The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Paolo Bea and…Paolo Bea!

Posted on | January 12, 2016 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

CamachoThere is a belief that wines made from older vines will produce a better wine. Old vines, people say, produce less fruit, typically making more intense, complex and concentrated wines than those from younger vines in their prime of production. I always thought that this was all matter of opinion, but after tasting many wines made from old vines I have found that to me there is a perceptible difference in the character of the wine.

If you look at vines from the root system, it makes perfect sense. Over time, the roots dig deep and spread out—some old-vine roots can be as deep as 25 feet, compared to younger vines, whose root system averages 6 to 10 feet. During a wet vintage, the young vines that have roots closer to the surface will tend to absorb lots of water, producing large, beautiful fruit, but that fruit will be full of water and produce thin wine. The deeper root system of an old vine means that rainwater won’t filter all the way down, and the lack of moisture helps these vines produce a more even, mature crop. In a dry vintage, younger vines do not get enough moisture and the crop may not ripen at all. The deep roots of an old vine can tap into deeper moisture supplies.

It’s as if old vines learn to work smarter, not over-producing in a wet year and producing an even crop in a dry year. Furthermore, old vines have grown deep roots that followed the path of least resistance as they burrowed into the soil, allowing them to wind through pockets of minerals and different soil compositions, and this complexity in the wine.

One of my favorite producers is Paolo Bea in Umbria. Some consider him to be one of Italy’s great cult winemakers, and I love his two white wines, Bianco Santa Chiara, which is a blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon from younger vines, and Arboreus Umbria Bianco, which is made from 120-year-old vine Trebbiano and is a perfect expression of place and fruit. I’ve chosen one of each of these “orange” wines for you to enjoy.

Paolo Bea 2012 Bianco Santa Chiara $49.99

This wine also spends over two weeks on the skins, giving it a nice yellowish hay color. The nose is concentrated and almost tangy or hoppy, with aromas of apricot, peach and white flowers followed by hints of tropical notes mixed with minerality. The palate is bright with balanced acidity and noticeable tannins and finishing off dry. Drink 2016 – 2020.

Paolo Bea 2010 Arboreus Umbria Bianco $59.99

This wine is made from 100% Trebbiano Spoletino, an indigenous variety of Trebbiano that grows in large bunches and has a thick skin and high acidity; Bea’s vines are 120 years old and traditionally trained on wires. The wine has a long maceration of 21 days, then two years of aging on the lees in stainless steel without temperature control and without the addition of sulfites. Even more interesting is that 2% of the harvest is left to dry in a passito style, then fermented before adding it back to the rest of the Trebbiano, which helps bring richness and intensity. The wine is powerful and elegant; the nose is at first full of river stone, with some air floral notes emerge mingling with melon, honey, orange peel and other citric notes. The palate is perfectly balanced with acidity and minerality, and the finish lingers with deep flavors that continue to expand as it coats your mouth. Drink 2016 – 2030.

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