Friday, September 10, 2010

Paolo Bea: A legacy in the making.

I will be the first to admit that when I taste wines that cost more than the average consumer is willing to spend, I often leave the experience feeling that the wine was simply not worth it. In fact, I feel that the collecting of premium bottles is something of a crapshoot. It’s a lot like stocks; you do all the research on the winery, look at their past track record, take into account what they're doing with their product today, TASTE, and THEN decide to buy. What that wine will taste like, 10 years down the road, is the crapshoot of collecting wine. We are all making the best educated guess that we can. With experience, I believe, this becomes easier and I am happy to admit that there are many others out there with much more experience who I listen to intently when they speak on wine.
Today, however, I want to share a producer’s wines with you that are easily worth the price you pay. First, a disclaimer; the most affordable of these bottles averages at $27, but I will go on record that if there is one thing that you take from this article (whether affordable means $50 or $15 to you), it’s that you should go out and find this bottle. It is simply stunning.

The winery is Paolo Bea from Umbria, Italy. Umbria is a land-lock region in the heart of Italy with history dating back before Roman times. The three most interesting grape varieties of the region are Sangiovese, Sangrantino and Grechetto. Sangiovese, which most people associate with Tuscany, is highly regarded in Umbria, and is the primary grape used to make Montefalco rosso. Sagrantino, a truly indigenous grape of Umbria, is a thick-skinned and intensely flavored variety, which is now turning out deep, rich, complex wines that posses the ability to age. Grechetto is a white variety with unique flavors and weight on the palate, which adds complexity and a special sense of place to many of the blends it is added to.

I was first introduced to Paolo Bea through the wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco. My first Sangrantino experience was love at first sight, but not a Bea wine. After tasting this Sagrantino, I immediately called my trusted cellar consultant at Italian Wine Merchants and was told that it gets even better. Enter: Paolo Bea.

Paolo Bea is a family run, fully sustainable farm, which produces wine, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables. Using bio-dynamic principals and the wine-making style taught to them through generations, Paolo Bea turns out some of the most wonderfully unique wines I have ever tasted. The wines are truly Italian in their sly, mesmerizing and almost sexy style. They tempt you to keep sipping as layers unfold and hint at what’s next to come. Sometimes bone-dry with remarkably fresh, mouth-watering acidity, and other times sweet, serious, deep, dark and delicious. Each bottle is an experience that is imprinted in your memory.

On to the wines:

Paolo Bea Bianco Santa Chiara Umbria IGT 2006

The Santa Chiara is a blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, Garganega and Chardonnay. After crushing, the grapes spend over 20 days in contact with the skins which gives the wine a rich, deep golden color. This is a full-bodied white that somehow reminds me of mead in weight and color. However, the nose and palate is all about finesse and complexity. Its price tag can be a bit hard to swallow, but if it’s exploration you’re looking, then you must try this wine.

My notes: A gorgeous golden, amber color. Aromas of fresh strawberries and a hint of lemon rind rises from the glass. Then, fresh cut grass and honeysuckle comes to the fore as the wine warms above cellar temp. It’s a medium-to-full bodied white with flavors of peach, melon and hazelnut. This unique bottle could be mistaken for a red if tasted blind. The wine closes with a beautiful fresh finish. (88 pts.)

Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso SanValentino 2006

This is it, the must try, found for under $30/bottle that continues to haunt my dreams. 2006 was a very different year for this bottle, which is usually released as Vigna San Valentino and for twice the price. In Italy, a wine applying for a DOC or DOCG classification must be submitted to a governing entity and, in this case, that governing entity decided that the color of this wine, as well as the oxidized notes they found in it, disqualified it from the DOC. So, instead, Paolo Bea decided to release it as an Umbria Rosso and drastically reduce the price. Understand that there is nothing wrong with this wine. If anything, it is a perfect example of the depths that can be reached by biodynamic wine-making in Umbria. It is a gorgeous wine that displays a yin yang effect with its bone-dry performance on the front palate, followed by a rush of mouth-watering acidity on the mid-palate and into the finish. The fruit is rich and vibrant with layers of complexity. This is a $65 bottle of wine; which is being sold for under $30. No joke.

My notes: The nose is very floral at first with candied red fruit, ash and undergrowth. On the palate, the first thing I noticed was how initially dry it was, but then my senses were bombarded with sweet cranberry and pepper, along with grape jelly on the velvety mid-palate, which washed away to a tannic yet not too dry finish. This is a gorgeous bottle of wine and, at the price, well worth buying a few to enjoy over time. It plays a balancing act between ripeness and acidity with a kiss of dry extract. I will not forget this bottle for a long time to come. (93 pts.)

Click here to find this wine on Wine-Searcher.

Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco 2003

This is the second time this wine has been covered in these pages. So I won’t go too deeply into it other than to say that this is the most enjoyable bottle of Sagrantino that I have yet tasted. Understand that there are many other producers of Sagrantino worth searching for, Arnaldo Caprai comes to mind. However, Bea manages to achieve something with his Sagrantino that’s hard to put into words. This wine is literally mysterious as it pulls you in and is constantly changing. The balance is remarkable. I’ve heard comparisons between Paolo Bea and Quinatarelli (master of the Veneto); this is the wine that can convince you.

My notes: The 2003 Paolo Bea, Sagrantino di Montefalco showed a gorgeous deep red crimson color in the glass. As I poured, an aroma of candied cherry filled the air. With a little time in the glass, the rich fruit transformed into a Burgundian expression red fruit with earth and clay. Dusty dried flowers filled out the bouquet along with, as a few tasters noted, hints of sausage, which gave the nose a savory edge. The palate followed suit with flavors of raspberry, coffee, chocolate liquor and old cedar. The finish was long with staying dark chocolate and red fruit. (94 pts.)

Click here to find this wine on Wine-Searcher!

1999 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito

Sagrantino’s roots in Umbria are as a sweet passito wine, which is made by partially drying the grapes before crushing (think reccieto del valpolicella). I will admit that I believe I would have scored this wine higher if I had treated it better prior to serving. When drinking this wine, I would suggest you stand the bottle up at least 24 hours prior to serving and pull the cork at least four hours prior.

My notes: Floral and a bit porty on the nose with hints of cedar and raspberry jam. Medium ruby color and deceptively light, causing you to expect something lean and dry but then, on your first sip, you're hit with intense, sweet fig, candied ginger and chocolate. The sweetness is not overwhelming and perfectly balanced with fruit and acidity, leaving you with a fresh, medium finish. Amazing to think what this will taste like in a decade or two. Decant to remove the large amount of sediment in this bottle (89 pts.)

Click here to find this wine on Wine-Searcher!

These four wines make up only half of this winery’s portfolio, and I’m still working my way through the others, yet to be disappointed. Next up for me is the Arboreus, a wine that is made from vines that are over 100 years old and from a rare varietal named Trebbiano Spoletino.

The word excitement doesn’t do justice to the way I feel before opening a new wine from Paolo Bea, and I hope that this article convinced you too that they are worth a try. I’ll be sure to post more tasting notes soon.


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  2. Arboreus was one of the top 5 wines I drank last year. A stunning 'orange' wine with restraint. Great post!


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