t know what we were thinking staying here!  [Point of fact: though the Feltrinelli web site brags about artists and statesmen having stayed there, it fails to mention that the Villa was once the temporary “prison” of Mussolini.] We should have called this our second honeymoon, it’s that over the top. And the other guests here certainly don’t seem to be jumping up an down with excitement the way we are (but quietly, so as not to call too much attention to ourselves). They seem to take the place in stride.

I guess you’re supposed to be accustomed to just eating and drinking and reading and taking in the views, sitting by the water, recuperating from your life of luxury.

Alright, I’ll admit, this is rather grand, but I still need the counterpoint. I need to feel I have earned it, paying with punishing physical or intellectual exercise. I cannot merely rest. I need something to rest against. Equal and opposite force.

Stress/recovery. Hunger/satiation. That’s what I need. Off for a long walk.

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