Signore Maga welcoming us to his tasting room. With Arturo Rota & Luca Mazzoleni (photo by Nana Paturet)

Lino Maga Barbacarlo + Dinner


Sometimes I feel I must be getting stupider. Or just more naive. This sentiment is reinforced when one considers the quote from Anselme Batbie (later attributed to a number of others, from George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill): “He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.” My relationship with wine is changing, and as I grow older and spend more time in this business, I find myself becoming more liberal. Refinement and elegance no longer mean quite so much, and reducing the idea of a wine to a strictly organoleptic experience becomes, quite frankly, a boring proposition. I want my interest engaged, my curiousity stirred, and for fear of sounding exceedingly twee, I want my emotions fully committed. 

Signore Maga treating us to some wine.
(Photo by Oskar Kostecki)

The wines of Lino Maga are mysterious; quite famous among a particular wine geek crowd, and incredibly hard to pin down. Even before tasting any, I heard tell of this wine, better than all others from Oltrepo Pavese - stranger than all others. Made by a man they call "Commendatore", from hillsides exalted by Napoleon Bonaparte after his conquest of northern Italy. Some vintages were dry, some were slightly sweet. Some vintages had bubbles and were slightly sweet. Yet the people who knew of them, spoke of the wines with reverence, saying no matter what "difficulties" they might have when they are young, the wines always age into something beautiful. They are rough-hewn and magnanimous at the same time, speaking both of the earth and something divine. When I finally got the opoortunity to meet Signore Maga, he told me that all great wines need to be problematic. I agree with this sentiment.

Old bottles in the tasting room. (Photo by Oskar Kostecki)




2019 is Lino Maga's 82nd vintage. He started helping his father in the vines when he was six, and has spent the better part of a century tending the vines in the historical parcel of Barbacarlo, located above the town of Broni on north-facing slopes in the foothills of the Apennines. The property has been in his family for centuries. The vineyard, planted to Croatina, Uva Rara and Ughetta, is worked entirely by hand without the use of chemicals. The cellar work is equally hands-off: the wines ferment spontaneously without any temperature control and are raised in large botti that haven't been changed since the second world war. The wines are racked once, and then bottled without any additions in the spring following harvest, occasionally finishing fermentation in bottle.

A quiet street in Broni. (Photo by Nana Paturet)

Lino Maga has spent decades protecting the name of Barbacarlo. At one point, seeing the critical acclaim for Lino's wines, a few other producers from Oltrepo Pavese started calling their wines Barbacarlo as well, even though they were from completely different vineyards. After a few decades of legal battles with the DOC of Oltrepo Pavese, Lino Maga was able to ensure that his vineyard was recognised as a monopole, and the name was exclusive to it. In recent years they have decided to not give him DOC status, and the recent vintages have all been labelled as Vino di Provincia di Pavia.

We were able to source older vintages of Barbacarlo from the cellar of Luigi Veronelli, and are thrilled to be able to open them at a special wine dinner, outlined below. After obsessing over these wines for the past year or so, the opportunity to open so many vintages of Barbacarlo at one time has me giddy with excitement.

I would like to thank Luca Mazzoleni for making the visit to Lino Maga a possibility, and being very generous with his time and passion. I would also like to thank Nana Paturet for the pictures as well as helping to carry back the bottles from Italy. Oskar Kostecki

A yoke. (Photo by Nana Paturet)
Large format. (Photo by Nana Paturet)
A heart-warming embrace from the maestro.
(Photo by Nana Paturet)
Signore Maga enjoying one of many cigarettes,
while we enjoy his spectacular 1982
Montebuono. (Photo by Oskar Kostecki)

Dinner - Lino Maga Barbacarlo November 19, 2019 Maialino

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

  • Out of Stock
  • 0 in stock
  • $350.00

Maga, Lino 2016 Pavia Rosso IGT Barbacarlo

The bishop of Broni comes each year to sample Signore Maga's wines, and upon tasting the 2016 proclaimed it "mystical." So now Lino has a handmade plaque above his door that reads "We make mystical wine" and we as consumers have the opportunity to savor something divine.  The 2016 will age tremendously. It is one of those vintages that has a touch of residual sugar, and a plumpness to the fruit quality. The nose is full of dark and enticing notes of plum, violet, black currant and baking spice. The palate is full of energy, with great acidity giving lift to the density; it also introduces red currant, ripe raspberry, dried orange peel, along with more nutmeg and spice. With a few hours open this wine harmonizes beautifully, carrying great complexity, softness, and depth. I've had this wine three times in the past two months and each bottle was spectacular. Just a baby right now, the 2016 will age for the next 40 years easily. If you do decide to open now (and it is delicious now), a few hour decant is highly recommended. Oskar Kostecki

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $99.99

Maga, Lino 2011 Pavia Rosso IGT Barbacarlo

Lino Maga described the 2011 vintage as "ampio-abboccato" meaning broad and  slightly sweet, though it is already showing some signs of development. Slightly darker in profile than the vintages it proceeds, the nose opens with dark plum, blackberry, cassis, and licorice. The palate introduces a bit of development, with earth,  fresh cut hay, and a hint of cedar, as well as an herbaceous quality of sage. Still great acidity, and a lot of energy on the palate. With a bit of time open it starts to reveal fresher characteristics, and gains in vivacity. As with all Lino Maga wines, a healthy decant is recommended. Oskar Kostecki

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $74.99

Maga, Lino 1994 Oltrepo Pavese D.O.C Barbacarlo

A quite notorious vintage in northern Italy, 1994 was marred by weeks of rainfall in September, diluting the quality across much of the renowned growing regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. While it's hard to find concrete vintage reports on Oltrepo Pavese, we can assume some similarity; indeed the 1994 Barbacarlo is lighter in both color and mouthfeel than other vintages tasted from the 90s. Yet in no way would I say this is a lesser vintage, and as with all Maga wines, bottle age knits it together in beautiful ways. A bottle opened in Verona in April showed slightly fresher, with more raspberry, currant, and ripe red fruit. The bottle tasted in New York in September was slightly more muted on the fruit side, but showing beautiful notes of development; sage, nutmeg, baking spice, hints of cedar and tobacco leaves wonderfully integrating with notes of dried cherry and dried cranberry. There is amazing vivacity to all the Barbacarlo's I've tasted, and this is no exception. It will throw a bit of sediment, so decanting an hour before serving is recommended.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $119.99