New Releases from Azienda Agricola Paolo Bea: Fall 2021

Posted on Posted in Paolo Bea, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

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 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 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.

2016 was a remarkable vintage for Giampiero, one which he compares to 2005 and 2011—both of which produced dense, layered wines of great aromatic nuance and a winning combination of power and clarity. Unfortunately, relatively heavy rains in May and June fostered notable disease pressure, thereby compromising yields, and Bea produced less than half of what he did in the plentiful 2015 vintage. The resulting lineup, however, offers a notable through-line of elegance—not a word typically attached to Sagrantino-based wines, particularly those produced by such a wildness-embracing non-interventionist as Giampiero, but one which suits these 2016s perfectly. Their aromatics soar as per usual yet stop short of overt volatility, and their tannins are appropriately voluminous yet finely rendered. As relatively refined as they are, however, the 2016s are extremely dense with material, and should develop beautifully and slowly in a good cellar—if you can keep you hands off them.

2016 “San Valentino” Umbria Rosso
Composed of 40% Sagrantino, 40% Sangiovese, and 20% Montepulciano, “San Valentino” comes partly from young vines (a dozen years old or younger) which Bea sees as not quite ready for prime time in one of his crus, and partly from 40- to 50-year-old vines from parcels not destined for inclusion in the crus. Fermented and aged two years in steel, then transferred to large Slavonian casksss for two additional years, this 2016 spent 41 days macerating on its skins, yet its texture is quite refined compared to more ferocious vintages of this wine. It soars on the nose and offers a bevy of spice as per usual, but this pulls back short of full-on wildness, and its balance is striking.

2016 “Pipparello” Montefalco Rosso Riserva
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 2016, which spent 40 days on its skins, offers a similar aromatic elegance to the “San Valentino” above, with a tomato-leaf-like sense of umami and a deep salinity. Its palate is massively concentrated yet linear and pure, with refined tannins driving the finish to a remarkable length. This is a relatively polite yet ultra-complex version of “Pipparello,” and it should age effortlessly.

2016 “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 don’t quite make Giampiero’s rigorous cut for “Pagliaro,” “Pipparello,” and “Cerrete.” In keeping with the rest of the 2016s here, this shows an underlying elegance that isn’t always apparent at Bea, although the slow build of tannins to a nearly ferocious clench is a visceral reminder of Sagrantino’s innate potency. The 2016 “Rosso de Veo” spent 38 days on its skins, and was bottled without fining or filtering, as always, after two years in steel and two years in Slavonian casks. 

2016 “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. Bea’s wines at their best offer a panoply of spices so intoxicating, so far-reaching, 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.” This 2016 offers remarkable purity of varietal expression, and its wildness is reined in by its well-articulated but not overwhelming structure, and by its almost unbelievably suave (for Sagrantino!) tannins.

2015 “Cerrete” Montefalco Sagrantino Secco
With its poor, mineral-rich soils and its acidity-preserving altitude (450 to 500 meters), Cerrete—the highest-altitude vineyard in Montefalco—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. This 2015 offers a nose of near psychedelic complexity, with a subtle dose of volatility rocket-boosting the usual panoply of spices. Boisterous but not aggressive on the palate, it finishes with nearly unreal persistence and length.

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