One of Barolo’s most outspoken and respected producers, Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi passed away on Sunday, September 2nd, at the age of 70. And Barolo will never be the same.
A passionate defender of traditionally crafted Barolo, Beppe, nicknamed ‘Citrico’ for his scathing, acidic frankness and sense of humor, made soulful, fragrant Barolos boasting floral, earthy, red berry and mineral sensations that only Nebbiolo planted in the best sites and not forced in the cellar can produce (here you find my reviews of his Barolos 2009-2013) .
Beppe was the lone survivor of the Barolo threesome nicknamed the Last of the Mohicans. The group, which included the late Bartolo Mascarello and Teobaldo Cappellano, were stalwart defenders of terroir-driven, classic Barolos that united back when the Barolo Wars raged between the Traditionalists and the so-called Modernists: the latter used rotary fermenters and aged the wines in all new barriques, while the Traditionalists favored long, post-fermentation macerations and aging in large Slavonian oak.
Beppe, Bartolo and Teobaldo eventually won that war: these days most producers have stepped away from aggressive winemaking practices and have adopted less intrusive cellar techniques that exalt Nebbiolo’s floral, red berry and balsamic characteristics. But Beppe found himself moving on to the next battle, that of defending Barolo’s hallowed vineyard sites. He, along with Maria Teresa Mascarello and Enzo Brezza, bravely took on the establishment to defend Barolo’s historic vineyards, namely the much-contested Cannubi vineyard. As he told me in 2013, during an interview for my Barolo and Barbaresco book, “Today, Barolo makers have planted vineyards in areas our grandfathers would never have imagined planting Nebbiolo.”
Named after his grandfather Giuseppe, who founded the firm in 1890, Beppe, a trained veterinarian learned the art of winemaking from his father Battista, who graduated with honors from Alba’s Enological School. In their country villa on the outskirts of Barolo, in cramped, cavernous cellars dominated by Slavonian oak casks, you’ll find all of Beppe’s passions: a primitive chair made of a used barrique, with a hand written sign: “The Best Use of Barrique”, and in another area removed from the vinification and aging cellars, two entire rooms filled with old Lambretta scooters in various stages of restoration and crates full of parts.
Above all, Beppe was committed to turning out Nebbiolos that best expressed their vineyard sites and the vintage. To this end he shunned most modern cellar technologies, including selected yeasts. “I don’t need selected yeasts. Before selected yeasts were invented, wine fermented spontaneously. I simply let nature take its course,” he told me in 2008. He also never used any chemicals in his vineyards, which are among the most coveted sites in the denomination: Cannubi San Lorenzo, Brunate, Ravera and Le Coste.
But above and beyond his earthy, soulful Barolos, Beppe had a charisma that could move armies, and he marched to the beat of a different drummer in every sense. On several occasions, I would come to his house, and walking through the elegant living room, find one of his motorcycles parked in front of the elegant settees, because, as he told his wife Annalisa , “It was raining last night”.
Beppe was one of those rare souls that said what he thought and fought hard for what he believed in and didn’t give a damn if you agreed or not. And when you met him, you never looked at Barolo in the same light.
Thankfully, his daughters, Marta, who graduated from the University of Turin in enology and Carlotta, who graduated from the same university in agronomy, have been working alongside their father for years.
I first found out that Beppe was ill back in early June, and while in Piedmont this past weekend, heard things weren’t looking too well. On Saturday we shared a bottle of Rinaldi’s 2009 Brunate – Le Coste with friends, and even in this difficult vintage for Barolo, Beppe pulled off what the Italians call ‘un capolavoro’.
If you want to experience the energy, elegance and age-worthy structure that first drew wine lovers and collectors to Brunello di Montalcino decades ago, then 2013 is your vintage.
A classic vintage, the best 2013s boast remarkable aging potential, the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. I tasted 181 of the just-released Brunellos, and rated 112 wines 90 points or higher, with 21 receiving 95 points or more, including one perfect score of 100. The top wines are stunning, with a radiance that has been missing in many of the muscular, more approachable and higher alcohol Brunellos that we’ve become accustomed to from recent vintages. The 2013s will require patience to reach their maximum potential.
Unlike the extremely warm, dry years that have become the norm in Montalcino since the mid-1990s, (with a few exceptions, like 2002, 2005 and 1998 for example) 2013 was a blast from the past: a cool year, with abundant rainfall in spring and the first part of the summer. Vineyard management to keep grapes free of disease proved critical. The vintage was pretty much decided in September and the first half of October: while cooler temperatures prevailed, grapes benefitted from ample sunshine and breezy conditions.
2013 proved to be an incredibly long, slow growing season. Growers who made it to September with healthy grapes – and thankfully many did – were able to enjoy the mild, sunny weather, and produced fragrant, medium-bodied wines loaded with finesse. The best are impeccably balanced, with vibrant acidity and firm but noble tannins. Overall, alcohol levels in the 2013s also ring of the past, with many wines declaring 13.5% and 14% abv on labels, a stark contrast to 14.5% and 15% that have become increasingly common every year since the start of the 2000s.
“2013 is a classic vintage in every sense, and produced wines with intensity, elegance, energy and firm but well-integrated tannins. Unlike other cooler vintages in recent memory, like 2005 and 2008 that had more rain, especially toward the end of the growing season, in 2013, sunny weather in September and the first part of October significantly pushed back the harvest. We started picking our Sangiovese for Brunello on October 18, about twenty days later than usual. Picking this late hasn’t happened since the 1980s,” says Lorenzo Magnelli, winemaker at his family’s Le Chiuse estate. Located just north of Montalcino, the small estate has an impressive pedigree: it used to supply grapes for Biondi Santi’s lauded Riservas before Lorenzo, his father and his mother, Simonetta Valiani – who inherited the property from her mother, daughter to the legendary Tancredi Biondi Santi – began making and bottling their own wines in the early 1990s. The firm’s radiant 2013 is breathtakingly gorgeous.
Francesco Buffi, who runs the boutique Baricci winery along with his brother Federico and his parents, is also enthusiastic about the 2013 vintage, saying, “It’s a textbook Brunello, the kind of vintage we greet with open arms here at Baricci.” Founded by Francesco’s grandfather Nello Baricci in 1955, the tiny estate is located on the Montosoli hill, one of the most famous vineyard sites in Montalcino. “When compared to warmer vintages, 2013 shows another side of Sangiovese that’s all about finesse, freshness and vibrancy, characteristics that we now see less and less of due to climate change.” He points out that the vintage was far from easy. “2013 was challenging and tested our nerves, especially when unsettled weather threatened toward the end of September. But those who didn’t panic and waited until the first week of October were rewarded,” explains Buffi.
While overall the vintage is superb, there were some underperformers. While some growers evidently harvested before the grapes were fully ripened and made lean wines showing raw fruit, others apparently left the grapes on the vine for too long, and produced wines with sensations of stewed fruit and evident alcohol. Although there were less than in previous years, I was more than a little surprised to see a number of wines with 15% abv, and in 2013s, the alcohol was more often evident when compared to other years.
Given the wildly varied growing zone and sharply different vineyard altitudes in Montalcino, it’s almost impossible to judge vintages for the entire denomination. The experience and winemaking styles of producers, and where their vineyards are located, will always play a major role in every vintage, more so in Montalcino than in more uniform growing areas.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino: 30 Top-Rated Wines by Kerin O’Keefe