I've found that as I've grown older, spent more years in this industry, been lucky enough to consume wines of all shapes and sizes from far flung corners of the world, my concept of wine has become more... liberal. Refinement, elegance, perfection; these things no longer weigh as heavily in my enjoyment of a wine, and reducing the idea what's in the glass in front of me to a strictly organoleptic experience becomes, in a nutshell, a boring proposition. I want my interest engaged, my curiosity stirred, and for fear of sounding exceedingly twee, I want my emotions fully committed.
If you find yourself sometimes staring into your glass of wine feeling the same way, or at the very least think you might, I implore you to read on.
Commendatore Lino Maga’s family have been making wine from the iconic parcel of Barbacarlo since 1886. The vineyard clings to a strikingly steep slope, surrounded by forest in the hills outside Broni, deep in Lombardia's Oltrepo Pavese region. Some 300 meters above sea level, the four hectares of vines are planted over tufo, average 50 years of age and face southwest, basking all day in light.
It is a site worth fighting for, and Lino spent 23 years doing just that, waging a legal battle against the authorities and other local producers to ensure that that the parcel his family had tended for so long was recognized as their own. Vineyard work is decidedly old school, the Maga’s work by hand, avoiding the use of chemicals and come harvest time make a rigorous selection of the Croatina, Uva Rara and Ughetta (Vespolina) grapes which make up the famous blend. Wines are wild fermented in ancient casks with no temperature control, racked with the turn of the moon and bottled unfiltered in the spring. Unusually, the wines often finish fermentation here, resulting in bottles that differ markedly from year to year, something Lino rejoices in, wondering why others bother to put the vintage on the label when the wines always taste the same.
To taste these wines is to be transported to another time - sometimes rustic, often beautiful and with an honesty, transparency and charm we have not found elsewhere. This extends to the wine’s iconic labels, which offers a precise map of the plot’s geography and technical data along with a suggested pairing of ‘la bottiglia e chi la beve’, or, the bottle and the drinker. The best vintages can last for decades and, due in great part to the fact these wines have strangely flown under the radar for so long, we still have access to a number of library vintages sourced direct from the estate.