Friday, January 3, 2020

Can Paolo Bea Solve The Montefalco Paradox

I'm thinking about Italian wine, from north to south, about all of the great reds that come to mind.

Only ten years ago, Barolo, Brunello and a smattering of Super Tuscans, were the handful of wines that could lay claim to international renown. Back then, the wines of Etna were in their infant stages, and Taurasi had proven itself only to the insiders, collectors and Italophiles that took the time to understand and embrace it. Chianti Classico was still associated with pizza parlors, and Barbaresco was nothing more than the little sister to Barolo. However, all of that has changed in recent years. No longer do we need to make excuses for Aglianico in the south, explain the value of Sicily, or make the case for Barbaresco’s unique attributes. As for Chianti, its popularity has exploded, and it’s now giving Brunello a run for its money.

However, there is one wine that you’ve probably heard rumblings of, that hasn’t risen to the occasion, and that’s Sagrantino.

So the question is, why?

This big, gusty, structured red seemed to have everything going for it: hailing from a classic, hilltop medieval village, able to age and mature for decades, and championed by a winery that had won multiple awards for their wines, which put Montefalco on the map.

So why are we not celebrating the elevation of the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG into the same company of Barolo, Brunello, Turasi and the like?

In my opinion, it’s not the small size of the vineyards planted, the gripping tannins that Sagrantino is known for, or a lack of marketing. No; in my opinion, it’s the winemaking.

In an attempt to make Sagrantino more palatable for the average consumer, or international consumer, the majority of winemakers continue to age their wines in new oak. Even the world-renowned Arnaldo Caprai winery, and their award-winning 25 Anni, represents what is possible when Sagrantino has been tamed, or sheathed, in a cloak of French Barrique. I consider this to be a horrible shame when you consider that of all of the producers in Montefalco, Caprai should have the raw materials to make some of the greatest expressions of varietal wine in the region. Here we have one of the first wineries to take Sagrantino seriously, going as far back as 1971, eight years prior to the creation of the Montefalco DOC. Caprai brought vineyard analysis and clonal research to a region that was filled with farmers who made local wines for local palates. Their success has a lot to do with why so many other producers continue to make Sagrantino in this “international” style.

However, there is still hope for Sagrantino--I haven’t given up on its ability to produce one of the greatest wines in Italy, and the reason why is Paolo Bea.

Before I get too deeply into how Paolo Bea has proven Sagrantino’s worth to me, let’s first delve a bit into what makes the raw materials in Montefalco so precious in the first place.

Located in the landlocked region of Umbria, Montefalco (or “falcon mountain”) suffers from being surrounded by some pretty serious “wine-related” neighbors. With Tuscany to the northwest, Marche to the northeast, Lazio to the southwest, and Abruzzo extremely close in the southeast, Umbria and Sagrantino compete with the popular Sangiovese, Aglianico and Montepulciano grapes. That said, two things that Umbria has been able to claim fame to are production of top-shelf olive oils and black truffles from Norcia.

However, they also have a perfect terroir for the production of world-class red wine.

The DOC and DOCGs of Montefalco and Sagrantino sit in a basin, surrounded by the Apennines mountains, growing in soils rich in clay with a mix of sand and limestone. However, as you push into higher elevations, rising up to 1500 feet, you’ll also find clay-calcrete, an almost cement-like blend of clay, gravel, sand, and silt, making it difficult for vines to survive, but as they say, the strong always do. The region is warm yet moderated by winds coming down from the Apennines, along with Meditarainan influences carried across the Tiber river.

Sagrantino, renowned for both its deep red color, but also powerful tannins, can be difficult to tame. In fact, going back centuries, Sagrantino’s first leading role was in the production of sweet wines, where their power and broad tannins would be balanced by rich textures and riper fruit developed through Passito (air-drying the grapes). There is also Sangiovese, as Umbria sits in the heart of the Sangiovese belt, producing, what is, in my opinion, a spicier version than their neighbors, with grippier tannins to help set them apart. These two grapes make up the lion’s share of red grapes produced in Montefalco.

The DOC Rosso di Montefalco is composed primarily of Sangiovese from 60-80% with a minimum of 10% Sagrantino and other red varieties. While the DOCG, Sagrantino di Montefalco must be 100% Sagrantino, a grape whose intensity of color is only matched by its intensity of tannic bite--which brings us back to Paolo Bea, one of the few producers I know of that age their wine entirely in large, neutral wood, and yet manage to create wines that require aging, but are also impossible to ignore in their youth. In my opinion, this should be the benchmark of the region.

The Paolo Bea Paradigm

What keeps Paolo Bea flying under the radar is a combination of low quantity, no desire to market themselves, and an unwillingness to submit wines for review to the press, which sounds quite a bit like another producer who I have often compared them to: Giuseppe Quintarelli.

Giampiero Bea
The history of the Bea family is closely tied to Montefalco, going back as far as the 16th century. This is a family of farmers who have cultivated olives, grains, vegetables and grapes since the beginning, maintaining a wholly natural ecosystem, which is focused on the fruits that nature provides them. There is no winemaking wizardry and no chemicals in the vineyard or winery. Instead, it’s a complete respect for what each vintage brings to the table, and the Bea family’s desire to bottle that expression, capturing the essence of terroir, without taking anything away. This approach has obviously worked, as vintage after vintage, whether it was warm, dry, wet, abundant, short or simply perfect, presents something pleasurable to the senses. What’s more, supply could never fill the demand that has been created for the wines, and the family has no interest in expanding. Instead, the current generation, represented by Giampiero and Giuseppe, continues to work their 5 hectares of vineyards by hand, choosing to only use only ⅓ of their 15-hectare property for the production of grapes, even though they could easily continue planting to expand. Their vineyards occupy the higher elevations of Montefalco terroir, reaching up to 1500 feet above sea level, and taking advantage of a diverse mix of soils. It’s here that they have begun to vineyard-designate their lineup of Sagrantino, to further accentuate the esteemed terroir of the region.

In the winery, gentle macerations and slow fermentations can last from three weeks to as many as seven, before the wine is placed into steel tanks for a year to rest, and then large neutral wood for up to two years. At this point, the wines are bottled without filtration and extremely low, if any, added sulfur, and left to rest for another year. This process is a long, painstaking effort that is extremely costly to the producer as well, and it results in the 2012 vintage being their current release, seven years after harvest.

Paolo Bea with his grandson
However, the proof is in every bottle of Paolo Bea. Don’t get me wrong; this is natural winemaking in the extreme, and as a result you’ll sometimes find some volatility or a large amount of sediment. However, for every slightly off bottle of Paolo Bea, there are ten more that are otherworldly, kaleidoscopic, ethereal examples of what Sagrantino and Sangiovese are capable of from Umbria. The fact is, once you taste a Paolo Bea Sagrantino, you’ll be asking yourself why more producers aren’t trying to replicate their processes. However, just like the wines of Giuseppe Quintarelli, it’s almost impossible to recreate such a perfect union between terroir, wine, and family.

Yet, I wonder why other producers don’t seem open to trying.

Here is the rub: in a time when the majority of consumers are looking for more varietal purity, less “wine making”, and the ability to observe a “sense of place” from each bottle of wine, how can Sagrantino ever become the next great Italian red, as most wineries continue to produce it in a contradictory fashion?

As for Paolo Bea, I’ve been a fan for many years now, going back to the 2003 vintage, and I thought it was about time that I checked in on some of the current releases and maturing vintages, to not only give myself a good idea of where the wines are going, but to also share the results with our readers. I focused on the reds, but it’s also important to mention that Bea excels with white wines as well (a story for another time). It also pays to mention that Bea excels in both warm and cool vintages, lending very different expressions of place, but as I already said--it’s about what Mother Nature gives, not what they make of it.


On to the Tasting Notes.

The San Valentino vineyard hosts 50-year-old vines, planted in soils dominated by clay. It sits at 1300 feet altitude and creates Bea’s open-knit expression that is amazing upon release but also matures for up to a decade in the cellar. The composition is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Montepulciano.

2012 Paolo Bea Umbria San Valentino - What an incredible bouquet on the 2012 San Valentino. It comes in at 1.5% less ABV than the previous vintage and shows depths of dark, earthy, almost animal-like complexities. Here I found balsamic spice over dried strawberries, with moist dark soil tones, crushed lava stone, dusty dried florals, and hints of brown sugar. On the palate, silky textures flooded the senses with flavors of sour cherry, tangerine, savory spice, and masses of exotic inner florals, as zesty acids made the mouth water, while concentrated tart red fruits and hints of tannin tugged at the side of my cheeks. The finish was long, zesty, spicy, and tart, yet still so energetic, as the wine’s vibrant acids refused to give in to the intensity within. The result was a spellbinding and tactile experience that is impossible not to like, and it’s easily one of my favorite vintages to date for San Valentino. (93 points)

The Cerrete vineyard sits at the highest point in Montefalco, between 1300 and 1500 feet above sea level. The soil is clay and limestone-infused with small pebbles from an ancient riverbed, and used to create Bea’s most ethereal yet complex Sagrantino. However, the Bea family also produces the Rosso de Veo from the young vines here. Frankly, you’d be amazed that these are “young” vines.

2011 Paolo Bea Rosso de Véo - It's amazing to think that this is Paolo Bea's "young vine" bottling of the Cerrete vineyard, as it shows so much intensity, yet balance as well. Here I found a rich and seductive bouquet of crushed raspberry, dried cherries, smoke, dried red florals, spice box, hints of undergrowth, and animal musk. On the palate, silky textures unfolded to reveal black cherry, made vibrant through zesty acids, with a mix of spicy florals, tongue-curling notes of tangerine, cinnamon, and some of the best managed Sagrantino tannins I have ever experienced. The finish was amazingly long, as raspberry and cherry tones seemed to linger for two to three minutes, along with sweet and savory spices, minerals, inner florals, and a hint of tannin. This is a gorgeous wine that may have been helped by the warmer vintage, yet it achieved something very special nonetheless. I can't wait to taste the 2011 Cerrete. (93 points)

The Pipparello vineyard is a hilltop site in Montefalco at 1300 feet above sea level. The soil is clay and gravel. Here, the Bea family farms varying percentages (depending on vintage) around 60% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano, and 15% Sagrantino to produce their Montefalco Rosso.

2011 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Pipparello - The nose was dark and brooding, as masses of balsamic-infused black cherries, sweet herbs, brown (almost, curry-like) spices, fresh tobacco, and sweet minerals lifted from the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures, which caressed the senses, just as a wave of tart cherry mixed with zesty acids, minerals and tannin set in, creating a cheek-puckering experience. The finish was incredibly long and structured, with continued intensity from the palate, as grippy tannin held firm against notes of tart cherry fruit, black tea, spice, and minerals. Pipparello is a massive and towering wine in this vintage, with a tight finish, yet a lovely note of sweet red berries lingered for minutes on the back palate.

It's a serious "experience wine" that just needs a few more years to come together. I, for one, can't wait to see how it matures. (94 points)

2008 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Pipparello - The nose was dark and brooding with masses of dried black cherry and cedar up front; yet beneath it, notes of exotic spice, tobacco, dried flowers, crushed raspberry, and undergrowth gained volume and depth with time in the glass, until they permeated the senses entirely. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures, which seemed to hover on the senses, offset by a tart acid core, yet also complemented by enveloping bittersweet cherry, quinine, spice, and inner earth tones. The finish was incredibly long with saturating dried cherry fruit, sweet inner florals, hints of gruff tannin--yet juicy and fresh, with a note of hard red candies and licorice which seemed to literally last for minutes on the mid-palate. (93 points)

2005 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Pipparello - The 2005 Paolo Bea Pipparello Riserva showed a bouquet of ripe crushed cherry and raspberry, infused with dried orange, exotic spice, and dusty sweet florals, before evolving to show undergrowth, savory herbs and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found soft textures offset by brisk acids, as fleshy, zesty red fruits caressed the senses, giving way to a mix of savory spice and cheek-puckering minerality. The finish was long, with a tart twang of red berry fruit and acids, as hints of lingering tannin faded against a backdrop of inner florals. (94 points)

2003 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Pipparello - The nose was dark and savory, showing ripe plum, crushed black cherry, sage, cherry tobacco, balsamic spice, cumin, and hints of licorice. On the palate, silky, yet remarkably fresh textures, gave way to zesty spiced cherry with energizing acidity, sweet and savory spices, herbs, and florals which reminded me of childhood Christmas with hints of lingering tannin. The finish was long and fresh, as zesty acids created a mouthwatering experience, coupled with resonating cherry and spices. It's amazing to think that this is the product of a warm vintage. (92 points)

The Pagliaro vineyard is situated at 1300 feet in altitude, and it is dedicated in large part to Sagrantino. This is the location that produces Bea’s flagship Sagrantino.

2012 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro - The ‘12 Pagliaro showed depths of red berry fruit with balsamic spice, crushed plum, sweet herbs, black licorice, dark earth, and a hint of volatility on the nose. On the palate, silky textures gave way to concentrated tart black and red fruits, as dark mineral tones, savory spice, and notes of black tea soaked the senses, while mounting tannin quickly dried them out. The finish was long, structured, and almost chewy, showing gripping tannin with lingering dried black cherry, saline minerals, and savory herbs in an imposing expression of Sagrantino. I can only imagine a decade or more until the 2012 reaches maturity, yet I believe it’s worth the wait, as the wine is poised like a bomb waiting to explode. (95 points)

2011 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro - The nose was dark and intense, leaning toward earth tones yet with a massive wave of crushed black cherry to balance it. With time in the glass, cherry seemed to change to ripe strawberry, as sweet spices, smoky minerals, tobacco, and woodland earth tones joined the mix. On the palate, soft, caressing textures washed effortlessly across the senses, with a graceful lift I’ve seldom experienced, showing a combination of both ripe and tart red fruits, herbal tea notes, sweet inner florals, and exotic spice, all kept lively through brisk acidity. The finish was dry and long, exposing the large-scale Sagrantino tannins I had expected, yet there was a soft edge to them here, making the experience both structured yet enjoyable at this stage. Dried black cherries lingered, as well as minerals, a hint of orange citrus, and lovely inner florals, as a sweet note of red candies seemed to resonate for well over a minute. (94 points)

2005 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro - The nose displayed fresh mineral intensity and moist, dark earth tones up front, evolving to show savory brown spices over ripe black cherry, backed by wild herbs and a hint of animal musk. On the palate, velvety textures flooded the senses with waves of dark red fruits, yet firmed up as brisk acids settled in, unveiling savory herbal tones and a tart twang of peppery spice; yet through it all, grippy tannin slowly gained strength. The finish was long and structured, yet its resonating acids allowed the '05 Pagliaro to sign off on a "early maturity" note, as lingering cherry and spice slowly faded amidst dried inner florals. (94 points)

Credits and Resources

Article, Tasting notes and bottle photos by Eric Guido

Special thank you to Rosenthal Wine Merchants, and Blake Johnson for use of family and vineyard photos.

Click to visit the official Paolo Bea website.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Year in Review & Top Wines of 2019

Touring Vineyards with Daniel Landi
Here we are, quickly approaching the end of 2019, a year that seemed to fly by due to just how jam-packed it was with events, tastings, and memorable moments. It was also a year of new discoveries, which I consider myself lucky to have been a part of, and I am very happy to share these with my readers. What's more, I gained a new respect for a region that I had dismissed to a certain degree, and in doing so have now opened my eyes to a category of domestic wine that will be filling my cellar for decades to come. As for tastings, I was fortunate to have been included in some of the most amazing events I can remember throughout my time as a wine lover, which became apparent as I toiled with the winner of my Top Back-Vintage Wine of the Year. And so, without further ado:

Welcome to my 2019 year in review.

This was a year that started at a high point of tastings, leading off with a dinner at the new Legacy Records, NYC. The hype is warranted at this trendy westside location, with the Honey Lacquered Duck being the food highlight of the night. As for wine, however, starting the year with a taste of the 1995 Poggio di Sotto Brunello Riserva set a high standard for the year. Anyone that follows my notes probably knows that I am a huge fan of the Piero Palmuci era of Poggio di Sotto - the only sad thing is how expensive these wines have become. However, this is a rare occasion where it’s truly warranted. This evening also began a series of vintage Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo tastings that continued throughout the year (and yes, I feel blessed for that).

As we moved into February, like most years, the onslaught of producer visits and organized tastings began. Keep in mind that there isn’t much for a winemaker to do in the winery or vineyards during the months of January and February, so most get on the road to visit accounts and talk about new vintages. One of the standouts this year was, undoubtedly, Luca Currado of the Vietti winery, who in conjunction with Jeff Porter (ex-Bastianich Beverage Director and the mastermind behind Sip Trip), held a focused tasting of the Vietti crus that all go into making the Barolo Castiglione. The Castiglione Barolo is one of the best values to be found in the region, vintage after vintage, and at this tasting, Luca went into detail to explain the terroir of each vineyard, just how important they are from an individual standpoint, and how each of them affects the final blend of Castiglione. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

Next up was a memorable 20-year retrospective of 1999 Barolo, organized by our private Barolo group, which was formed through the Vinous forums. It was a remarkable evening, showing how this vintage has slowly worked its way toward maturity, and in doing so, proved its worth. 1999 fell through the cracks for a large number of collectors since it landed in the middle of an amazing streak of great vintages in Barolo, but its importance is apparent. My closing remarks from that evening still echo clear: “Do you have enough 1999 Barolo in your cellar?”

From there, an event I look forward to each year: I started to gear up for Antonio Galloni’s, La Festa del Barolo. What made the 2019 edition of Antonio’s event truly special was his Rare Wine Dinner, held at Nomad’s rooftop and featuring a rare vertical of large-format, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva. This was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting, with the majority of the wines coming from one collector’s cellar, and a bottling that is never commercially released. The only way to build a collection such as this was to be a friend of the family or a long-standing, regular customer at the cellar door for decades. Not only was it like tasting history, it also showed how much provenance counts--the wines were pristine. This was also the night that I tasted my Top Back Vintage Wine of the Year (hint, hint).

As the year moved on and tastings continued to present themselves, one that stands out and opened my eyes to a neglected category was La Tablee, which featured wines from the Rhone, where each producer put a new vintage against a mature one for attendees to taste. The Rhone, particularly the south, has always represented a love-hate relationship for me, as I was introduced to it in the heights of the Parker Era of wines from the region. 2005, 2007, and 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape still lines my cellar, but I find those vintages a little hard to stomach. That said, what this tasting gave me was a newfound respect for the “lesser vintages”, which have since provided me with a great deal of pleasure, 2004, 2006, and 2012 being years that I follow closely now. What’s more, if you haven’t tasted the wines from the 2015 through 2017 vintages, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Châteauneuf du Pape has completely upped its game.

Tasting with Gonzalo Iturriaga of Vega Sicilia
Next up was a sit-down with Gonzalo Iturriaga, head winemaker of Vega Sicilia, who was showing the most recent vintages from all of the Vega properties across Spain and even into Hungary. What struck me most was how these wines have evolved over the short period of time that I’ve had the pleasure of tasting them. Spain is changing right before our eyes, and Vega isn’t missing a beat. Little did I know at the time that this tasting would be followed by a trip to Spain only two months later, but not to see the historic properties. Instead, this was a trip to visit the “off-the-beaten-path” producers of the region, and what better way to preface such a trip than by reading Luis Gutierrez’s recent book, The New Vignerons. I was enthralled by the The New Vignerons, which turned out to be an easy page-turner, filled with new producer names and regions that I had never thought to explore. It was a great preface to my visit, which brings me to my most memorable moment of 2019--my trip to Spain.

Preparing to climb to Tumba del Rey Moro
Having already been to the major wine-producing regions of Spain, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect, but little did I know that this trip would introduce me to a whole new way of thinking about the region. Today’s Spain is no longer about centuries of tradition and trying to be or replicate the prestige of any other wine-producing region. Instead, it’s about defining terroir, looking to locations that have over a century's worth of vinous history, yet had never previously been known outside of the small mountain-top villages that enjoyed them. Names like Dominio del Aguila, Comando G, Envinate, Casa Castillo, and just about anything with Raul Perez’s name attached to it are sure bets for the future. The only problem is how limited they are.

Chris Figgins of Figgins Family and Leonetti
As is usually the case, the travel period of each year seems to go at breakneck speed, which brings me to the next trip of 2019, and my realization of just how important this oft-forgotten region of domestic wine is: Washington State. My trip out west to Washington proved that this is a category to watch. As we all lament over the cost and limited nature of California Cabernet and Bordeaux blends, here we have a region that produces some of the best examples that I’ve tasted in years, and they’re doing it at a fraction of the price. What’s more, these aren’t California look-alikes, nor are they trying to be Bordeaux. Instead, Washington falls comfortably in the middle of the two; lovers of both the Old World and the new can find a lot to like here.

Five Years of
Morrell Catalogs
My return home meant the start of the 2019 Morrell Wine Catalog, a time that I’m incredibly proud of, but as is usually the case, envelops the entire months of July through October. In the end, it’s always been worth the effort, and this year was no different. Volume 5 of Morrell Wine’s catalog is the largest (184 pages), most comprehensive version to date, along with a digital version that contains 240 pages worth of content. Each year, I struggle with the dilemma of how to outdo the year before. This year, it was through the introduction of many new producers that were discovered throughout the year. Even the cover is a departure from the norm, showcasing one of the most dramatic vineyards I’ve ever encountered: the old vines of Pintia in Toro, Spain.

With November came our gearing up for the Holidays, as well as sneaking in one more Giuseppe Rinaldi tasting for good measure, courtesy of a good friend and collector. But also, the start of a new project which I’m very proud of, and that’s the new producer video interview series, which began with Giuseppe Vajra of G.D. Vajra, and has now also includes Claudia Cigliuti and Andrea Sottimano. Being a collector puts me in a position where I find myself with a lot of questions for winemakers, which I believe consumers are eager to know the answers to as well. Keep an eye out for many more to come in 2020. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for many years.

Behind The Scenes with
Andrea Sottimano
Which brings us to December and what has yet to come. I know the holiday season always presents some great tasting opportunities and surprises, but what’s gotten me even more excited is what 2020 will bring. In fact, I’ve never been so eager to get a jump on a new year as I am right now, because I have a feeling that 2020 will be EPIC. Until then, enjoy my top wines of 2019, and cheers to the new year ahead of us.

Eric Guido’s Top Wines of 2019

Daniel Landi of Comando G
Spain, Italy and Washington hold the top spots of my list this year, and each of these wines has earned their place. In fact, 5 years ago, I would never have believed you if you had told me that these would be my top three wines. Why? When it comes to Spain, all I had the opportunity to taste were oak-slicked wines of dark ripe fruit. As for Fontodi in Tuscany, I was a devout lover of Vigna del Sorbo, and I would always say that Fallianello was too “Internationally-styled”. And then there’s Washington, which I respected, but simply didn’t understand at the time. However, today, Spain has a new pulse, Fontodi and Tuscany has achieved an unprecedented increase in quality and level of balance, and Washington continues to refine, improve, and also benefit from one of the best recent vintages: 2016.

2016 Familia Nin-Ortiz Garnacha Priorat Nit de Nin Coma D'en Romeu - Now this is unique and highly enjoyable, showing a display of dried strawberries, offset by spicy orange zest, hints of lime, exotic spice, savory herbs, dried red florals, smoky minerals and hints of brown sugar. On the palate, I found velvety textures, enlivened by fresh acidity, continuing the citrus theme, as ripe red berry fruits, sweet spices, and hints of fine tannin settled on the senses. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to the long, long finish, showing saturating minerality, spices, red fruits and hints of wild herbs, as lingering acids buzzed upon the senses. (97 points)

To My Surprise, Flaccianello Edged out
VdS in 2016
2016 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT - The nose was alluringly dark, spicy and floral, with crushed stone, giving way to blackberry, savory meats, animal tones and wild herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by zesty acidity, with saturating spices and mineral-infused dark fruits cascading across the senses in a wonderfully fresh expression, before fine tannins settled in. The finish was long, almost salty and savory, with tart blackberry and minerals soaking the senses with grippy tannins. Wow. A totally different expression of young Flaccianello, and I like it a lot. In fact, I’m noticing that Flaccianello has been impressing me a bit more than Vigna del Sorbo in recent vintages. (97 points)

2016 Leonetti Cellar Reserve Walla Walla Valley - Here I found a mix of dark, herbal-infused fruit, with lifting mineral tones and sweet spice. On the palate, velvety textures host a wave of ripe dark fruits, sweet spice, and minerals, as inner florals emerged, along with saturating tannins. The finish was long, intense, spicy, but also perfectly balanced, as dark fruit and tannin slowly faded from the senses. The 2016 Reserve is already showing so beautifully, yet it is also built for the long haul. (97 points)

Following up my top three is a series of wines that are almost impossible to categorize by quality. In fact, wines holding the fourth through tenth spots are all overperformers. In many cases, they are overlooked or misunderstood, but in my mind, they represent the future of each region.

Like Splitting Hairs Trying To Decide:
The 2015 Scavino Barolo Collection
2015 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc - The nose was intense and viral, as the bouquet wafted up from the glass with masses of dark red fruit, crushed stone, dried rosy florals, wild herbs and smoke. On the palate, I found silky textures, displaying fleshy ripe cherry offset by zesty spices, minerals and acids. The finish was long, resonating on mineral-infused dark red fruits with energizing acids and balsamic spice, as fine tannins slowly mounted. This is so easy to like already, but it is structured and balanced for the long haul. (96 points)

2016 Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi Vino de la Tierra de Castilla El Reventón RV - The nose was slightly restrained, yet very, very pretty, showing fresh, ripe strawberries off the vine, moist earth, dusty sweet spices, a mix of exotic florals, stone dust, and hints of white pepper. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures, with an almost-creamy feel, delivering a sweet but peppery display of ripe and savory cherry, raspberry sauce, confectionary spices, minerals and wonderfully balancing acidity. The finish was long, but subtle, with pretty red fruits, red licorice, spice, and masses of tactile inner florals, as I felt a warming, pleasing sensation of heat going down. What a crazy wine and so easy to like already. (96 points)

2016 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré - The ‘16 Pajore was pure elegance in a glass. The nose showed dark wild berries, dried roses, spice box, dusty earth and hints of floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures over a weighty framework, as brisk acidity added poise, showing a mix of cherries and strawberries, with sweet inner florals and spice. It was so balanced and, at times, pliant. As its youthful tannins mounted, the finish slowly resolved into an expression of dried red fruits and clenching tannin. (96 points)

2013 San Giusto a Rentennano La Ricolma Toscana IGT - The ‘13 La Ricolma showed a darker and spicier expression than the vintages surrounding it. Here I found a bouquet of crushed black raspberry, tart cherry, sage, dusty earth tones, stone dust and dried florals. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by savory spice, minerals and lively acidity, as an intense mix of saturating red and blue fruits bombarded the senses, leaving youthful tannins in their wake. The finish was long and structured, as zesty acids gave life to lingering tart cherry, spice and minerals. There are many years of evolution in store for the ‘13, and anyone who has it in their cellar will be very happy in another ten years. (96 points)

Cristiana Tiberio with Levi Dalton
and Giuseppe Palmieri
2015 Tiberio Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Fonte Canale - The nose was deeply expressive, showing more like a steely white Burg than what you’d expect from an Italian Bianco. Here I found a display of rich white stone fruits, savory minerals, rubbed sage, sea air, and hints of spice. On the palate, I found round textures on a medium-bodied frame showing savory minerals, green apple, young peach, and saline-infused yellow citrus. The finish was long, with saturating mineral tones, resonating tart apple acidity, hints of lemon peel, and inner florals. (95 points)

2016 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape - The nose was incredibly fresh and pretty, showing crushed stone with dusty, violet pastille infused blackberry, fresh black cherry, and dark, dried floral tones. On the palate, I found velvety textures, yet still so fresh and lifted by brisk acids, seeming like liquid violet florals splashing across all of the senses, showing a mix of blue and black fruits with sweet spice, minerals and hints of tannin. The finish was fresh, with just a hint of heat, displaying saturating young tannin and dark floral-infused black fruits. This is so fresh yet still structured to age. I can imagine that 2-3 years in the cellar will reveal an even better experience. Wow! (95 points)

2016 Domaine Saint-Damien Gigondas La Louisiane - The nose was intense, with a complex display of blackberry, crushed stone, smoke, incense shop, exotic spice, wild mountain herbs, pepper and hints of violet flowers. On the palate, I found silky, verging on velvety, textures, offset by a mix of compact blackberry and cherry fruit, followed by spices, minerals and fine tannin, which all seemed quite poised, like a bomb waiting to go off, as brisk acidity kept the experience juicy and pleasurable, and an inner floral note of violets toward the finale. The finish was long and structured, as fine tannins saturated the senses, leaving savory minerals and dried black fruits to linger on and on. This is a serious Gigondas, distinctly savory, and in need of some time in the cellar. It's a gorgeous wine. (95 points)

Wines eleven through thirteen hold a special place in my heart, as I originally intended this to be a “Top Ten” list, but I just couldn’t leave them out. Each of these wines truly moved me. Granted, all three of them are very limited, but in my opinion, they are all worth seeking out, and they represent amazing value in their category.

2016 Domaine Georges Vernay Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge - The nose was gorgeous, with purple florals giving way to smoky crushed stone, blackberries, a dusting of violet candies, and sweet spice. On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by salty minerals, tart black fruits, brisk acids and savory spice. The finish was long, saturating the senses with tart black fruits, savory dried meats, minerals and young tannins. This is just a baby, and with so much potential. (95 points)

2017 Montsecano Pinot Noir - The nose was gorgeous and exotic, more lifted than the 2016, as a burst of orange and yellow citrus gave way to bright strawberry, sweet, dusty minerals, a bouquet of fresh florals and spice. On the palate, I found silky, pure red-fruited textures, guided by laser-like acidity, as a mix of saline-minerals, tangerine and sweet herbs flooded the senses. The finish was long, yet quite feminine and graceful, echoing the citrus-tinged red fruits from the nose and palate, while showing sizzling acids, salty minerals and fine tannin, with a hint of tamarind that seemed to last for well over a minute. At this time, the gutsy ‘16 has a leg up on this vintage, but with time, that opinion might change. (94 points)

2014 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges Blanc - What a gorgeous intoxicating bouquet on the ‘14 Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc. It literally kept me coming back to the glass over and over again. On the nose, I found a savory, salty expression of sea air mixed with smoked meats, green olive, and savory spice. Behind it I found the prettiest white floral tones. On the palate, soft textures flooded the senses, as a wave of acid-infused, salty minerals cut through them like razor, revealing white peaches and inner floral tones. The finish was long and spicy, with wild herbs and resonating minerality. What a gorgeous wine. (94 points)

My Top Scoring Vintage Wine of the Year

I know that finding this wine in the market will be extremely difficult, but if you have the means, then it’s worth the hunt. 1978 is considered one of the greatest vintages of the region, and Giuseppe Rinaldi captured all of that magic in his 1978 Brunate Riserva. I was humbled by this wine, moved, and left in awe. It is now ranked among a small list of wines that have achieved a 99-point score from me.

1978 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Riserva Speciale delle Brunate - The 1978 was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We often hear about how great this vintage is, yet we seldom get to experience it. The nose was dark, rich, layered…intense, showing a mix of brown spice, crushed black fruits, dried strawberries, balsamic tones, savory herbs, dusty soil and hints of sour animal muskiness. On the palate, silky textures were perfectly balanced by refreshing acids and lingering tannin, as red berries and spice tones emerged, along with lifting minerality and masses of dark inner florals. It finished long, balanced, and wonderfully enjoyable, with lingering spice, earthy minerals and resonating dried florals. What a dramatic and perfectly matured bottle of Barolo. I will never forget it. (99 points)

My Top Scoring Current Release Wine of the Year

It’s one thing to read about a producer and a region and another to actually visit them. My trip to Spain included a hike up the Tumba del Rey Moro vineyard in the Gredos mountains, and I must say that it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts. At 1200-1300 meters above sea level, this centennial vineyard exists in spite of its poor rocky soils and desolate climate, but it produces Garnacha of such remarkable beauty that I was left speechless. I sat with this glass for at least an hour, watching it blossom and evolve. Only a master could capture such immaculate purity in a bottle, and Comando G is apparently up to the task.

2016 Comando G Tumba del Rey Moro - To walk through and witness the magnitude of the Rey Moro vineyard, and then taste the wine, was such an amazing experience all on its own. Here I found an absolutely stunning, savory and alluring bouquet, showing mountain and brush herbs, cracked pepper, smoke, crushed rocks, and embers, as the wine opened more in the glass, evolving into ripe strawberries fresh on the vine, rose petals, and exotic spices. On the palate, silky textures flooded the senses, laced with peppery spices, liquid florals, fresh strawberries, and saline-infused minerality, with energy in abundance as brisk acids made the mouth water, and youthful tannin slowly mounted. The finish was long, savory and almost salty with its intense minerality, darker fruit than the nose and palate, and lingering savory herbs. What an incredible wine. So unique, so fresh, and so intense. (98 points)

Best Value Buy of the Year

What’s a top wines list without the value score of the year, and the 2017 Descendientes de José Palacios Pétalos is the winner. This is a remarkably energetic wine that balances between sweet and savory, along with an acid spine that keeps it juicy and fresh. It can pair with a wide variety of foods from seafood to hearty red meats, and it simply keeps you coming back to the glass over and over again. The Pétalos is a field blend that’s based on Mencia, but it also contains a mix of other reds, and even a few indigienous white varieties. It’s off the beaten path, but a path worth traveling. I highly recommend seeking it out.

2017 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos - The nose showed a mix of dusty cherry and strawberry fruits, with savory smokiness and admirable richness, as notes of sage and floral undergrowth developed. On the palate, I found soft yet vibrant textures giving way to zesty acids, with spicy red and black berries, violet-tinged inner florals and saturating minerality. The finish was long, spicy, and staining to the senses, with notes of mineral-soaked raspberry and hints of fine tannin. To think that this is their entry-level wine is amazing. (92 points)

Luca Currado of Vietti, who speaks of passion
for Piedmont through his every word.
And that’s that. Another year done, and quite an amazing one at that. I want to thank all of the amazing friends, collectors and business partners who opened these amazing wines for me.

Eric Guido

Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido

Thanks you to David Bowler Wine

Thank you to IPO Wines

Thank you to Skurnik Wines

Thank you to Cristiana Tiberio and Jeff Porter

Thank you to Luca Currado, Giuseppe Vaira, Claudia Cigluti and Andrea Sottimano

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Family, Tradition & Barolo: Video Interview with Giuseppe Vaira

My sit-down and chat with Giuseppe Vaira of G.D. Vajra to talk about family, the history of Vajra, life-long traditions, and what the future looks like.

One of the most impactful moments of my career in wine, was meeting Giuseppe Vaira over ten years ago, at a local shop, as he talked about his love of the region and wine.  His spirit, and passion moved me, as well as having a taste of the great wines G.D. Vajra produces.  Imagine my excitement over having the opportunity to sit with Giuseppe and ask him all the questions that my heart desired. 

This interview is packed with insights from Giuseppe on the region, a great family history and some Easter eggs regarding what we have to look forward to in the years ahead.