Last week, we sat down and thumbed through some old editions of the Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy. All of them dated back to the era when Slow Food was still publishing the guide and Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini was still the editor-in-chief.
We found three great quotes about Mario Pesce (read them here) and as promised, here are notes on the first one — perhaps the most important.
“Wine fads, fashions and even sea changes have never altered Mario Pesce’s philosophy. For Mario, a great wine never drinks well when young.”
(Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy 2001)
So little was written about Mario Pesce while he was still alive (he died in 2004). He didn’t found the Scarpa winery and estate but he was the one that lifted it to greatness in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, he died before the new wave of wine writing and heightened interest in Italian wines began to take shape.
But he does speak through the massive library of wines that he left behind. And his philosophy, as described above, also manifests itself in the winery’s approach to viticulture, winemaking, and the pace at which it releases its labels.
That’s the 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Bogliona, the winery’s flagship, in the photo above. Some will find this hard to believe but 2008 is the winery’s current release for that wine.
Most top producers of cru-designate Barbera are shipping their 2016s and 2015s. Scarpa, on the other hand, is shipping a wine that’s 12 years old.
Scarpa’s financial model wouldn’t be possible today if Mario Pesce hadn’t had the vision that he used to hold back wines in the winery’s cellar. Where most wineries aim to ship all the wine they have (in order to create cash flow), Pesce came up with a creative model that allowed him to hold on to sizable allocations.
It also allows Scarpa to sell wine even following a bad vintage when they wouldn’t have enough wine to supply the market.
But most importantly, in keeping with Pesce’s approach, it allows Scarpa to sell the wines when the winery feels they are ready to drink.
The 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Bogliona that I recently tasted had plenty of years ahead of it. But it’s also drinking spectacularly right now, with notes of underripe and ripe black fruit, rich earthiness, and electric acidity that makes the wine extremely fresh despite its age. It was extraordinary.
And it wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Pesce who believed that a great wine never drinks well when young.