Over the past 35 years, Giampiero Bea—both through his own deeply personal wines and his far-reaching influence—has become a cornerstone of our family of growers. 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 winegrower 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 of which 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.
In mid-January, we will receive an atypically broad range of new releases from the Bea estate: six wines spread across five vintages. Two consecutive growing seasons, 2013 and 2014, brought widespread outbreaks of downy mildew to Bea’s vineyards, resulting in enormous losses: only a single wine, “Arboreus,” was produced in the particularly devastating 2013 vintage, and 2014 yielded just one red wine instead of the usual four—a blend of the viable fruit sourced from all his vineyards and labeled “San Valentino.” Giampiero is unwavering in his “take Nature as it comes” approach, and his scant production over these two years is merely a reflection of the immense difficulties his vineyards faced. The end results, however, are fascinating—honest reflections of challenging seasons that vary slightly from their typical expressions yet are Bea wines through and through. To round out our early-2020 shipment, we are also debuting a duo of Giampiero’s 2015 reds, “Rosso de Veo” and “Pagliaro,” slightly ahead of schedule. 2015 was a monumental vintage here, 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. Though they have not rested in bottle as long as is customary before their release, these 2015s possess enough fruit amplitude that their tannins are well-buffered even in these relatively early days of development. Rounding out our January shipment will be the fresh, mineral-driven 2016 “Lapideus” and the succulent 2017 “Santa Chiara.”
2013 “Arboreus” Umbria Bianco
One of the early success stories in the modern-day revival of skin-macerated white wines, Bea’s beloved “Arboreus” originates from exceedingly old Trebbiano vines (up to 150 years of age) in the village of Spoleto, halfway between Bea’s home village of Montefalco and nearby Trevi. A striking instance of non-standard training, these ancient vines wrap themselves around the trunks and branches of trees (hence the wine’s name), growing and ripening high above the ground. Bea picks the fruit quite ripe and conducts an extended skin maceration (in the case of the 2014, 25 days), after which he leaves the wine on its gross lees for the better part of a year—a technique that nourishes the wine and ensures its ultimate expressive depth, but one which requires total confidence in the quality of one’s raw materials. Standing as the only wine Giampiero produced in the arduous, downy-mildew-affected 2013 vintage, this version is a particularly nimble, mineral-driven rendition of “Arboreus,” with notes of quinine, citrus zest, and fresh almonds atop a particularly lithe and delicate frame. The wine certainly does not lack for power, but its overall impression is less juicily tannic than in more typical vintages—and, at the end of the day, it’s a wine only Giampiero Bea could produce. User’s note: “Arboreus” must be served no cooler than cellar temperature to appreciate its full spectrum of aromas and flavors.
2016 “Lapideus” Umbria Bianco
Giampiero acquired a parcel of 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino in the town of Pigge di Trevi several years back, and 2016 marks just the third vintage of this exciting new addition to the Bea lineup. Arising from a cooler microclimate than the “Arboreus” above, “Lapideus” spent a month on it skins after pressing, followed by over 200 additional days on the gross lees—a similar vinification to “Arboreus,” yet one that yielded markedly different results. “Lapideus” has a leaner, racier carriage than the broad-shouldered “Arboreus,” with a more precise sense of acidity; it emphasizes drive over density, and its underlying salinity is not a far cry from the spellbinding wines we import from Paolo Vodopivec in the Carso—incidentally, a dear friend of Giampiero and a fellow ViniVeri administrator. A subtle note of honeyed sweetness at the wine’s core speaks of its warm-climate origins, and Bea’s propensity for wildness reveals itself in a fascinating but ephemeral cheese-rind whisper in its aromatics. Only 745 bottles were produced, the vast majority of which are destined for the US market.
2017 “Santa Chiara” Umbria Bianco
The second of Bea’s two early and highly influential skin-macerated white wines, “Santa Chiara” hails from the fabled Pagliaro cru, and combines roughly equal proportions of five varieties: Garganega, Grechetto, Malvasia, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Everything ferments together, without any additions or temperature regulation, in stainless steel, and the wine is given several years of settling before being bottled without fining or filtration. The rich, forward 2017 spent 28 days on its skins, and was bottled in May 2019 after 20 months of aging. Compared to the relatively racy 2013 “Arboreus” and the typically chiseled 2016 “Lapideus,” this vintage of “Santa Chiara” swaggers out of the bottle with macerated peaches, brassy spice notes, a liberal dash of white pepper, and candied citrus. Despite its somewhat explosive and brash personality, it possesses terrific drive and a focused, tannin-derived sense of architecture.
2014 “San Valentino” Umbria Rosso
The 2014 version of Bea’s beloved “San Valentino” is a bit of an outlier. Given the difficulties of the 2014 growing season—the second in a row in which downy mildew exerted enormous pressure—Giampiero was only able to produce a single red wine, constituting the scant viable bunches from his entire range of vineyard holdings. Composed of 40% Sagrantino, 40% Sangiovese, and 20% Montepulciano, the 2014 “San Valentino” offers a classic Bea nose of subtle balsamic notes, brooding spices, and boisterous black fruits, yet it possesses a less massive structure than usual. Calling a Bea red “elegant” is a stretch, and in fact does a slight disservice to the exuberant wildness that is one of Giampero’s wines’ calling cards, but this version of “San Valentino” is indeed fairly light on its feet without exactly being polite. Like its tough-vintage counterpart “Arboreus” above, this 2014 is both somewhat atypical for its category yet unmistakably Bea at its core, and longtime fans of the estate will revel in its idiosyncratic nature as well as its pure deliciousness.
2015 “Rosso de Veo” Umbria Rosso
Since the 2005 vintage, Bea’s “Rosso de Veo” (“Veo” is the way the family’s name is pronounced in the old Umbrian dialect) is pure Sagrantino sourced from younger vines around the property and from parcels that do not quite make Giampiero’s rigorous cut for “Pagliaro,” “Pipparello,” and “Cerrete.” This 2015 is Mike Tyson in his prime: potent, assertive, brazen, and making no concessions to polite society. Monstrous in its tannins, it nonetheless presents them in such a multifaceted way as to almost transcend their viselike grip; the tannins themselves have layers, offering classic sandalwood spice on one level, mineral-saturated depth-charge stoniness on another, and—most thrillingly—a direct, naked evocation of crunching into dripping-ripe berries. Four years of élévage did nothing to blunt this astonishing wine’s unmitigated expression of freshly plucked grapes, and this is a monumental “Rosso de Veo” that should live for a very, very long time.
2015 “Pagliaro” Montefalco Sagrantino Secco
Bea produces perhaps his most renowned wine from pure Sagrantino grown on the prized hilltop site of Pagliaro, situated at 1300 feet above sea level in Montefalco proper. Following the example of the “Rosso de Veo” above, this 2015 is absolutely jaw-dropping in its intensity and presence. Bea’s wines at their best offer a panoply of spices so intoxicating, so far-reaching, and so evocative, as to nearly defy belief. The only wines that approach Bea’s in that regard are perhaps the most un-sculpted Syrah-based wines of the Northern Rhône, but even those feel as if they have governors on their accelerators in comparison to top vintages of “Pagliaro.” Similarly large in scale to the “Rosso de Veo,” this actually presents with greater precision and nuance, its overall attack more subtle but ultimately no less impactful—direct evidence of a great terroir translated with consummate skill.