Traditional vs. modern winemaking in Langhe has been an ongoing debate for quite some time. One of the most traditional winemakers in Langhe is Beppe Rinaldi in Barolo. His mythic status had me anxious to go and visit.
An 11:00 a.m. Saturday visit was booked with a very straightforward woman on the phone. As always, we were stressing and anxiously screeching around the bends of the windy roads ... late again. We tried to call, but of course they weren't picking up their phone. Finally a scruffy voice answered when we were only about 10 minutes away. I got my hopes up that this was actually Beppe but soon I got disappointed when I heard him saying that he was actually leaving to go to Alba that very moment. I could tell he was funny, sarcastic and down to earth by the way he told us he had to go take care of the usual bureaucratic "schifezze" (shit). What a letdown. He knew nothing of our visit.
We finally found this legendary family winery right past the town center. Regardless of the response on the phone, we drove in to see if we could catch him. Everything seemed dead but finally after 5 minutes, a grey haired man with a mustache dressed in work clothes (not a suit!), sticks his head out the door and says he has to go and can't even meet up in the afternoon. Sad.
Just as I started sinking into a deep depression, an SUV drove into the driveway. It was Marta, the daughter, acting as if everything was under control. She rolled in ready to lead us around and we were all set. I was satisfied because I had heard she would be the one to successfully carry on this 19th century winery.
Dressed in casual clothes and a neon nike sweatshirt, Marta got right to the point, shooting us questions about where we were from, etc. I was impressed by her English as she brought us down the stairs, telling us about her enology studies at the high school in Alba (how cool is that!) and then at University of Turin. Her sister is also studying agronomy and since she is the more solitary one, is found more in the vineyards. They are the 6th generation to carry on their "Barolo" tradition!
Marta showed us the amazing 100-yea- old vats, where they macerate the grapes for about three weeks. This is an example of a long and traditional method as well as not using barriques. Each barrel contained Nebbiolo from different crus, along with barrels of Barbera, Freisa, Ruchè and Dolcetto. I was charmed by the old antique odds and ends that decorated the tasting room in this small and humble cellar. After admiring the cellar it was time to hit the adjacent tasting room. All I saw was a bottle of artichoke oil on the table.
"What do you want to taste?" Marta asked. Ehemmm... Barolo of course! But I was afraid to ask. So I told her to choose and soon we tasted all these wines from the barrels:
2011 Dolcetto: Red cherries, red fruits, light to medium bodied. Not a soft, fruity Dolcetto like those from Dogliani but very interesting with sharp tannins and acidity. Still not exactly ready but good!
2011 Barbera: Earth, forest floor, red fruits, round and fresh. Easier to drink.
2011 Freisa: Penetrating nose! Grenadine, wild strawberries, fruit punch gum. Light bodied, tight tannins, dry and structured. Freisa is similar to the Nebbiolo grape for its tannins and needs a bit of time and patience. Unfortunately Freisa is a native variety that is slowing disappearing in the land of Nebbiolo. I loved this!
And finally she asks the burning question... "Would you like to taste a Barolo?" Of course! This was going to be my first time tasting their world-renowned wines. We rushed over to the barrel where Marta rapidly scurried up the ladder and filled our glasses with 2009 Barolo Brunate straight from the wine thief. The second Barolo was from the Le Coste Cru. Normally they blend these two together.
2009 Barolo Brunate: This Cru is more masculine and muscular due to the clay soil. I got smells of brandied cherries, with some spice of cinnamon and tobacco and dried rosehips. Energetic and sparky on the palate, medium bodied...fantastic!
2010 Barolo Le Coste: softer and easier, perfumes of Ariboo candy black licorice
We all started warming up to each other, talking about their belief in limiting production (30,000-40,000 bottles) and chatted about wine tourism. Unfortunately our wonderful visit had to come to an end. This was the moment I could finally have my own bottle of Rinaldi Barolo. I asked her if we could buy some ( I was ready to splurge for my birthday present) and she shockingly said she had none left! I sighed in dismay and was about to settle for the Freisa. Out. Dolcetto. Out. They literally had NOTHING left in the "cantina!" Although I was disheartened, I was proud of their philosophy. This is something that I think would rarely happen in Napa.
In fact, when we said goodbye we left for the huge Enoteca Regionale in Barolo so we could surely buy one there. I was desperate. I couldn't find it! The employee told me they too were waiting for Rinaldi to bring them some bottles because they were out! At least now, when I finally buy a bottle of this wine, I will have something memorable to associate it with. If you ever get a chance to buy one, do it!