Review: “The Mystique of Barolo”

Maurizio Rosso’s “The Mystique of Barolo”

In 2002, in only my third year of visiting Piemonte, I discovered the English translation of the recently published, “Barolo: Personaggi e Mito” (“The Mystique of Barolo”). It was a rare find in the under-discovered northwest Italian wine region: a book about the region’s people, in English no less!

A panoramic view of the Barolo appellation taken from Maurizio Rosso's family farm in Diano d'Alba
A panoramic view of the Barolo appellation taken from Maurizio Rosso’s family farm in Diano d’Alba

What a beauty I unearthed! A book filled with bewitching photographs, rich history and, most notably, captivating stories about Barolo producers told in their own words.

Mystique of Barolo

For author Maurizio Rosso of Cantina Gigi Rosso on Via Alba Barolo in Castiglione Falletto, it was a labor of love. Rosso, whose own roots are buried deep in Barolo’s clay soil, gives us a unique opportunity to read the personal accounts of Barolo producers he lovingly chronicled.

Maurizio and Mia Rosso
Maurizio and Mia Rosso

Although born into a rich winemaking tradition in the heart of the Barolo appellation, Rosso pursued an education in foreign languages and literature at Università di Venezia Cà Foscari and Anglo-American literature at University of California Santa Cruz.

Rosso penned many historical novels, including the award winning “Il Castello dei Catari” (The Cathar Castle). His is a fictional account of the burning in Milan of over 1,000 Cathars from Monforte d’Alba in 1028, nearly 200 years before the much studied, frenzied annihilation of heretics in France.

Labor of Love

So why did this journalist-author turn from history and captivating tales he wove from it to a wine book? Rosso provided an answer in own words, “In those days [late 1990s] most press on Barolo was about the wines and hardly about the people.I wanted to stress the human factor and I gave the producers a chance to speak for themselves.”

During a two-year period from 1998, Rosso conducted extensive research and interviews, compiling what is more than a “mere” wine book. It’s akin to a compendium of love letters from vintners to the noble grape they collectively popularized across the globe and the land in which its vines are anchored.

Not only does Rosso capture the essence of the Barolo men, but also provides one of the few (if not only) English language accounts of Juliette (Giulia) Colbert Falletti, Marchesa di Barolo. Because of her vision, this aristocratic French saint-on-earth made it possible for today’s Barolo producers to provide the world with a noble wine from a humble land.

Historical Significance

Given some of those whose stories Rosso captured and visages Chris Meier photographed belong to men who sadly left us in the years since the book’s release, it will be treasured for generations as an historically valuable tribute to the hard work, dedication and unfailing love for the appellation by those whose families for centuries made Barolo their home.

When I first read the book, I thought perhaps it was written in English. It was not despite Rosso incredible language skills. Josephine Taylor’s translation perfectly captures the essence of Rosso’s introduction of the land and its wines that spans the first 73 pages of the book and makes accessible to Anglophones the winemakers’ words.

Stuttgart-born photographer, Chris Meier shot his beautiful photos in each season of the year. Meier, a gifted photographer specializing in gastronomy and still-life, is also a gastronome fond of Italian food and wine.  He has a penned several books about his travels including books featuring the cuisine of Sicily and Piemonte.

The product of Meier’s magical work behind his camera is intertwined with historical documents and photographs, many of which the producers provided from their family archives.

 “The Human Factor”

The “human factor” is crucial to the viability of this land and its greats wines. Yet, scores and vintages are often discussed in near sterile terms, devoid of recognition of the humanity behind the labels.

Yes, many oenophiles and journalists know producers, but do they know the stories of their families’ triumphs, tribulations and aspirations? Do they know the sacrifices made to acquire and retain their precious crus? What about the family schisms that divided centuries’ old wineries?

With Rosso’s help, we can all discover the rich human spirit needed to create these luscious wines. “The Mystique of Barolo” has been an invaluable research resource for my own book on Piemonte and the women of its wine families. It’s a must-read for every lover of food, wine and the indominable spirits of these Piemontese winemakers.

Monforte d'Alba against a backdrop of clouds and mountains.
Monforte d’Alba against a backdrop of clouds and mountains.
Sidebar: Where to find the book? Unfortunately, in the U.S. it is a pricey proposition on Amazon. My best suggestion is to jump on a plane to Malpensa (or the European gateway of your choice), hightail it to Barolo and purchase your own copy at Cantina Gigi Rosso on the main Alba-Barolo road in Castiglione Falletto. Not only will you have the opportunity to purchase this treasure, but also to taste the lovely wines of the estate and have the author sign your precious possession.
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