Paolo Scavino: Crossing over into Italy

Old grape vines, like old people, have a soul, Riccardo explained.  Take Enrico Scavino, for example.  Enrico, he always says I know more than him, but, of course, he knows more than me.

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View from the loading dock.

Enrico, the son of Paolo, was out on the fields that morning at 6:30.  He is 74 years old.  Enrico was helping with the green harvest, trimming away bunches of unripe grapes to let them decompose back into the ground.  There are only a limited number of resources, and fewer grapes means higher quality.  This rule always seems to hold true.

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The wine library at Paolo Scavino.

 

We only make wine from grapes that are at least 15 years old.  Time, suffering, deeper roots- these are things that create a great wine.  At some point back in the 60’s, Enrico decided he wanted to stop blending all of his Nebbiolo grapes together and make a wine that represented the best that his land had to offer.  Then he made the single vineyard Bric de Fiasc, 1978.  Enrico was an iconoclast, a part of a group of iconoclasts.

 

The land has been good to us, Riccardo said.  The land has given to us.  We decided that we would give something back.  He pointed at a label of the 2008 Bric de Fiasc Riserva.  This vintage of the Bric de Fiasc was the only reserve they had ever made from that land, and it was the only reserve they would ever make.  All of the proceeds from that reserve would be invested into charities that protected the land.  We’re not in America, anymore, I said.  We’re not even in France, anymore.

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The bigger barrels in the back are made of Slovenian oak. Slovenian oak barrels are sometimes used for decades.

Ricardo brought out three tasting glasses- one for me, one for my brother, and one for himself.  They were Zalto glasses.  These glasses are the best for the wine, Ricardo said.  He poured a tiny amount of wine into each glass and swirled it around until it coated the inside of the glass.  You must prepare the bed for the king, he said, and winked.

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About that Nebbiolo…

My brother told me the other day that Nebbiolo is named after the Italian word for fog.  The fog is that dusty film that covers the outside of all grapes, whether they are ripening on the vines in Piedmont, or in a plastic bag in the supermarket.  Blueberries have these fog clouds, too.  This fog is the yeast colonies that settle on the outside of the fruit, drawn the sugar stored behind the skins, I imagine.  This yeast is the yeast that eventually ferments the wine.  As any homebrewer knows, when you make beer, you have to add the yeast yourself.  When you make wine, the yeast comes to you.

 

Nebbiolo is the grape, and I will be paying it a visit in a few weeks with my sommelier chef brother.  The wine that is made from these Nebbiolo cloud grapes is Barolo.  I have tasted Barolo before with my brother.  And last week I tried a Nebbiolo d’Alba.  Both of these wines are made in Piedmont, and both of these wines are from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.  And they are so different.

 

Here is a random smattering of some other people’s word attempts to capture the personality of the Barolo:

 

a stern-faced ‘worthy’ of Italian wine; a big, tough, terrifying red; a giant of propriety; dark, chewy, and exhausting for the first few years of their life, yet which can blossom out into a remarkable shower of flavours; a class apart; massive

 

To me, a Barolo tastes like a very old house with glass windows that have started to waver with time.  The windows face east, and the sun is shining into them at an angle, and as a square of the wood heats up under the sun, it comes alive with the smells of time.  And it changes.  A carpenter once told me that wood is a vein. It changes with water, and it absorbs from the air.  The older the wood is, the more life it has absorbed and can breathe out.

 

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This is almost, very nearly, what a Barolo tastes like when it’s ripe. An earlier version of the Floor Scrapers by Caillebotte.