Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Master of Traditional Barolo: Giuseppe Rinaldi History & Retrospective Tasting

From The Cellar Table @Morrellwine

Giuseppe Rinaldi is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting producers in Barolo today. Giuseppe, known locally as Beppe, took control of the family winery in 1992 after the death of his father, Battista. Beppe was a veterinarian by trade, yet taught the principals and methodologies of creating traditionally-styled Barolo from his father. With five generations of grape-growing and winemaking experience in the family, Giuseppe Rinaldi wines were already considered among one the greatest expressions of Barolo, long before Beppe took over the estate.

His father, Battista Rinaldi, a serious man and trained enologist, took over the winery back in 1947. With family holdings in Brunate, Le Coste and Ravera, he brought the Rinaldi name to eminence. Giuseppe RInaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva 1985During this time, he also purchased their parcel in Cannubi San Lorenzo, and from these four vineyards, created two different Barolo. A straight Barolo, which was blended for balance from a mix of the family vineyards, and a single-vineyard Brunate, or Brunate Riserva. It was the Brunate Riserva, which was said to be made only in the greatest vintages and aged for ten years prior to release (think Giacomo Conterno Monfortino), that is a legend to this day.

In 1992, when Beppe took the reins at Giuseppe Rinaldi, the only real change that was made was to remove the Brunate from the winery’s portfolio and only make two blended Barolo. And so, Brunate – Le Coste and Cannubi San Lorenzo – Ravera was born. It was Beppe’s belief, in the true traditional style, that the greatest heights to which Barolo could reach could only come through blending. Although this was not a popular belief during the ‘90s, as the modern movement swept through Piedmont, Beppe held fast and refused to change.

At the time, the world wanted large-scaled, dark Barolo that was inflected with new oak and could be enjoyed younger, which was everything that a Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo was not. In turn, Beppe Rinaldi was grouped together with Bartolo Mascarello and Teobaldo Cappellano, as the last of old-time traditionalists.

It’s because of this that, as the popularity of Barolo swept across the globe and prices climbed, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo remained heavily unaffected. Yet, behind the media hype and a new generation of Barolo drinkers who had never experienced the greatest traditionally-style wines, were the long-time collectors who knew better. Giuseppe Rinaldi became one of the greatest under-the-radar producers of the late nineties and early two-thousands. I still recall a time, not so long ago, when a Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo would only cost me $55.

So what happened? To a large degree, tastes changed. However, what was an even larger influence on the public was Italian wine writer Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media, who was an avid fan of traditional Barolo and would regularly seek out and taste the great wines of the past century. As Antonio’s following grew, and from the platform of The Wine Advocate, the public began to experiment, and they liked what they found.

Things have changed quite a bit in the last eight years. Today, the names Bartolo Mascarello, Teobaldo Cappellano, Giacomo Conterno and Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi are on the minds of Barolo collectors around the world. Each are traded at a premium and often allocated to partial case quantities at the retail level. However, through all of this, very little has changed at Giuseppe Rinaldi.

Chemicals are never used in the vineyards, with only occasional manure to fertilize and a limited amount of copper and sulfur. In the winery, Beppe uses spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast, which takes place in neutral wooden vats, and then ages in large Slavonian cask. Beppe learned from his father, who learned from his father before him, and he sees nothing wrong with keeping things just the way they were.

The only change we see today is one that has been enforced by the Barolo consortium, and that is the new MGA labeling laws, which has forced producers to only list one vineyard on a bottle of Barolo, or be left to list no vineyard designation at all. But there is a silver lining, in that a producer can list a vineyard name on a label, yet still add up to 15% of another vineyard to the wine (don’t try to make sense of this; it is Italy). And so, Brunate – Le Coste has now been name Brunate only, with the addition of 15% Le Coste added. Although this is a change from (around) 40% added in the past, it still allows Beppe to blend. What’s more, Cannubi San Lorenzo, has become Tre Tine, with the addition of the Le Coste juice that was once used for Brunate. With the 2010 vintage and with the new rules in place, I can say with absolute confidence that Giuseppe Rinaldi continues to make two of the greatest Barolo in Italy today.

You can imagine that when the time came to participate in a Giuseppe Rinaldi vertical tasting, everyone involved was ecstatic. The vintages assembled represented not only Beppe’s amazing wines from the nineties and beyond, but also a duo of magical Barolo that were created by his Father.

Before digging into the notes and the scores, I think it’s important to list a few of my general impressions, because I believe that they give good insights to the differences between Giuseppe Rinaldi and your average Barolo.

Firstly, we often hear the term “buy the producer, not the vintage,” and this has never been more evident as it was at this tasting. The 2003 Brunate – Le Coste (a hot year that has proven to be very disappointing across the region) was absolutely gorgeous. It was vibrant with grip, drive and freshness to the fruit that is unheard of for the vintage.

The 2007 Brunate – Le Coste (another ripe year that has been aging unevenly for many Barolo) was epic. In fact, had it not been immediately followed by the classically-structured 2008, I may have thought it to be the best of the Brunate – Le Coste post the 1999 vintage. I believe this is a great example of Beppe’s belief in blending different vineyards for balance.

Second, I find it amazing how the fruit and floral profile of Giuseppe Rinaldi is so different from other Barolo. The fruit here is dark, accentuated by minerals, and there is often a violet floral note, especially in the Brunate – Le Coste. It’s quite beautiful.

Third, my personal belief is that the Brunate – Le Coste is “The” wine of Giuseppe Rinaldi. Where each example of Cannubi San Lorenzo – Ravara was gorgeous, and I would never pass up an opportunity to taste, there’s simply something about the classic structure and zesty acidity of Brunate – Le Coste that drives me wild.

For my tasting notes, and many more photos, Check out The Cellar Table!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Was It Worth All The Hype? A 2005 Bordeaux Retrospective

It’s funny how things can come full circle. I clearly remember the release of 2005 Bordeaux and all the hype surrounding it. I remember Robert Parker raving about the strength of the vintage and how it would go down in history as one of the greatest that Bordeaux had ever seen.

I also recall the Wine Spectator toning in, with James Suckling confirming what we had all been told, and I clearly remember buying that issue off of a newsstand.

I looked at the wines—I didn’t have the option to taste them—and decided not to pull the trigger. Even with a daughter that was born in 2005 (i.e. a great birth year wine option). In the end, it was fear. Fear that I was buying in to the “Hype Machine” of wine critics, fear that I would never enjoy these wines, and fear that they would not appreciate in value, even though all the pros swore they would.

And so, in the end, I did not buy.

Little did I know that, seven years later, I would have a chance to taste so many of these from a perfectly-stored collection. A collection that was bought en premier and stored perfectly up until the very night that they were uncorked and poured for me. Now I look back and feel a great deal of remorse. It was a lesson learned; but even today, as I taste through them, I’m contemplating—should I buy 2005 Bordeaux?

The fact is that Bordeaux as a “brand” is not what it used to be. The escalating prices of wines upon release have pushed many fans and collectors out of the market. This is not because of the great vintages, but because of the ones that were simply good or very good, that stayed at their elevated price points. However, there is another reason as well, and that is how many supposedly “GREAT” vintages have followed since 2005. It’s hard for the average consumer to buy a wine based on what it may one day become, as most Bordeaux isn’t ready to drink upon release.

However, at this time, I can confidently say that 2005 was a great vintage in Bordeaux. At some Chateau, it was probably the best they have ever produced. Even with the 2009s and 2010s being hyped and pushed upon us day after day, 2005 is where my money will likely be spent.

Why? Because it truly is classic.

For the full article, 27 tasting notes and many more photos, visit: The Cellar Table

Friday, March 27, 2015

1996 Barolo--Blind Tasting Retrospective

A while back, I polled a number of experienced Barolo collectors for their choice of the best vintage of the ‘90s. These days, we seem to have a great vintage every year, if not every other year, with ‘06, '08, and '10 being reported as great and '05 tailing close behind. Notice that I didn't really mention the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage, as I've found these wines to be far less impressive than originally expected. However, back in the nineties, Barolo only saw two decent vintages between 1990 and 1995. It wasn't until 1996 when they hit their vintage streak with '96, '97, '98 and '99. These were all good-to-very good years, but there is only one vintage of the nineties that each of these experienced collectors believed to be the best vintage, and that's 1996!

Why? Because of structure and balance.

The Barolos from 1996 showed that perfect unity of tannin, acid and alcohol with a core of rich fruit, that spells "cellar worthy." Most Barolo lovers look for the next 1989 or 1978 that they can squirrel away in their wine cellars and enjoy in their magnificent maturity; it's a big part of what draws people to Nebbiolo, the heights it can reach with proper aging. All signs lead us to believe that 1996 is the next great vintage. The only question is, when do we start drinking them? It was with this in mind that we recently organized a "blind" 1996 Barolo dinner.

The biggest surprise for me was how open each of these wines showed. At all of my recent '96 tastings, the wines continued to display gripping tannin, which would restrain the fruit on the palate. Although their bouquets were developing well, I began to fear that these wines would never come out of their shells. This tasting was a perfect example of how unnecessary those fears truly were.

Granted, this tasting contained quite a few modern-styled wines, which confirmed a different notion that I’ve been toying with—that the structure of 1996 Barolo lent well to the better modern producers of the time. Imagine my surprise when a bottle of Azelia Bricco Fiasco came out on top, a wine that I would have assumed to be clunky and showing remnants of dark oak. But that was not the case. In fact, the Fiasco vineyard within the commune of Castiglione Falletto reigned supreme on this night, as Paolo Scavino’s Bric del Fiasc, found the third place spot.

Another interesting reoccurrence is the inclusion of the Cappellano Barbaresco, which held its own in the company of Barolo. Yet again we find a Barbaresco inserted into a blind Barolo tastings and showing tremendous potential and longevity.

In the end, I firmly believe it’s time to start digging into our cases of most ’96 Barolo. I’m sure the top traditional producers are years away from their peak (possibly our next tasting), yet from the modern camp, there’s no shame in pulling some corks.

Head over to: The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine for more photos and the tasting notes: