Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Master of Traditional Barolo: Giuseppe Rinaldi History & Retrospective Tasting

From The Cellar Table @Morrellwine

Giuseppe Rinaldi is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting producers in Barolo today. Giuseppe, known locally as Beppe, took control of the family winery in 1992 after the death of his father, Battista. Beppe was a veterinarian by trade, yet taught the principals and methodologies of creating traditionally-styled Barolo from his father. With five generations of grape-growing and winemaking experience in the family, Giuseppe Rinaldi wines were already considered among one the greatest expressions of Barolo, long before Beppe took over the estate.

His father, Battista Rinaldi, a serious man and trained enologist, took over the winery back in 1947. With family holdings in Brunate, Le Coste and Ravera, he brought the Rinaldi name to eminence. Giuseppe RInaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva 1985During this time, he also purchased their parcel in Cannubi San Lorenzo, and from these four vineyards, created two different Barolo. A straight Barolo, which was blended for balance from a mix of the family vineyards, and a single-vineyard Brunate, or Brunate Riserva. It was the Brunate Riserva, which was said to be made only in the greatest vintages and aged for ten years prior to release (think Giacomo Conterno Monfortino), that is a legend to this day.

In 1992, when Beppe took the reins at Giuseppe Rinaldi, the only real change that was made was to remove the Brunate from the winery’s portfolio and only make two blended Barolo. And so, Brunate – Le Coste and Cannubi San Lorenzo – Ravera was born. It was Beppe’s belief, in the true traditional style, that the greatest heights to which Barolo could reach could only come through blending. Although this was not a popular belief during the ‘90s, as the modern movement swept through Piedmont, Beppe held fast and refused to change.

At the time, the world wanted large-scaled, dark Barolo that was inflected with new oak and could be enjoyed younger, which was everything that a Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo was not. In turn, Beppe Rinaldi was grouped together with Bartolo Mascarello and Teobaldo Cappellano, as the last of old-time traditionalists.

It’s because of this that, as the popularity of Barolo swept across the globe and prices climbed, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo remained heavily unaffected. Yet, behind the media hype and a new generation of Barolo drinkers who had never experienced the greatest traditionally-style wines, were the long-time collectors who knew better. Giuseppe Rinaldi became one of the greatest under-the-radar producers of the late nineties and early two-thousands. I still recall a time, not so long ago, when a Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo would only cost me $55.

So what happened? To a large degree, tastes changed. However, what was an even larger influence on the public was Italian wine writer Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media, who was an avid fan of traditional Barolo and would regularly seek out and taste the great wines of the past century. As Antonio’s following grew, and from the platform of The Wine Advocate, the public began to experiment, and they liked what they found.

Things have changed quite a bit in the last eight years. Today, the names Bartolo Mascarello, Teobaldo Cappellano, Giacomo Conterno and Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi are on the minds of Barolo collectors around the world. Each are traded at a premium and often allocated to partial case quantities at the retail level. However, through all of this, very little has changed at Giuseppe Rinaldi.

Chemicals are never used in the vineyards, with only occasional manure to fertilize and a limited amount of copper and sulfur. In the winery, Beppe uses spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast, which takes place in neutral wooden vats, and then ages in large Slavonian cask. Beppe learned from his father, who learned from his father before him, and he sees nothing wrong with keeping things just the way they were.

The only change we see today is one that has been enforced by the Barolo consortium, and that is the new MGA labeling laws, which has forced producers to only list one vineyard on a bottle of Barolo, or be left to list no vineyard designation at all. But there is a silver lining, in that a producer can list a vineyard name on a label, yet still add up to 15% of another vineyard to the wine (don’t try to make sense of this; it is Italy). And so, Brunate – Le Coste has now been name Brunate only, with the addition of 15% Le Coste added. Although this is a change from (around) 40% added in the past, it still allows Beppe to blend. What’s more, Cannubi San Lorenzo, has become Tre Tine, with the addition of the Le Coste juice that was once used for Brunate. With the 2010 vintage and with the new rules in place, I can say with absolute confidence that Giuseppe Rinaldi continues to make two of the greatest Barolo in Italy today.

You can imagine that when the time came to participate in a Giuseppe Rinaldi vertical tasting, everyone involved was ecstatic. The vintages assembled represented not only Beppe’s amazing wines from the nineties and beyond, but also a duo of magical Barolo that were created by his Father.

Before digging into the notes and the scores, I think it’s important to list a few of my general impressions, because I believe that they give good insights to the differences between Giuseppe Rinaldi and your average Barolo.

Firstly, we often hear the term “buy the producer, not the vintage,” and this has never been more evident as it was at this tasting. The 2003 Brunate – Le Coste (a hot year that has proven to be very disappointing across the region) was absolutely gorgeous. It was vibrant with grip, drive and freshness to the fruit that is unheard of for the vintage.

The 2007 Brunate – Le Coste (another ripe year that has been aging unevenly for many Barolo) was epic. In fact, had it not been immediately followed by the classically-structured 2008, I may have thought it to be the best of the Brunate – Le Coste post the 1999 vintage. I believe this is a great example of Beppe’s belief in blending different vineyards for balance.

Second, I find it amazing how the fruit and floral profile of Giuseppe Rinaldi is so different from other Barolo. The fruit here is dark, accentuated by minerals, and there is often a violet floral note, especially in the Brunate – Le Coste. It’s quite beautiful.

Third, my personal belief is that the Brunate – Le Coste is “The” wine of Giuseppe Rinaldi. Where each example of Cannubi San Lorenzo – Ravara was gorgeous, and I would never pass up an opportunity to taste, there’s simply something about the classic structure and zesty acidity of Brunate – Le Coste that drives me wild.

For my tasting notes, and many more photos, Check out The Cellar Table!