La Principessa di Barolo: Maria Teresa Mascarello dines at Berrys’!


How does one gauge the success of an evening’s dinner, at Berrys’ in this case? By the level of decibels or (business) cards swapped at its close?  The number of empty glasses or perhaps more crudely, by the amount of orders taken? At Andre Ostertag‘s mercurial tasting recently, for example, I measured it by the time guests remained riveted to their seats, spellbound, long after the final whistle had blown.

Maria crop

A new yardstick was created at ‘An evening with Maria Teresa Mascarello, of Barolo producer Cantina Mascarello Bartolo’, an elegant, intimate dinner for 12 Berrys’ customers in our Georgian Townhouse Long Room last week: the level of guests’ public approbation. I’d never seen customers write on the back of a dinner’s menu card, and so verbosely too, prompting one beaming customer to open up with the evidently heartfelt and generally translatable line:  ‘I love you Maria Teresa!’
But why, you might ask, the impromptu outpouring? Was it simply in recognition of Maria Teresa’s first trip to London for 20 years? In itself an honour for Berry Bros. and Rudd, her UK importer.
Or did it all begin downstairs by the fire – no crackle, just hiss, it’s gas – in the Green Room, hovering over a glass of one of Berrys’ new crop of Growers Champagnes: the lush lemony 2000 Les Chetillons from Pierre Peters? More likely it was Maria Teresa’s divine Dolcetto d’Alba that prompted a second glance (and glass?), and a dozen orders on the spot. For it’s an old vine wine whose provenance actually lies among great Nebbiolo (Barolo) vineyards of Bussia and Rue, giving the wine a distinctly superior air, as well as grace. Maria Teresa added that such is her Dolcetto’s fortunate terroir that you’d be amazed, or perhaps not, at the wine’s ability to age just like a Barolo (should you carelessly lose a bottle in your cellar). Her fullsome, fleshy, Spanish plum skin and tapenade 2006 Barbera d’Alba provoked much nodding and “mmming” with its cleansing, rapier-like acidity; the perfect foil for the plate of Antipasti: white anchovies in a salsa verde; carne cruda; vitello marinated in lemon and olive oil; onion and egg and amaretti crepes.
Perhaps it was the wave of four vintages of her traditional – four vineyards into one – Barolo: 2004, 2003, 1999 and 1989, accompanied by a Primo Piatto of tajarin pasta with pork and veal ragu, followed by a secondo of roast rack of lamb, green beans, crispy rosemary and garlic potatoes? The first two vintages apparently unaware of the fuss being made of them as they stood resolutely to attention, refusing to yield to the pressure to perform, especially in the shadow of two imposing ‘giants’ in 1999 and 1989, both in magnum. The two oldies lived up to and exceeded their billing: the 1999 capturing the rich dark herbal intensity and nervosity of the vintage, eager to please and displaying in equal measure both youth and mellowness; still ten years off its prime but the perfect match for the lamb (Maria Teresa’s favourite by the way). The 1989 appropriately crowned the evening with its fresh red berried fragrance and super suave, harmonious palate; a wine to savour away from food and proof indeed that Barolo is at its prime between 10 and 20 years-old.
Maria Teresa reminded us as we wallowed in the conviviality of the evening that great wine is more than just fermented grape juice; it’s one of the pillars of a dinner. It can have a near spiritual effect on its imbibers and on the mood of an entire gathering. I witnessed it do just that on this very night; weaving its magic (as Andre Ostertag’s certainly did), lifting spirits and enchanting all those seated round the Long Room table. Some were novices to the experience of top Barolo, not to mention fine Italian wine, but all departed inspired by what they had seen, tasted and heard. One even confided that although Bordeaux may prop up his cellar, Barolo is what he’ll be drinking in future! Evviva!
But seriously, surely the feverish finale must have been stirred up by the (my!) dessert to end all desserts: the grape-fresh, frothy and sweet 2008 Moscato d’Asti ‘Vigna Senza Nome’, Braida, poured generously into a large wine glass of mango pieces (or peaches when in season)! It’s the perfect way to end any feast, so give it a try this Christmas!
Next Week: For lovers of Italian fine wine, news of a February event not to be missed!