A Tribute to Beppe Rinaldi at NoMad
Barolo Brunate Riserva Retrospective: 1978-2010
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | MARCH 8, 2019
Barolo has lost many of its older guard over the last decade or so. But Beppe Rinaldi's passing last summer somehow felt different, almost as if it signified the end of an entire chapter in the history of Barolo. That, along with the rarity of the wines gave this retrospective a real feeling of emotional gravitas. The wines were truly spectacular, but as so often happens on nights like this, the shared moments were even more special.
Beppe Rinaldi, affectionately known as ‘Citrico’ for his acerbic wit, was born on September 17, 1948. Originally trained as a veterinarian, Rinaldi took over the family estate only upon the passing of his father, Battista, in 1992. Rinaldi championed all of the tenets of the traditional school of Barolo, chief among them the steadfast belief that Barolo should be made from the blending of multiple vineyards, a view shared by his cousin, Bartolo Mascarello. He was also an outspoken critic of what he viewed as over expansion within the Barolo region, both when it came to projects he did not think were respectful of the bucolic atmosphere of the Langhe hills, such as the Boscareto Hotel (which he dubbed an ‘eco-monster’) and the increase of plantable hectares of Nebbiolo for Barolo. Rinaldi’s passions extended far beyond wine. He was equally candid when it came to politics and other social issues, enormously refreshing in today’s world of extreme political correctness.
Beppe Rinaldi in his cellar in Barolo
Two years ago, in London, we hosted a vertical tasting of Rinaldi Barolos that will forever remain one of the most unforgettable nights of my life. Feedback from that event was incredibly positive, so, of course, I had to see what we could do to top it. The launch of our new Rare Wine Dinner series as part of La Festa del Barolo seemed like the perfect occasion to celebrate Rinaldi’s life and career, while taking a look at three generations of the family’s history. Daughters Marta and Carlotta Rinaldi, who run the estate today with their mother Annalisa, were on hand to share numerous colorful anecdotes and their thoughts on the wines.
Almost all of the Barolos in this tasting were the exceedingly rare Riserva Selezionata Brunate (often labeled with one of several variants), a wine that is no longer commercially available. Readers will find more detail on the Rinaldi family’s history and the Riserva in my article Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Retrospective: 1990-2010, which chronicles the London tasting. In short, the Rinaldis produced a Riserva from their holdings in the Brunate cru for many years up until 1993, when Beppe Rinaldi decided to blend fruit from Brunate and Le Coste into a single Barolo. At that point, the Brunate Riserva became a private bottling for personal consumption by the family. Honoring a longstanding tradition, the Rinaldis continued to offer a small amount of the Riserva to a single collector whom I have had the great privilege of sharing many fabulous wines with over the years and who was gracious enough to sell me these very precious bottles. Specifically, the 1978, 1982, 1984 and 1990 Riservas were all released to the market, but the 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Riservas in this tasting are all wines that were never sold commercially. I don’t own any bottles of the 2004 or 2006, so for those two vintages we served the Brunate-Le Coste version.
A few words on labeling and nomenclature are in order. In general, Rinaldi uses their classic lyre label for magnums shipped to the United States, while the scarab label is typically used for magnums shipped within Europe. On the lyre label, the Riserva is most commonly named Riserva Selezionata Brunata (note the final ‘a’), with a neck strip, while the Riserva delle Brunate Riserva Speciale designation is found only on magnums with the scarab label. In practical terms, every wine in this tasting is the Brunate Riserva, with the exception of the 2004 and 2006, which are instead Brunate-Le Coste.
Multimedia: A Conversation with Carlotta and Marta Rinaldi
The wines were poured from magnum, most of them 1.78 liter bottiglioni, a traditional large format that is no longer used, all hand blown glass bottles that are Rinaldi family heirlooms. I was able to buy two of these magnums at the winery many, many years ago. Rinaldi insisted I returned the empty bottles. I don’t think he appreciated my humor when I asked if he would refill them. Rinaldi then threw a couple of labels and capsules at me. “The least you can do is put the labels on yourself,” he barked at me. That was pretty typical.
The wines are opened and the glasses are ready
The NoMad’s Penthouse is a striking setting for an intimate dinner in New York City. Everything was simply perfect. Chef de Cuisine Michael Reilly designed a menu that was sublime with the wines. Executive Wine Director Thomas Pastuszak and Sommelier Sarah Plath did a tremendous job with wine service. We opened the bottles around 5pm. The wines were double decanted to remove sediment and ensure even pours.
As I tasted through the magnums lined up on the bar counter, I was simply blown away by how stunningly beautiful and pure the wines were. Interestingly, I found that as a group, the wines showed better in New York than they did in London, which is especially remarkable considering provenance was exactly the same for all but the 2004 and 2006. In particular, I loved the 2000, 1997, 2007 and 2009, all wines from warmer vintages, and all of them truly spectacular. But the wines were remarkably consistent and on point, with the exception of the 2001, which I will address later. I always like to throw in a few minute surprises, even if the list of wines at our events can get pretty outrageous. I couldn’t live without the 1997 in our flight of 1990s vintages. It turned out to be superb. The 1984 was the only wine that came directly from the family’s personal cellar, and is a vintage I had never tasted before.
We organized the wines by thematic flights, an approach I have used for retrospective and vertical tastings for many years. Personally, I find tasting wines chronologically in this sort of setting to not be especially interesting or rewarding. Starting from youngest to oldest means tasting powerful, young wines with lighter food at the beginning of the evening, which is not optimal. Placing the older vintages first doesn’t provide an opportunity to understand how wines evolve. Instead, I prefer to build retrospectives around themes that allow for a comparison of wines that share similar attributes or are linked in some other way. So, that is what we did. I though it worked out well.
Beppe Rinaldi was a culturally rich and complex person. Those layers of humanity really seemed to come through in the wines. The older wines, those made by Rinaldi’s father, Battista, clearly spoke of an earlier and much poorer time in Piedmont’s history. Although we only tasted one wine from the current generation, the 2010, that was enough to see where the estate is headed.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not say something about our guests. There are many things we can control, but there will always be some things we can’t control. Our guests added so much with their insights, questions and overall thoughts. Indeed, we were privileged to have a veritable who’s who of Barolo lovers in the room. Their response and deep appreciation of the wines was a further confirmation of just how inspiring the world’s best wines are.
The complete lineup
Fluke: With Sorrel, Amaranth and Mushrooms
For this first flight, I chose vintages that I thought would be expressive and ready to drink. The 2000 Barolo delle Brunate Riserva Speciale is outrageously beautiful. It was magnificent when I tasted it before dinner, and it is every bit as compelling at the table. I am so impressed by the purity and freshness of the fruit. Sure, the 2000 doesn’t have the dimension or textural richness of the very best vintages, but there is something to be said about pure pleasure, and the 2000 offers plenty of that. Bright and floral, with distinctly red-toned fruit, the 2000 is a total joy to taste and drink. All I can say is wow! The 2001 Barolo Riserva Selezionata Brunate is the only wine on this night that is not everything it should be. A bit of funk never really blows off, and although the 2001 has good depth, there is just something missing. As it turns out, I tasted another magnum the very next day, and that is the review readers will find in the database. The better magnum reveals an explosive Barolo with layers of balsamic-infused nuances wrapped around a core of dark fruit. Explosive, resonant and super-expressive, the 2001 is fabulous.
Fluke: With Sorrel, Amaranth and Mushrooms
But the most surprising wine of this first flight is the 2009 Barolo (Riserva) Brunate. Truth be told, I have never loved the 2009. It was also one of the few disappointments in our tasting in London back in 2017. On this night, though, it is outrageously beautiful. Rich, dark and totally seductive, the 2009 is so giving. Despite its considerable power and warm-weather intensity, the 2009 retains terrific freshness. A wine of exceptional balance and harmony, the 2009 can be enjoyed now or cellared for several decades. Quite frankly, in this first flight the 2009 is superb. For the 2004, we shift to the commercial release of the Barolo Brunate-Le Coste. There aren’t too many surprises here; the 2004 is every bit as refined as it has always been. Beautifully layered and nuanced, with tons of energy and vibrancy, the Brunate-Le Coste shows just how striking the best wines are in 2004. The detail and depth here are unreal.
Tasting three superb vintages from 2000s; 2008, 2007 & 2006
Celery Root: Salt-Baked with Black Truffle and Parmesan
Barolo Riserva Brunate 2008 & 2007, Barolo Brunate–Le Coste 2006
Three Barolos from the mid-2000s make for a tremendous flight. The 2008 Barolo Riserva Selezionanta Brunata possesses stunning aromatic intensity and an exotic fruit profile that is the result of the very late harvest that year. Hard candy, passion fruit and a range of sweet, floral notes add to the wine’s absolutely beguiling personality. As it so often is, the 2008 is a total stunner. One of the many surprises of the night, the 2007 Barolo Riserva Selezionanta Brunata is nowhere near as giving as most wines from this vintage. The aromatics are quite closed, but on the palate, the 2007 has plenty of the depth and power that are such signatures of the vintage. Readers who own the 2007 can look forward to several decades of fine drinking. And there is no rush, as the 2007 is not going anywhere anytime soon. The 2006 Barolo Brunate–Le Coste is another highlight in a night full of stunning wines. Still tannic and virile, the 2006 is also one of the most reticent Barolos of the evening. Its explosive energy and dark, balsamic profile are super-classic. Readers need to be patient, but the 2006 is everything I had always hoped it would be. Maybe even more.
The 1997 is a last-minute addition to this flight of 1990s Riservas
NoMad Roast Chicken; Foie Grais, Black Truffle & Brioche
Barolo Riserva Brunate 1999, 1998, 1997 & 1996
With these four wines, we go back in time to the 1990s, an era in which Barolo was a very different place than it is today. Modern, lush Barolos aged in French oak were all the rage, while traditionally-minded estates couldn’t sell their wine. That may sound like an exaggeration. It isn’t. Rinaldi’s 1999 Barolo delle Brunate Riserva Speciale is old-school Barolo at its best. This is a vintage I have always adored. Once again, the 1999 is superb. Deep, powerful and explosive, the 1999 packs a serious punch. Iron, smoke, leather, tobacco and a whole range of balsamic-infused flavors are captivating. Think of the 1999 as a slightly friendlier version of the 1996. The 1998 Barolo (Riserva) Brunate is quite delicate in this tasting, almost Burgundian in its mid-weight structure and overall feel. Supple and silky, with lovely aromatic top notes, the 1998 is all class. Although not as classically austere or dense as the best vintages of the era, the 1998 drinks beautifully right now.
NoMad Roast Chicken; Foie Grais, Black Truffle & Brioche
A last minute addition from my cellar, the 1997 Barolo Riserva Selezionanta Brunata is utterly magnificent. The 1997 is dense and powerful, as is typical of the vintage, and yet it retains the old-school personality that makes Barolos from this era so special. Black cherry, menthol, tar, licorice and incense are some of the many aromas and flavors that build in a superb Barolo that brings together the best of the Rinaldi house style during the 1990s, with an extra kick of fruit intensity from the warm growing season. From a standpoint of completeness and pure appeal, the 1997 is one of my favorite wines of the night. The 1996 Barolo Riserva Selezionanta Brunata is the archetype of Rinaldi Barolo, and is the wine that comes to mind most often when I think about Rinaldi, who would often tell me “Barolo must be an austere wine, with no fruit.” The 1996 certainly fits the bill. Tannic, imposing and almost arrogant in its expression, the 1996 is everything old-school Barolo should be: virile, tannic and approachable only with many years in bottle. What a wine!
The last six wines, served in two flights, span three generations of the Rinaldi family
A Selection of Three Cheeses
Barolo Riserva Brunate 2010, 1993 & 1990
For this flight, I wanted to span three generations of the Rinaldi family. Two thousand ten is one of the first vintages in which Marta Rinaldi was deeply involved in the winemaking. It is also the vintage in which the market for Rinaldi wines started to go through the roof. The 1993 was made by Beppe Rinaldi upon his return to the estate after his father’s passing, while the 1990 was made by Battista Rinaldi, Beppe’s father and Marta and Carlotta’s grandfather. For obvious reasons, this was the most emotional flight of the night.
The 2010 Barolo (Riserva) Brunate is off the charts. Sublime, powerful and incredibly nuanced, the 2010 captures all the elements that make this vintage so special. I am not sure what I can add. Everything is there. Time in the glass brings out a super-classic profile of rose petal, tar, incense, spice and citrus peel, but it is the wine’s regal bearing that is truly impressive. It might not be fair to sandwich the 1993 in between two far stronger years, and yet the Barolo delle Brunate Riserva Speciale is wonderfully expressive. Scorched earth, cedar, tobacco, spice and plum give this burly, deep Barolo much of its character. Dense and powerful, with a palpable sense of rusticity, the 1993 clearly belongs to another era. The 1990 Barolo Riserva Selezionata Brunata is without question the most surprising wine in this grouping. Vertical, deep and bursting with energy, the 1990 frankly leaves me speechless. At nearly thirty years of age, it is also remarkably fresh. Like the 1997, the 1990 offers a thrilling combination of old-school classicism with that extra touch of mid-palate sweetness from the hot growing season. In London, the 1990 was mesmerizing. In New York, it is even better!
These precious magnums of the 1978, 1982 and 1984 Barolo Riserva delle Brunate were the last additions to the lineup
Our last grouping includes three vintages that are practically impossible to find today, especially in magnum, all three are absolutely pristine. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up the evening. The 1984 Barolo (Riserva) Brunate is soft and delicate, with pretty red berry fruit and floral notes to match its decidedly mid-weight structure. Although fully mature, the 1984 retains a good bit of freshness. That said, the time has come to finish off any remaining bottles. The 1984 is a very pleasant surprise, as it is a vintage I have tasted only very rarely. What a treat it is to taste the 1982 Barolo delle Brunate Riserva Speciale, another first for me. There is lovely understated energy to the 1982, but tasting it is a reminder that most wines in this vintage have started to decline. Tonight, the 1982 reminds me of the 2004 because of its delicate, nuanced personality. Our evening comes to a rousing finish with the 1978 Barolo delle Brunate Riserva Speciale, a wine that more than lives up to all the expectations surrounding it. Rich, dark and enveloping, the 1978 possesses tremendous drive and intensity in all of its dimensions. Spice, tobacco and leather are some of the many notes that develop in a towering wine that encapsulates a legendary vintage and a simpler time in Piedmont’s history. Let’s be clear, the past is often over-romanticized. The past was not always better than the present. But tasting the 1978 really does seem like taking a time machine back into another era. Moving and haunting in its beauty, the 1978 is without question one of the wines of the night. A glass of Beppe Rinaldi’s cherished Barolo Chinato, a wine he adored making, was the perfect conclusion to this very special tasting.
Marta, Carlotta and Annalisa Rinaldi as seen in their winery just after harvest 2018
Over the years, we have organized some pretty special events. This night was especially memorable. The energy and sheer excitement in the room were palpable from the minute guests started to arrive. Of course, the wines were truly magnificent. Marta and Carlotta Rinaldi shared many personal anecdotes that made tasting such an extensive collection of their family’s wines even more special. The entire team at NoMad executed the food and wine service with real style. Last, but certainly not least, I am deeply indebted to my dear friend Il Professore, who has taught me so much about Piedmont wines, but who could not be with us on this very special evening.
See All the Wines in the Order Tasted
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