"They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven, is he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel" The Scarlet Pimpernel Movie 1982
About 10 years ago while on a visit to Torino to meet my wife’s cousins, I was tasked to find a suitable present for them. I wandered out of our inner city hotel doing my usual “leave it to providence” routine. I found my way to a bar owned by a quite drunk Belgian who I was eventually able to get to understand my quest. He enthusiastically referred me to a bottle of Massimo Penna Sori Tec. “Buonissimo” he whispered. He was right, the Italian cugini loved it.
Two years later I had started importing wine and I returned to Italy and tried to track Massimo down. No website, no phone listing. I did have an email address but no-one ever responded. It proved impossible to find Massimo and I had to enlist the assistance of my wife's cousin to get the appointment. After much persistence she organised a visit. One sunny autumn day 7 of us, my 4 plus Maria's cousin, wife and daughter, set out from Torino on our quest to track down the Pimpernel.
The road up to Massimo's winery just out of Alba is a two way road masquerading as a one way....these are common in Italy. With my wife pleading me to "abandon ship" on a couple of occasions, we eventually wound our way up to Massimo's winery.....well at least the GPS told us it was....there was no sign to signify the winery. We drove through the narrow gate to be greeted by 3 (enthusiastically - I hoped) barking dogs....one a particularly large, three legged variety. A middle aged woman came out and identified herself as Massimo's mother and referred us to a small cellar, while she went to find her son.
Several minutes later the mystery man finally revealed himself to us. An understated, passionate man who was completely unfazed by being put upon by 7 strangers, and proceeded to host an amazing tasting . We all tasted through the entire portfolio after which Massimo declared, "I like you guys" and suggested we join him for lunch. He jumped on his Moto Guzzi (of course) and we followed him through the curving stradi of Barolo to a Michelin 2 star restaurant. An amazing meal followed and many more Penna wines. As everyone was enjoying the dessert degustation (true) I sneaked out the back to pay the bill. The owner implored "You cannot pay, he will beats me"....I think she was joking about the violence part....but I could not let a man we had met for the first time that day pay for 7 guests. Massimo was not impressed. We returned to the winery where he loaded us up with wine for the epic 45 minute return journey. And so the mystery ended. We had met the Scarlet Pimpernel of Piemonte....and he was everything you would want a mystery man to be.
I have visited Massimo consistently since but never bought more than a few bottles for myself. I could not simply justify the risk bringing in a pallet of Barolo due to its expense and my limited market for these types of wines.
A visit in April 2018 was the most extraordinary tasting of my life. I tasted 10 wines made by Massimo and rated every single one at 94 points and above. Three were rated at 98 points. Now you could say that maybe I was entranced by my surroundings, and I could not argue, even though his tasting room is rudimentary….but Massimo himself is a passionate and beguiling host.
When I was in Italy last year I decided enough was enough. I wrote to my regular buyers and offered to import Massimo's wines to Australia on their behalf, provided payment was made up front. Massimo gave me discounted pricing and I kept my margin as low as possible to make it happen. It was an outstanding success and the magical wines found their way to Sydney and eventually all over Australia early this year. The Penna wines have without doubt spawned more spontaneous positive feedback than any wines I have imported.
The wines of Piemonte, especially Barolo and Barbaresco, are the ultimate Italian wines. Massimo Penna is an artisan who plies his trade from some of the very best organic vineyard locations in the area. Production is only 80,000 bottles per annum. It is a privilege to represent Massimo in Australia and we will do a similar style upfront payment importation of his wines every year.
"I don't match wines with food, I match wines with people" Massimo Penna, 16 June 2020