Commendatore Lino Maga’s family have been making wine from their single cru, Barbacarlo, since 1886. The vineyard clings to a very steep slope surrounded by forest in the hills outside Broni, Oltrepò Pavese. Some 300 metres above sea level, the four hectares of vines are planted over tufo, on average 50 years old and exposed 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 to ensure that that this monopole his family had tended for so long was recognised 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 grapes which make up the famous blend. Wines are wild fermented in ancient casks with no temperature control. They are racked with the turn of the moon and bottled unfiltered in the spring. Unusually, the wines 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 label, 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’, the bottle and the drinker.
The best vintages can last for decades and thankfully many are still available from the Maga’s home in Broni. Ever since visiting several years ago we dreamed of bringing the wines to London. Sat around a table littered with open bottles, cigarettes, hunks of bread and the local Salami di Varzi, Lino asked us why they weren’t already here, recalling they were very popular at a certain trattoria in Soho in the 1960’s. Such is the history of Barbacarlo.
A few years on we finally have a few cases of our favourite vintages from that day. We hope you find as much joy in them as we do.