The Final Duo of 2012 Reds, and the Debut of the 2011 “Cerrete”
Giampiero Bea—both through his own deeply personal wines and his wide-ranging 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 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 agrarian wisdom.
Thankfully, these principles have become far more commonplace today than they were thirty years prior, 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-October, we will receive the second round of 2012s from the Bea family, as well as the masterful 2011 “Cerrete.” Like 2011, the 2012 vintage in Montefalco was extraordinarily hot and dry, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit on multiple occasions during summer. Intense hydric stress resulted in a 35% reduction in yields, and Giampiero reported incidents of scorched bunches, as well as phenolic development temporarily halted by heat and lack of water. Still, through these extreme conditions—conditions that seem to be becoming de rigeur as our climate continues its inexorable evolution—Giampiero pulled off a series of wines that, while undeniably large-scaled, display aromatic nuance, textural complexity, and a real sense of place.
2012 “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 parcels that don’t quite make Giampiero’s rigorous cut for “Pagliaro,” “Pipparello,” and “Cerrete.” Given Bea’s predilection for macerations well in excess of a month, and the natural power of the 2012 vintage, this year’s “Rosso de Veo” is remarkably fine. With an elegant, high-toned nose subtly kissed by volatility—a testament to Bea’s refusal to control fermentation temperature—it flaunts Sagrantino’s spicy side, something Bea brings out of the variety like no one else. The tannins are warm and firm, but they stop short of ferocity, and the lingering impression is one of driving, palate-staining minerality.
2012 “Pipparello” Montefalco Rosso Riserva
The cru Pipparello is situated at 400 meters altitude with soils of clay and gravel, and this bottling displays Bea’s skillful touch with Sangiovese, which achieves a wilder and more powerful expression here than in neighboring Tuscany. Comprising 60% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano, and 15% Sagrantino, the 2012 “Pipparello” spent an additional (fifth) year in cask in order to integrate its elements, and there is certainly no shortage of material here; if the “Rosso de Veo” above defies the vintage’s amplitude, “Pipparello” gives it a full-throated expression. An autumnal, brooding nose evokes pipe tobacco and dried flowers, lurching from the glass like a bear awakened from slumber. The palate is massively scaled, full of brawny tannins daring the fruit to restrain them, yet there is amazingly a great sense of freshness and signature Bea acidity at the wine’s core.
2011 “Cerrete” Montefalco Sagrantino Secco
It is difficult to believe that Montefalco Sagrantino can get any more profound than Bea’s beloved “Pagliaro,” but indeed it can. 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 “Pagliaro”—in fact, it comes across as lighter on its feet—but with greater nuance, as if the settings on a microscope were dialed up to render even more detail. In acknowledgment of its stature, Giampiero gives it an additional year in large Slavonian oak, making for an astonishing five-year elevage before the requisite long resting period in Bea’s dark, cool bottle cellar. The 2011 is a masterpiece, more flamboyant and layered than the relatively restrained 2010, yet maintaining the cru’s signature poise. With a soaring nose of garrigue, deep red fruits, and warm stones, it displays an incredible integration of its elements on the palate, which is ultra-concentrated yet elegant. This should age remarkably.
2012 “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 2012, 23 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 supreme confidence in the quality of one’s raw materials. Whereas, the 2011 was lavish and opulent, this 2012 cuts a leaner figure, with a dazzling nose of marzipan, fresh apricot, gunflint, and Indian spices—not a far cry from the coveted and cultish Trebbiano from the Valentini clan in Abruzzo, in fact. The palate is chiseled, markedly tannic (though well-balanced), and driven by resonant acidity, with the marzipan and apricot notes echoing strongly. The 2012 is perhaps the most poised and focused version of this wine we have yet seen, and the fact that it arose from such a challengingly hot vintage is testament to Giampiero’s mastery of craft. “Arboreus” must be served no cooler than cellar temperature to appreciate its full spectrum of aromas and flavors.
2016 “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. This 2016 cuts an impressive figure: amply fruited (dried apricots, peach nectar), unapologetically tannic yet lip-smackingly so, and with a delicious complicating note of chicken bouillon. There’s nothing shy about this wine, but it manages to be as drinkable as it is thought-provoking and complex.