A Barolo Story: No Barrique, No Berlusconi


My anti-January theme continues.

Chestnut and Black Truffle risotto (recipe below) with a Barolo from legendary ‘last of the mohicans’ producer Bartolo Mascarello. One of the famous traditionalists of Barolo - he famously scrawled ‘No Barrique, No Berlusconi!’ - two things he thought were an affront to Italy, which became a (now much collectible) label.

Why did he have it in for the noble barrique? (French oak barrels). Barolo, made from Nebbiolo is one of the most tannic, austere wines there is. In Piedmonte once I attended a Barolo dinner, served with lots of young Barolo. Let’s just say it was an insight into masochism. (This was in 2014 and those wines would still have away to go now). You must wait ten years, at least, before age renders their powerful tannins slightly more biddable.... but by putting them in smaller, French style barrels (barrique) they can be tamed more quickly, made more obliging and supple in their youth, thanks to the softening effects of new oak and greater air exchange per volume of liquid.

But the traditional way is to age them in humungous old oak barrels, and just be patient. Like we were with this one. We brought it back from our trip (tongues just about recovering) where we’d had the pleasure to meet Maria Teresa, Bartolo’s daughter at the winery, who keeps traditions alive. No website, no Instagram. (Perish the thought!) We saw the huge old barrels, and all the back vintages dustily hoarded away like treasure. She told us how the previous night they’d been enjoying some magnums from the 60’s, (I forget which year exactly!). What an experience. And the perfect wine to open on a random Wednesday night in January, don’t you think? If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

What did it taste like?

Barolo is a wine that really defies your expectations; it has a pale, brick red colour that totally belies the power you then feel on your tongue. The paleness primes you to expect something almost weak. But don't be fooled. The tannins are real! The nose is powerful but hard to describe, full of more contrasts - they are feminine and floral, but also somehow... muscular. The whole thing is heady, something you absolutely can't just knock back, whether intentionally or not. The wine demands your attention, from the way it assaults your palate, (like a deep tissue massage, just the right side of pleasure) - and then bewitches you with an aroma quite unlike other wines.

Bartolo Mascarello, Barolo DOCG, Canubbi, 2009, Piemonte, Italy

Pale, brick red colour, still with firm tannins, and an ethereal perfume I can’t place. Tar and roses is the classic descriptor... maybe, maybe not, something indescribable. More practice required me thinks.

Simple Chestnut and Truffle Risotto Recipe

This is a recipe designed to hero the taste of truffles, nothing else.. because, why would you? The Chestnuts are there to add texture and a nice flavour that doesn't detract from the truffles, which is why there aren't even any extra herbs or anything in this!

Serves 2 generously

Olive Oil

Knob of Butter

300g Risotto Rice

1 x medium onion, finely chopped.

1 Litre vegetable stock

500ml dry white wine

Chestnuts (e.g Merchant Gourmet Vacuum sealed), roughly chopped.

Fresh Black or White Truffles, finely sliced.

1 Cup of Parmesan, grated

Truffle Oil

Optional 2 Tbsp Truffle Parmesan Cream (available from Italian delis)

Make the risotto as usual - melt butter and olive oil, soften onions. Add rice dry, cooking for 60 seconds, always stirring to coat.

Add some slugs of the wine, and repeat process, alternating between stock and wine, until all has been absorbed and the rice has swelled and softened, which should take around 20 mins, continually stirring so the bottom doesn't catch.

Add the truffle parmesan cream, grated parmesan, chestnuts, black pepper and stir.

Top with more grated parmesan and the finely sliced truffles, plus a generous drizzle of the truffle oil.


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