Italian wine reviews (tasted through July 2018)

Check out my latest reviews: (175 wines): Barolo, Valle d’Aosta, Liguria and more

blind tasting Kerin O'Keefe

Top 30 of the Month

Addio Giuseppe Rinaldi (in italiano)

Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi, uno dei produttori più rispettati delle Langhe, è scomparso domenica 2 settembre all’età di 70 anni. E Barolo non sarà più la stessa senza di lui.

© Paolo Tenti | Giuseppe Rinaldi in 2013

Un appassionato difensore del Barolo artigianale e tradizionale, Beppe, soprannominato anche Citrico per la sua schietta, acida franchezza e senso dell’umorismo, ha creato Baroli sensuali e profumati che vantano sensazioni floreali, terrose, di bacche rosse insieme a sentori minerali che solo il Nebbiolo piantato nelle migliori vigne e non forzato in cantina può produrre (qui trovate le mie recensioni dei suoi Barolo 2009-2013).

Un appassionato difensore del Barolo artigianale e tradizionale, Beppe, soprannominato anche Citrico per la sua schietta, acida franchezza e senso dell’umorismo, ha creato Baroli sensuali e profumati che vantano sensazioni floreali, terrose, di bacche rosse insieme a sentori minerali che solo il Nebbiolo piantato nelle migliori vigne e non forzato in cantina può produrre.

Beppe rimaneva l’unico superstite del trio del Barolo soprannominati gli ultimo Mohicani. Il gruppo, che comprendeva i compianti Bartolo Mascarello e Teobaldo Cappellano, era un fedele difensore dei Baroli classici di territorio. Si unirono quando la “guerra del Barolo” imperversava tra i tradizionalisti e i cosiddetti modernisti: questi ultimi usavano i fermentatori rotanti e invecchiavano i vini in barriques nuove, mentre i tradizionalisti prediligevano lunghe macerazioni post-fermentative e l’affinamento in grandi botti di rovere di Slavonia.

Beppe, Bartolo e Teobaldo alla fine hanno vinto quella guerra: in questi giorni la maggior parte dei produttori si è allontanata dalle pratiche aggressive di vinificazione e ha adottato tecniche di cantina meno invasive che esaltano le caratteristiche floreali, di piccoli frutti rossi e balsamiche del Nebbiolo. Ma Beppe passò alla successiva battaglia, quella di difendere i luoghi vitali del Barolo. Lui, insieme a Maria Teresa Mascarello ed Enzo Brezza, ha coraggiosamente sfidato l’establishment per difendere i vigneti storici del Barolo, in particolare il vigneto Cannubi. Come mi ha detto nel 2013, durante un’intervista per il mio libro su Barolo e Barbaresco: “Oggi i produttori di Barolo hanno piantato vigneti in aree in cui i nostri nonni non avrebbero mai immaginato di piantare il Nebbiolo.”

Con il medesimo nome di suo nonno paterno Giuseppe, che fondò l’azienda nel 1890, Beppe, dopo gli studi da veterinario, imparò l’arte della vinificazione e della viticoltura dal padre Battista, che si diplomò con lode alla Scuola Enologica di Alba. Nella loro villa alla periferia di Barolo, in cantine cavernose dominate da botti di rovere di Slavonia, troverai tutte le passioni di Beppe: una sedia primitiva fatta di barrique usate, con un cartello scritto a mano: “Il miglior uso della Barrique “, e in un’altra area a latere delle cantine di vinificazione e invecchiamento, due interi locali pieni di vecchie Lambretta in vari stadi di restauro e casse piene di pezzi.

Ma più di tutto la passione di Beppe consisteva nel fare in modo che i suoi vini esprimessero al meglio i rispettivi vigneti e le caratteristiche proprie di ciascuna vendemmia. A tal fine ha evitato le tecnologie di cantina più moderne, compresi i lieviti selezionati. “Non ho bisogno di lieviti selezionati. Prima che i lieviti selezionati fossero inventati, il vino fermentava spontaneamente. Ho semplicemente lasciato che la natura facesse il suo corso”, mi ha detto nel 2008. Non ha mai usato prodotti chimici nei suoi vigneti, che sono tra i siti più ambiti della denominazione: Cannubi San Lorenzo, Brunate, Ravera e Le Coste.

Ma al di sopra e al di là del suo terroso e sentimentale Barolo, Beppe aveva un carisma che poteva muovere gli eserciti, e ha marciato al ritmo di un diverso tamburino in tutti i sensi. In diverse occasioni, venivo a casa sua e, camminando attraverso l’elegante salotto, trovavo una delle sue motociclette parcheggiate di fronte agli eleganti divani, perché, come disse una volta a sua moglie Annalisa, “Stava piovendo ieri sera”.

Beppe era una di quelle rare anime che dicevano quello che pensava e combatteva duramente per ciò in cui credeva e non gli interessava di ottenere l’approvazione delle sue idee. E quando l’hai incontrato, anche se inizialmente non eri d’accordo con lui, poi non hai mai guardato il Barolo nella stessa luce di prima.

© Paolo Tenti | Barolo Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Le Coste 2009

Per fortuna le sue figlie, Marta, laureata in enologia all’Università di Torino e Carlotta, laureata in agronomia, hanno lavorato per anni con il padre. Il futuro dell’azienda è in ottime mani.

Ho scoperto per la prima volta che Beppe era malato ai primi di giugno e, mentre ero in Piemonte lo scorso fine settimana, avevo sentito che purtroppo le cose non stavano andando troppo bene. Sabato abbiamo condiviso una bottiglia di Barolo Brunate – Le Coste 2009 con amici e, anche in questa difficile annata, Beppe ha tirato fuori un capolavoro.

Addio Beppe, ci mancherai.

 

Addio Giuseppe Rinaldi

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) .

© Paolo Tenti | Beppe Rinaldi on one of his beloved Lambrettas
© Paolo Tenti | Beppe Rinaldi on one of his beloved Lambrettas

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.

© Paolo Tenti | Barolo Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Le Coste 2009

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’.

Addio Beppe.

Italian wine reviews (tasted through June 2018)

Check out my latest reviews: (316 wines): Barolo, Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti, Nizza and more

blind tasting Kerin O'Keefe

Top 30 of the Month

Traveling Back in Time With Nebbiolo

On November 18th, I traveled in a virtual time machine: a vertical tasting of 8 Nebbiolo-based wines from Alto Piemonte from 1842 to 1970.

© Assaggio a Nordovest | Kerin O’Keefe contemplating a historic Nebbiolo

The tasting, called Assaggio a nordovest (a tasting of northwest) – was organized by the Associazione Vignaioli Colline Biellesi and took place at the stunning Villa Era on the outskirts of Biella in northern Piedmont. I was also honored to participate in the tasting by providing historical background on the area’s long winemaking tradition for the other attendees.

Besides the sheer wonder of trying such old wines, the tasting offered a potent reminder that wines – especially fine wines destined to age and develop for years if not decades – are undeniably alive. It also offered a rare glimpse into how Piedmont’s winemaking has evolved over the last 175 years.

© Assaggio a Nordovest | Nebbiolo-based wines from Alto Piemonte from 1842–1970

Most importantly, the tasting demonstrated the greatness of Nebbiolo from this unique growing area. The wines all hailed from the Biella hills, where ancient, yellow marine sands, and the vicinity to Alpine foothills – where marked day and night temperature swings prolong the growing season – yield intense, fragrant and mineral-driven Nebbiolos boasting vibrant acidity and firm, refined tannins.

Read the full article: Traveling Back in Time With Nebbiolo

Italian wine reviews (tasted through June 2017)

Check out my latest reviews (216 wines): Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto d’Alba and more

blind tasting Kerin O'Keefe

Alto Piemonte: the “Other” Nebbiolo

© Kerin O'Keefe | Christoph Kunzli of Le Piane in his vineyard in Boca
© Kerin O’Keefe | Christoph Kunzli of Le Piane in his vineyard in Boca

If you’re a fan of Nebbiolo – the sole grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco – you’ll love the radiant, mineral-driven Nebbiolos and Nebbiolo-based offerings from Alto Piemonte.

© Paolo Tenti | Cinzia Travaglini in one of her vineyards in Gattinara
© Paolo Tenti | Cinzia Travaglini in one of her vineyards in Gattinara

Vibrant and loaded with finesse, the best are drop-dead gorgeous, possessing age-worthy structures and impeccable balance. And if warmer temperatures and drier summers are pushing alcohol levels to the extreme in other areas, vineyard altitudes, cooler temperatures and highly acidic soils in Alto Piemonte make it rare to find wines above 14% abv.

© Kerin O'Keefe | Paolo De Marchi with some of his Proprietà Sperino bottles
© Kerin O’Keefe | Paolo De Marchi with some of his Proprietà Sperino bottles

Located at the foothills of the northern Piedmont Alps, the most exciting wines come from five small growing areas: Lessona, Gattinara, Ghemme, Boca and Bramaterra that lend their names to the wines.

 

 

A bottle of 1921 Lessona Sella, tasted during a Master Class at Vinitaly 2017
A bottle of 1921 Lessona Sella, tasted during a Master Class at Vinitaly 2017

The wines are steeped in history: in the late 1800s, Alto Piemonte boasted almost 45,000 hectares (111,197 acres) of vineyards, most of them now long gone. Reds made with Nebbiolo (locally called Spanna) – often blended with other local grapes, like Vespolina and Uva Rara – were already imported to the US in the latter half of the 19th century, decades before anyone had heard of Barolo or Barbaresco.

© Kerin O'Keefe | large Slavonian casks at Proprietà Sperino
© Kerin O’Keefe | Large Slavonian casks at Proprietà Sperino

 Then, in the early 1900s, after outbreaks of devastating vine diseases and a catastrophic hailstorm in 1905 destroyed entire vineyards, growers abandoned agriculture en masse to work in the booming textile mills in the nearby city of Biella.

Thanks to a few brave producers, Alto Piemonte is now undergoing a full-blown Renaissance.

 

Read the full article here: http://www.winemag.com/2017/05/08/learn-about-italys-secret-nebbiolos/

The Beauty of Barbaresco

One of Italy’s greatest wines is finally getting the attention it deserves. We take you through the vintages, the communes and the bottles you need to buy.

© Paolo Tenti | The town of Barbaresco

Made with 100% native grape Nebbiolo, you’ve probably heard that Barbaresco is one of Italy’s greatest wines. Yet for many years, it’s also been Italy’s most famous unknown red: even though fine wine lovers had heard of it, until recently, many passed it up for Barolo, its larger, more renowned neighbor (also made entirely with Nebbiolo). But thanks to a new generation of winemakers embracing more natural farming methods that have led to even higher quality, and the denomination’s unique micro-climate that encourages freshness and balance even in the hottest vintages, wine lovers are discovering that Barbaresco is a world-class wine in its own right. And the recent, widespread fascination with Nebbiolo and Piedmont has further helped shine a light on the denomination.

Read the article: The Beauty of Barbaresco

Producers Strike Down Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC

After a meeting between producers and their consortia of the Piedmont region that lasted for more than four hours yesterday (September 12), a vote came out against creating a new wine, Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC.

As previously reported in a column on August 5, the proposal—put forward by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato—would have encouraged producers in growing zones throughout the region to invest heavily in Nebbiolo.

Read the article: Producers Strike Down Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC

Why You Should Be Worried About Piemonte Nebbiolo

If you love Barolo, Barbaresco and other wines made with Nebbiolo, brace yourself for the worst proposal I’ve heard in years, and one that could impact the reputation of some of the most esteemed wines in Italy.

When I was in Alba and Barbaresco a couple of weeks ago, producers told me that their consorzio had just alerted them to a newly proposed wine: Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata. The proposal, which insiders say originated with the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, has producers in Barolo and Barbaresco on edge, and with good reason.

Piemonte Nebbiolo, which would be made with Nebbiolo grown throughout the region, would be a big step back for Italian wines. It would go against the push to create subzones in the most esteemed denominations by officially delimiting vineyard areas.

Read the article: Why You Should Be Worried About Piemonte Nebbiolo