Above: They call Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi the “Citrico” (CHEE-tree-koh), the “citric one.” Photos by Tracie P.
When Italian actor Franco Citti told his mentor Pier Paolo Pasolini that he was headed to the U.S. to make a film with Coppola (The Godfather), the director and poet admonished famously: “Go to America but don’t learn how to speak American.”
I couldn’t help but be reminded of that famous however apocryphal quote when esteemed Italian wine scrabbler Mr. Franco Ziliani took Tracie P and me to visit and taste with Beppe Rinaldi in Barolo.
Above: We didn’t taste but rather drank 1982 Barolo Brunate and 2005 Barolo Brunate-Le Coste in Beppe’s living room, accompanied by some excellent cheeses that Beppe sliced for us personally and his ubiquitous Toscano, the spicy “Tuscan” cigar favored by many Italians. The 1982 was one of the greatest wines I’ve ever had the privilege to drink — brilliant fruit and exquisite tannin. Beppe spilled a drop on Tracie P’s jeans as he poured. She still hasn’t washed them.
Beppe doesn’t care much for Americans or America, a sentiment not uncommon in a region of Italy that was once dominated (although no longer) by far-left politics, where the cultural hegemony of Americana was seen as a destructive force that could sweep away the genuine traditions and values of life in post-war Italy. He told of us of a trip he made in the 1980s to Davis, California, when he was still working as a veterinarian. Unlike other Italian winemakers who traveled to Napa during that decade, Beppe wasn’t impressed by the squeaky-clean wineries and winemakers of his antipodal counterparts. Nor was he impressed by the purveyors of Italian wine.
Above: The Rinaldi cellar, which lies underneath the Rinaldi 18th-century villa, is old-school all the way. The house is truly one of the most beautiful in the town of Barolo. I regret that we didn’t take a picture of the exterior.
We were thrilled, of course, to get to taste with Beppe and we are forever grateful to Mr. Ziliani for such high-level access. To my palate, his wines are among the greatest produced in Barolo and the style has remained entirely unchanged for at least two generations (i.e, the current and that of Beppe’s father, also Giuseppe).
Above: Among other wines, Rinaldi makes a blend of fruit sourced from Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Ravera as well as what is considered his flagship wine, Barolo sourced from Brunate and Le Coste. His expressions of Cannubi and Brunate, in particular, are considered two of Barolo’s historical benchmark wines. To my palate, these are two sine qua non wines, essential to an understanding and appreciation of the greatness of Barolo.
Of all the winemakers we talked to in February in Barolo and Barbaresco (and we asked the very same question during each visit), Beppe was the only one who said he doesn’t use selected, cultured yeasts. “I don’t have problems staring fermentation in my cellar,” he said. On a few extremely rare occasions, he told us, he has used cultured yeast when for whatever reason fermentation needed a nudge, so to speak. When you tour the cellar with him and negotiate the labyrinth of his cluttered laboratory, you cannot help but think that the terroir is not only in the vineyards but also there in the cellar, which has remained unchanged for two generations. It is as if the terroir is “growing” on the sides of the enormous Slavonian casks he uses to age his wines. One of the most fascinating vessels is an enormous fermentation cask built by his father so that he could vinify his entire holding of Brunate in one vat. When you visit this cellar, clean, of course, but not immaculate, you can “smell” the terroir.
Above: Playing in a French rock band sure comes in handy sometimes.
Beppe may not be so fond of America and Americans but the “citric one” was an excessively generous host. Maybe he found me slightly more simpatico when Mr. Ziliani told him that I perform and write songs with a French rock band. At the end of our visit, Beppe gave me an unlabeled bottle of 2005 Barolo Brunate-Le Coste.
Above: I probably hate blind tasting as much as Guilhuame does. But I couldn’t resist “tasting my friends blind on this wine,” as we say in the biz. Of course, they could easily surmise what the wine was because they knew where Tracie P and I went on our honeymoon!
Last night, Tracie P and I shared the bottle with our good friend Mark Sayre and the gang at Trio in Austin (the happy hour there has become our “Mel’s Diner”). What a thrill to share this gorgeous wine with a group of wine professionals here in Austin! It was powerful, with gorgeous fruit and an immensely vibrant acidity (no pun intended!), definitely one of the top 3 examples of 2005 Nebbiolo I’ve tasted.
Beppe Rinaldi is a true iconoclast and his wines are truly iconic expressions of Barolo, sine qua non interpretations of one of the greatest wine producing regions of the world, Langa. Like the man, the wines represent an essential continuity with the past and a hope for the future. Whether you prefer modern- or traditional-style Langa wines, thank your lucky stars for a man who remained true to his people and his land, when others were perhaps seduced by the dollar signs that flashed before them in the 1990s. In the field of trophy wines, Beppe’s bottlings remain more than fairly priced. I cannot recommend them to you enough.
And to be honest, I’m only half-kidding when I say that Beppe doesn’t like Americans. ;-)