September 16, 2011 Paolo Bea
Paolo Bea Arboreus
Two 2004 bottles from the legendary Paolo Bea — one red, one white — have rested in my cellar for two years. Each time I passed them by I was gripped with anticipation of the day they would be uncorked, especially after reading the chapter on Paolo Bea in Neal Rosenthal’s very fine book “Reflections of a Wine Merchant.” The day has come, with friends who enjoy particularly the wines of Montefalco, the beautiful hillside town in Umbria that is home to this winery. And then the question — of the two bottles, which to choose for the blog? The sangrantino secco Pagliaro (the winery’s flagship), though very, very good, left me thinking I have not yet hit the bottle of Paolo Bea red to soundly win my heart. On the other hand, the white, from an obscure grape trebbiano spoletino, came out of the bottle with a bravado and verve that was deeply impressive. I gave my heart gladly.
Paolo Bea Arboreus 2004
One of the friends sharing the wine suggested that, based on the nose alone, this could pass for a red wine. Indeed there is an earthy concentrate that seems to transport the drinker immediately to rural Italy, that quickly signals that this is not your regular varietal. Something acutely special is going on with this golden amber that sits so appealingly in the glass. The nose has a rustic complexity laced with spiced honey. There is a full-in-the mouth, citrusy tannic quality, unusual and delightfully rich. I want more. $$
The grape is specific to the region, a variation on trebbiano that is thick-skinned, higher in acidity, and is trained with wire to grow well off the ground. The 100+ year-old, pre-phylloxera vines are underplanted with globe artichokes. The Arboreus (from the Italian word for ‘tree’) spent 16 days on the skins, with a slow maturation of four years before being bottled. Just over a thousand bottles were made. According to the individually numbered label, this is bottle 0171 of the lot.
You have to love the label! Besides being aesthetically charming, it is full of information about the wine. (Unfortunately for me, written mostly in Italian.) The winery feels it has nothing to hide.
It is openly, proudly natural in its approach to winemaking. Paolo Bea and his wife Marina started the winery in 1980, with family roots in Montefalco going back to the 1500s. Over time there developed a philosophy that has stood firmly in place, even as sons Giampiero and Giuseppe assumed more and more responsibilities in the day-to-day operations. Simply stated, in the father’s own words; “Nature is observed, it should be heard, be understood, not dominated, as the wine is produced by nature.” (Nothing lost in translation.)
The domaine is only 15 hectares, with 11 given over to vines. Although the family could easily expand the vineyards, their choice has been to remain small and strictly artisanal, maintaining a low profile, and of course, concentrating on quality. No wine doctoring here. With so little intervention, the wines are very much vintage specific. What you discover in a particular wine one year might not be there the next, yet perhaps something entirely as interesting will uncover itself. It’s the nature of the terroir, going very much against the globalization of wine, where consumers have come to expect consistency and uniformity. How much more honest is this. I delight in the anticipation that one day I will strike that perfectly profound bottle of Bea sagrantino.