I do intend for this to be something of a Wine Blog. Wine is a huge part of my life, not only what I do for a living but also connects me to a lot of people, places, and things outside of my day job. With wine, it is a huge challenge to know where to start. SO I will start with the first wine that got me hooked. The wine that started to introduce to me the many different elements that contribute to the final product in bottle – the not-so-obvious ones that most people, even most people that know a lot about wine don’t think about. I start with Paolo Bea.
I grew up in Sonoma County, CA but didn’t fall in love with wine until living in New York and working at a little restaurant in the West Village called dell’anima. Dell’anima is Italian for “of the soul,” and I truly feel that that was the food we were making and the experience we were providing. A little bit of each of our souls. My boss and mentor there, Joe Campanale (who hopefully doesn’t mind me referencing him in this little blog) has one of the most vast, powerful memories for wine knowledge. He is a walking, talking encyclopedia for Italian wine. It was here that he introduced me to the wines of Paolo Bea’s.
It is not my goal to teach you a lesson about Umbria or about the Bea family, but more so want to talk about how all of this influenced me. The Bea family has lived on the hill of Montefalco in Umbria since the 1500s, where they have an “Agricola,” or Farm; gardens for fruits and vegetables, olive orchards, livestock, and some vineyards. The main grape grown here is Sagrantino – a vibrant, often quite tannic grape, particularly when grown in Umbria, the only region in Italy that is truly continental, the only the is surrounded by Italy on all of it’s sides. Paolo Bea makes a good amount of DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco but in a few vintages he has made a wine intentionally declassified called “Rosso de Veo.” The 2002 Vintage was the first I experienced. It was a challenging year with a lot of rain and it turns out that the juice used for the 2002 Vintage was in danger of being send to the distillery (as can happen with quite a big of fruit that doesn’t make the cut). But Paolo kept the fruit, didn’t add any sulfur, left it to fate. It ended up working – not like the typical masculine, powerful Sagrantino that people have become used to – but more restrained and elegant. It became glorious with a little bit of age on it. I tasted this wine first in 2008.
The most important thing about this wine is what he wrote on the label, and it has always left a lasting impression on me – it says “VENDEMIA (difficile, ma sorprendente)” – difficult, but it is amazing. People tend to get hung up on “what is a good vintage,” “what is a bad vintage…” I believe that the best wines are made with complete respect for the weather and natural conditions in a given year. Good or bad, it can often lead to surprising, sometimes INCREDIBLE results. If you get too hung up on checking vintages and scores in Wine Spectator and what a wine is supposed to taste like, you run the risk of missing something remarkable and unexpected. That is what Paolo Bea has taught me. There have been other Rosso de Veo vintages since 2002. It is typically made with fruit from younger vines utilizing similar techniques as Sagrantino di Montefalco production, yet, under Bea’s expert hand, there is always a beautiful restraint and vivacity to these wines. The Rosso de Veo is also a better bargain than its older brother, and I believe more food friendly and a lot more fun.