Italy is so rich and dense with life and culture that you only have to drive a few kilometers to find another monument, a new cuisine, a different landscape, a different dialect. Even with the internet and a mountain of guidebooks, there’s no substitute for a local guide — the obvious sources of information just can’t cover everything. Thus it was exciting when our friend Luca Mazzoleni took me to visit Lino Maga, who Luca described as “the Bartolo Mascarello of Oltrepo Pavese." Maga is of the same generation as Bartolo, and is similarly devoted to his idea 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. The single-vineyard Barbacarlo is probably one of the most expensive Oltrepo wines, but when it appeared for sale in New York this year I couldn’t resist. Made from roughly equal parts Croatina, Uva Rara, and Vespolina, the wine is clean and it’s very distinctive. It’s dark and savory with very complex aromatics of rhubarb, plums, violets, and tea; it’s structured and tannic, and there’s 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 my friend 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. Jamie Wolff & John Rankin
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