A Second Round of 2015 Reds, and the Debut of the 2017 Lapideus
Over the past 35 years, Giampiero Bea—both through his own deeply personal wines and his far-reaching influence—has become a cornerstone of our family of growers. Building on the work of his father, a through-and-through farmer whose Umbrian dialect is so thick as to be nearly incomprehensible to outsiders, Giampiero realized what made Paolo’s wines so special and built a working philosophy around it. In a series of decades that saw Italian winegrowers embracing modern technology whole-hog, Giampiero—as co-founder of the ViniVeri (“Real Wine”) group—advocated for respectful vineyard work, biodiversity, a de-emphasis on technology in the cellar, non-engagement with professional critics, and an overall trust in old, tried-and-true agrarian wisdom.
Thankfully, these principles have become far more commonplace today than they were thirty years ago, but Bea’s wines remain singular: boisterous, unabashedly wild expressions of their undulating, sun-drenched hills of origin, each new vintage of which is eagerly anticipated by a legion of loyal clients. Giampiero’s wines always proudly display their vintage, and he pointedly resists striving for a consistent “product” from year to year. There is no green harvesting and no excessive sorting, as he wants each wine to reflect the entire season’s crop and not just a choice section; fermentations begin and end without being forced in either direction, thus varying in duration notably from vintage to vintage; and the wines are bottled when they’re deemed ready to be rather than according to some schedule, with the reds in particular generally spending upwards of four years in cask. There is no regulation of temperature, no pumping, no fining, and no filtering. Giampiero relies on patience, and plenty of it, to clarify his wines, and what is in the bottle is always a full-on reflection of the fruit and the story of the season that birthed it.
2015 was a monumental vintage here, with vigorous, healthy fruit married to formidable structure, plus copious amounts of those effusive Near East spices that frequently mark Bea’s wines in such bold fashion. Giampiero tends to perform exceedingly well in warm vintages, openheartedly coaxing all of the season’s generosity without ever veering into vulgarity, and 2015 illustrates his acumen there in phenomenal fashion. These 2015s possess enough fruit amplitude that their tannins are well-buffered even in these relatively early days of development, and they have opened up nicely since they were debuted last January. Rounding out our incoming shipment will be the fresh, mineral-driven 2017 “Lapideus” and a final splash of the succulent 2017 “Santa Chiara.”
2017 “Lapideus” Umbria Bianco
Giampiero acquired a parcel of 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino in the town of Pigge di Trevi several years back, and 2017 marks the fourth vintage of this exciting addition to the Bea lineup. Arising from a cooler microclimate than Bea’s iconic “Arboreus” (also pure Trebbiano Spoletino), “Lapideus” spends a month on it skins after pressing, followed by over 200 additional days on the gross lees—a similar vinification the “Arboreus,” yet one that yields markedly different results. “Lapideus” has a leaner, racier carriage than the broad-shouldered “Arboreus,” with a more precise sense of acidity; it emphasizes drive over density, and its underlying salinity is not a far cry from the spellbinding wines we import from Paolo Vodopivec in the Carso—incidentally, a dear friend of Giampiero and a fellow ViniVeri administrator. A subtle note of honeyed sweetness at the wine’s core speaks of its warm-climate origins, and Bea’s propensity for wildness reveals itself in a fascinating cheese-rind whisper in its aromatics.
2017 “Santa Chiara” Umbria Bianco
“Santa Chiara” hails from the fabled Pagliaro cru, and combines roughly equal proportions of five varieties: Garganega, Grechetto, Malvasia, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Everything ferments together, without any additions or temperature regulation, in stainless steel, and the wine is given several years of settling before being bottled without fining or filtration. The rich, forward 2017 spent 28 days on its skins, and was bottled in May 2019 after 20 months of aging. Compared to the chiseled 2017 “Lapideus” above, this vintage of “Santa Chiara” swaggers out of the bottle with macerated peaches, brassy spice notes, a liberal dash of white pepper, and candied citrus. Despite its somewhat explosive and brash personality, it possesses terrific drive and a focused, tannin-derived sense of architecture.
2015 “Rosso de Veo” Umbria Rosso
Since the 2005 vintage, Bea’s “Rosso de Veo” (“Veo” is the way the family’s name is pronounced in the old Umbrian dialect) is pure Sagrantino sourced from younger vines around the property and from parcels that don’t quite make Giampiero’s rigorous cut for “Pagliaro,” “Pipparello,” and “Cerrete.” This 2015 is Mike Tyson in his prime: potent, assertive, brazen, and making no concessions to polite society. Monstrous in its tannins, it nonetheless presents them in such a multifaceted way as to almost transcend their viselike grip; the tannins themselves have layers, offering classic sandalwood spice on one level, mineral-saturated depth-charge stoniness on another, and—most thrillingly—a direct, naked evocation of crunching into dripping-ripe berries. Four years of élévage did nothing to blunt this astonishing wine’s unmitigated expression of freshly plucked grapes, and this is a monumental “Rosso de Veo” that should live for a very, very long time.
2015 “Pipparello” Montefalco Rosso Riserva
The cru Pipparello is situated at 400 meters altitude with soils of gravel and clay, and this bottling displays Bea’s masterful touch with Sangiovese, which achieves a wilder expression here than in neighboring Tuscany. Comprising 60% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano, and 15% Sagrantino, the phenomenal 2015 harnesses the combination of power and energy that characterizes the vintage here. Clocking in just under 15% alcohol, it bears its broadness gracefully, with a blossoming nose of black olives, Indian spices, and bittersweet chocolate. Certain vintages of Pipparello deemphasize varietal expressiveness in favor of a greater overall sense of spicy, earthy complexity, but the dominant presence of Sangiovese is clearly articulated in this ’15, whose palate displays surprising drive and acidity. It’s a heavyweight that can really dance in the ring.
2015 “Pagliaro” Montefalco Sagrantino Secco
Bea produces perhaps his most renowned wine from pure Sagrantino grown on the prized hilltop site of Pagliaro, situated at 1300 feet above sea level in Montefalco proper. Following the example of the “Rosso de Veo” above, this 2015 is absolutely jaw-dropping in its intensity and presence. Bea’s wines at their best offer a panoply of spices so intoxicating, so far-reaching, so evocative, as to nearly defy belief. The only wines that approach Bea’s in that regard are perhaps the most un-sculpted Syrah-based wines of the Northern Rhône, but even those feel as if they have governors on their accelerators in comparison to top vintages of “Pagliaro.” Similarly large in scale to the “Rosso de Veo,” this actually presents with greater precision and nuance, its overall attack more subtle but ultimately no less impactful—direct evidence of a great terroir translated with consummate skill.
2012 “Cerrete” Montefalco Sagrantino Secco
The family has owned a parcel in Cerrete, the highest-altitude vineyard in Montefalco, for some time, but it wasn’t until the 2007 vintage that Giampiero deemed the vines old enough to do justice to the cru’s potential. With its poor, mineral-rich soils and its acidity-preserving altitude (450 to 500 meters), Cerrete yields a wine not more powerful than Bea’s other pure-Sagrantino titan “Pagliaro,” but with greater nuance and a finer expression of detail. In acknowledgment of its stature, Giampiero gives it an additional year in large Slavonian oak, making for an astonishing five-year stint in barrel before the requisite long resting period in bottle. In line with Bea’s other 2012s, this Cerrete evokes autumn in its warmly spicy nose, its notes of fresh tobacco and moist soil, and its mellow, caressing fruit character. The greatness of the site expresses itself in a level of finesse that Bea’s other wines, magnificent though they are, cannot quite attain.