When, about 8 years ago, our friend Luca Mazzoleni offered to take me to visit Lino Maga, I thought I wasn’t interested – more fool I. But Luca described Maga as “the Bartolo Mascarello of Oltrepo Pavese", so I couldn’t refuse. Maga is of the same generation as Bartolo, and he is similarly devoted to an ideal of local tradition. On several occasions after our visit when I mentioned Maga to some Italian friends (more than one of whom called Maga “legendary”) it was clear that he is held in very high esteem, as a great winemaker, as a defender of the best of the past, and as someone who hasn’t yielded to what Maga himself referred to as “the globalization of wine”. Our visit was a great experience — most importantly I loved the wines, which are by far my favorite that I’ve tasted from the Oltrepo. Made from roughly equal parts Croatina, Uva Rara, and Ughetta, the wines are clean and very distinctive. Dark and savory with very complex aromatics of rhubarb, plums, violets, and tea, they are structured and tannic, and there can be a bit of spritz on the palate which gives lift. Chemicals have never been used in the vines; fermentation is spontaneous, in large old botti; aside from a couple of rackings no other processes are done — the bottled wine has sediment. After tasting at Maga, I could see Luca’s point in drawing a parallel between Maga and Bartolo Mascarello; aside from being of the same generation and sharing the same philosophy of wine, Luca’s view was based on the quality of their wine: both winemakers reject flashy effects, both are determined to sustain the tradition and practices of their families and of their regions; both obtain authentic wines of the highest possible quality.
We now have a very rare opportunity to taste a full range of Maga’s great wine called Barbacarlo. This is thanks to Luca Mazzoleni, who among many other accomplishments was assistant to the great Italian wine and food writer Luigi Veronelli. Luca has helped us secure some wine from Veronelli’s extraordinary cellar, and Luca will join us for dinner; an evening with Luca is guaranteed to be both entertaining and fascinating, as he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Italian wine that his mentor Veronelli would be proud of.
But first the wine: from the Veronelli cellar we will taste Barbacarlo 1968, 1969, 1970 1971, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, and we’ve sourced 1994, 2011, and 2016 from the New York importer. I resist the idea of once-in-a-lifetime, but this might just be it! Jamie Wolff
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