The Wines of Paolo Bea
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This post was written by Some Good Wine owner Jeremy Block. Call him at the store with any questions about these or any other wines: (212) 777-3151
It's that time again ladies and gentleman. It happens twice a year: the new vintages of Paolo Bea have are coming. The wines that made Some Good Wine famous and to which many a relationship has been fostered ever since. Paolo Bea is one of those names that has almost become a secret code in the wine consumer's world. Not for the un-savvy shopper. Those who speak about it are normally avid collectors who appreciate great values. And while Paolo Bea is not cheap, for what it can do in the cellar over time, there is literally nothing like it. Speaking personally, I have only tried one older one before from 2001 that was still so young; the tannins hit the brakes on my palate as if I came to a red light with a group of school children crossing the street. It had barely aged a day. The strange thing is that many people still don't know what these wines are capable of, since the amount of pre-2000 that exists in the U.S. is very slim and not many have claimed a taste.
Over the past 35 years, Giampiero Bea—both through his own deeply personal wines and his far-reaching influence—has become a cornerstone of artisanal Italian wine. Building on the work of his father, a through-and-through farmer whose Umbrian dialect is so thick as to be nearly incomprehensible to outsiders, Giampiero realized what made Paolo’s wines so special and built a working philosophy around it. In a series of decades that saw Italian winegrowers embracing modern technology whole-hog, Giampiero—as co-founder of the ViniVeri (“Real Wine”) group—advocated for respectful vineyard work, biodiversity, a de-emphasis on technology in the cellar, non-engagement with professional critics, and an overall trust in old, tried-and-true agrarian wisdom.
Thankfully, these principles have become far more commonplace today than they were thirty years ago. But Bea’s wines remain singular: boisterous, unabashedly wild expressions of their undulating, sun-drenched hills of origin, each new vintage is eagerly anticipated by a legion of loyal clients. Giampiero’s wines always proudly display their vintage, and he pointedly resists striving for a consistent “product” from year to year. There is no green harvesting and no excessive sorting, as he wants each wine to reflect the entire season’s crop and not just a choice section; fermentations begin and end without being forced in either direction, thus varying in duration notably from vintage to vintage; and the wines are bottled when they’re deemed ready to be rather than according to some schedule, with the reds in particular generally spending upwards of four years in cask. There is no regulation of temperature, no pumping, no fining, and no filtering. Giampiero relies on patience, and plenty of it, to clarify his wines, and what is in the bottle is always a full-on reflection of the fruit and the story of the season that birthed it.
2015 was a monumental vintage, with vigorous, healthy fruit married to formidable structure, plus copious amounts of those effusive Near East spices that frequently mark Bea’s wines in such bold fashion. Giampiero tends to perform exceedingly well in warm vintages, openheartedly coaxing all of the season’s generosity without ever veering into vulgarity, and 2015 illustrates his acumen there in phenomenal fashion. These 2015s possess enough fruit amplitude that their tannins are well-buffered even in these relatively early days of development, and they have opened up nicely since they debuted last January.
2017 Paolo Bea Santa Chiara Umbria Bianco
A white wine produced from Grachetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Garganega, in approximately equal proportions, planted in the “Pagliaro” vineyard, a site with alternating layers of gravel and clay at 1300 feet above sea level with both east and southwest facing parcels. After crushing, the juice spends at least two weeks macerating on its lees; sulfur is never added. Fermentation occurs in small stainless steel vats at low temperatures. Two rackings are done early in the fermentation process to remove the heavy deposits and a third is done after three weeks. This wine is then left on the fine lees in stainless steel for one year before being bottled.
2017 Paolo Bea "Lapideus" Umbria Bianco
Giampiero acquired a parcel of 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino in the town of Pigge di Trevi several years back. Arising from a cooler microclimate than the “Arboreus” above, “Lapideus” spent a lengthy 35 days on its skins after pressing, followed by 210 additional days on the gross lees—a similar vinification to “Arboreus,” yet one that yielded entirely different results. Though no less deeply amber in its appearance, “Lapideus” has a leaner, racier carriage than the broad-shouldered “Arboreus,” with more filigree, a less overwhelmingly intense nose of apricots, cloves, and candied ginger. If “Arboreus” is a sea to swim in, “Lapideus” is a rocket to ride, emphasizing drive and lift over layered density. It is still a wine of impressive power, especially given its modest 12% alcohol, but the fruit is more direct, pure, and foregrounded. So often the so-called “orange wines” seem to stand alone, iconoclastic creations that defy fine-tuned peer-group comparisons and revel in their singular personalities. Even the discourse that surrounds them tends to treat them more as wines of technique than wines of terroir. Thus, it is fascinating to experience the same grape variety given roughly the same treatment by the same grower, whereby the differences in the wines are largely driven by the differences in their underlying places of origin.
2015 Paolo Bea Rosso de Veo
The current version of Rosso de Veo is a selection of the Bea estate’s younger Sagrantino vines, principally from the “Cerrete” vineyard which graces 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. This wine is vinified in a similar fashion to the single vineyard Sagrantino with a long cuvaison which extends forty to fifty days. The wine is then aged one year in stainless steel tanks, two years in large oak barrels, and another year in bottle before release. The wine is not filtered. Production varies depending on vintage … 9000 bottles were produced in 2005, the first year this exclusively Sagrantino-based cuvée was created.
2015 Paolo Bea Piparello Montefalco Rosso
The cru Pipparello is situated at 400 meters altitude with soils of gravel and clay, and this bottling displays Bea’s masterful touch with Sangiovese, which achieves a wilder expression here than in neighboring Tuscany. Comprising 60% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano, and 15% Sagrantino, the phenomenal 2015 harnesses the combination of power and energy that characterizes the vintage here. Clocking in just under 15% alcohol, it bears its broadness gracefully, with a blossoming nose of black olives, Indian spices, and bittersweet chocolate. Certain vintages of Pipparello deemphasize varietal expressiveness in favor of a greater overall sense of spicy, earthy complexity, but the dominant presence of Sangiovese is clearly articulated in this ’15, whose palate displays surprising drive and acidity. It’s a heavyweight that can really dance in the ring.
2015 Paolo Bea Paglairo Montefalco Rosso
The fabled local grape of Montefalco is the Sagrantino and the Pagliaro vineyard, situated at 1300 feet in altitude, is dedicated in large part to this grape variety. The harvest of Sagrantino normally occurs during the second half of October. The cuvaison extends for forty to fifty days. The wines are then aged for one year in stainless steel, another two years in large Slavonian oak barrels, and, finally, spends one more year in bottle (the wine, like all Bea wines, is unfiltered) before release. This vintage of “Pagliaro” maintains equilibrium and freshness in the face of its scorching season of origin especially after 3 years without a new vintage. Sagrantino’s fruit character can sometimes be midnight-black, but the 2015 hints at cherry liqueur, offering a bit of brightness amidst the usual spicy savagery. An autumnal spirit permeates the wine, with aromas and flavors of fallen leaves, fresh pipe tobacco, and woodsmoke. “Pagliaro” is never light and never polite, but the tannins on this 2015 manage to be digestible and balanced—although there is enough structure to reward some cellaring, to be sure. Fresh and dried, all laced with a balsamic undertone; black licorice and warm spice cake; and stem-influenced, wispy, almost herbal notes which counterbalance the wine’s bottomless depth. Somehow, amidst all of this, a sense of restraint emerges—shocking to behold in a wine that exceeds 15% alcohol, but Bea’s wines are always rife with happy contradictions. This is a bold, riotous, flashy vintage of “Pagliaro” that will surely stun all those who cross its path.
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2012 Paolo Bea “Cerrete” Montefalco Sagrantino Secco
The family has owned a parcel in Cerrete, the highest-altitude vineyard in Montefalco, for some time, but it wasn’t until the 2007 vintage that Giampiero deemed the vines old enough to do justice to the cru’s potential. With its poor, mineral-rich soils and its acidity-preserving altitude (450 to 500 meters), Cerrete yields a wine not more powerful than Bea’s other pure-Sagrantino titan “Pagliaro,” but with greater nuance and a finer expression of detail. In acknowledgment of its stature, Giampiero gives it an additional year in large Slavonian oak, making for an astonishing five-year stint in barrel before the requisite long resting period in bottle. In line with Bea’s other 2012s, this Cerrete evokes autumn in its warmly spicy nose, its notes of fresh tobacco and moist soil, and its mellow, caressing fruit character. The greatness of the site expresses itself in a level of finesse that Bea’s other wines, magnificent though they are, cannot quite attain
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