Category Archives: Wine

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

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