Paolo Bea

Paolo Bea
I credit three wineries with my own understanding of what would become the impetus for the so-called natural wine movement in Italy. They are Gravner in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, COS in Sicily and Paolo Bea in Umbria.

Beyond just me, they undoubtedly shaped important and lasting understanding for countless other enthusiasts with a penchant for vino italiano. Twenty years ago, they were virtually the only ones forging down this exciting yet esoteric path that so seamlessly married traditional winemaking with increased environmental and cultural awareness.

Josko Gravner, the three COS partners and Paolo Bea are indeed the founding fathers of a movement that has since taken on a much larger scale and more comprehensive approach. The mainstream use of organic and biodynamic farming, aging in clay amphorae and non-interventionist winemaking is traced back to them. Natural wines have sparked controversy over the years, but my own understanding of this school becomes increasingly fluid and elastic as time goes by. A good part of that awareness comes thanks to these offbeat wines from Paolo Bea in Umbria, Central Italy.

The highly tannic Sagrantino grape is not easy to tame, even by those who adopt the most hands-on winemaking techniques to create softer wines, such as the use of micro-oxygenation or smaller oak barrique. The level of seamless silkiness and polished persistence achieved by Paolo Bea (who uses none of the above) is truly remarkable. If there is magic in these wines, it is most evident in the exceptional work done with Sagrantino, in my opinion.

The Paolo Bea winery is based in Montefalco and is run by his two sons, Giuseppe and Giampiero (the public face of the estate today). The property counts five hectares of vines with additional land planted to olive trees, fruit and grains. Some 60% of the vineyard is planted to Sagrantino. The rest is Sangiovese, Montepulciano and smaller holdings of white varieties. There are two white wines (Santa Chiara and Arboreus) along with two IGT Umbria reds (Sanvalentino and Rosso de Vèo). The denomination wines include Montefalco Rosso, Montefalco Rosso Riserva, Sagrantino di Montefalco and Sagrantino Passito.

Fermentations are finished with ambient yeasts and without temperature control. Maceration times are as long as 50 days for the reds. Malolactic fermentations are in stainless steel. The wines are aged in stainless steel and large oak casks made from Slavonian oak. The wine is not filtered or refined, and all major winemaking steps are made according to the lunar calendar.Monica Larner, Wine Advocate