On a foggy October morning in 2010, I visited Giuseppe Rinaldi, an artisan winegrower and famed maker of Barolo. He is also an outspoken advocate for making wine naturally and according to traditional methods. In an interview with Vini Veri, a natural winegrower’s group that he helped create, he said:
The world of artisanal products linked to culture is being castrated by bureaucratic paper…. All of it is a big bluff to the consumer because as soon as you exceed the bounds of normal production, you lose quality. The prevailing problem is money. Seeking rapid wealth, people ruin the land…. Everything becomes a commodity to be marketed.
On the morning of my visit, during the harvest, Rinaldi’s large, wooden vats (tini di legno) were full and fermentation was just beginning. Rinaldi ferments only with indigenous yeasts and without temperature control in these traditional containers.
Rinaldi’s daughter, Marta, was balancing skillfully on a wooden plank above the open tank. She lifted a heavy paddle over her head, then, slammed it down. For a moment, she bent forward. The board teetered. She straightened, lifted the paddle back up over her head, and smacked it down again. She was breaking the “cap”, the hard surface that forms in a container of fermenting grapes.
Rinaldi gestured for me to climb the ladder leaning against the huge barrel. Suddenly, an invisible hand grabbed my throat in a chokehold, and I started to cough. Marta called out, “That’s the carbon dioxide from the fermentation. You should see how hard it is to breathe up here when the grapes really gets going.”
I climbed down the ladder and followed Rinaldi to the back of the cellar, lined on either side with large closed casks (botti grandi), taller than I am lying on their sides. Each had a small chalkboard hanging on it with names and dates.
Nebbiolo is the grape variety. Barolo is the town and also the name of a DOCG wine classification, which includes a number of other towns. Italian labeling began in the late sixties using the French model of “appellations” (a “terroir” based system that identifies what wine can be made where and with what grape varieties.)
Brunate and Le Coste are names of specific hills or crus. Cru is a French word meaning wine made from grapes grown in one specific place or vineyard. In the early eighties, Barolo was the first place in Italy to map out crus. Long before crus were delineated on paper in Barolo, however, they were named and recognized. Winegrowers traditionally mixed crus, even from different towns, to balance out the wine. Rinaldi was known for his Brunate-Le Coste and his Cannubi-San Lorenzo Ravera.
As of 2010, the DOCG regulations were changed so that only one cru can be mentioned on a label, and only 15% of the wine can be from another cru. This week, I opened a bottle of Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate-Le Coste Barolo 2005 from my small collection of special wines. It was not only an eleven year old Rinaldi Barolo, but a blend of crus that ceased to exist after 2009.
This photo fails to show the vivaciousness of the transparent ruby red color, tinged with the characteristic brick red of Nebbiolo around the edges. The earthy complexity of the aromas in the glass brought back the foggy fall morning that I visited Rinaldi. The taste was an exquisite combination of elegance and authenticity defined by subtlety not power. The overall sense was one of harmony: silky tannins and clean acidity. The Brunate vineyard (about 60%) with more clay and more austere tannins is tempered by Le Coste (about 40%), slightly sandier soil with lighter ones.
On the day that I visited, Rinaldi explained that since Nebbiolo’s tannins define his Barolo, he would never consider using barriques, small French barrels, to soften the grape tannins and bulk up the wine with wood tannins. He leaves his Barolo for about four years in the large, old barrels, then, ages it in the bottle.
On the day of my visit, Rinaldi showed me with chair with a small, paper sign at the top that read, “Best Use for A Barrique”.
On a shelf above the chair was a bottle with the label, “No Barrique. No Berlusconi.” The bottle was from the vineyard of his close friend, Bartolo Mascherello, an iconic Barolo producer, who passed away in 2005, leaving his vineyards to his daughter, Maria Teresa Mascherello.
Before I left that day, Rinaldi showed me his collection of Lambretta scooters. The iconic motorcycle was created by Ferdinando Innocenti in the area of Milan called Lambrate (near the Lambro River) after World War II in a decommissioned military factory. His rival, Enrico Piaggio, began producing Vespas at the same time. Both brands of bikes were wildly popular, and became symbols of Italians getting back to regular life after the war. In 1972, Lambretta went out of business and became collectors’ items.
He also gave me a collection of poems, taken from works by the Persian lyric poet, Shams od-din Mohammed Hâfez entitled Versi Sul Vino. (Verses about Wine). Hâfez was an important lyric poet of 14th century Iran at the court of Abu Isak. The book, published by the Giulia Faletti Cultural Association, excerpts 394 verses about wine from his ghazal (sonnet-like poems).
In the preface, written by Giuseppe Rinaldi and Maria Teresa Mascarello, was a nod to the original makers of wine, thousands of years ago: From Persia to the land of Barolo, a recognition in verse that Barolo is linked to the places where vines and wine originated: Mesopotamia, Caucasus, Persia.
One of my favorite lines in the book is:
“You bring me wine, and I will tell you the secret of the cosmos,
By whose aroma, we become drunk, and to whom we owe our dreams.” (21,3) p. 32
Giuseppe and Marta Rinaldi’s wines are a testament not only to excellence in “natural” winemaking, but to the cultural and historical significance of wine. I’ll wait for another day to recount the story of Giulia Faletti, the French Revolution, the evolution of Barolo from a sweet to a dry wine, and the Rinaldi family connection to her.
Azienda Agricoloa Giuseppe Rinaldi
Via Monforte, 2
Rinaldi wines can be found on Wine Searcher in the range of $150. In addition to Barolo, he makes other native variety wines including: Dolcetto D’Alba, Barbera D’Alba, and Nebbiolo Le Langhe. The more recent versions of Barolo are not labeled by cru, but called “Tre Tine” (meaning three large wooden fermentation vats), allowing Rinaldi to mix various crus in the traditional way.