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How Italy’s new cru labeling rules stifle Barolo traditionalists
Until now, Giuseppe Rinaldi has released two Barolo blends labeled with the vineyard sources; a new Italian law is forcing him to change those bottlings with the 2010 vintage.

Posted: Mar 24, 2014 2:00pm ET

Giuseppe Rinaldi has always danced to his own tune.

A producer of great old-school, cask-fermented Barolos, Rinaldi has been guided by his own gut and local tradition—not others' rules or expectations.

When I first met him a couple of years ago, I asked a simple question: Was his 16-acre estate organically certified?

"I am nothing," scoffed Rinaldi, only half joking. "I am an anarchist!"

I recently returned to casa Rinaldi, his family's stately century-old brick house and winery at the edge of the Barolo village, to take another reading. For now, Italy's wine authorities have hemmed in the maestro and provocateur at the age of 65 with a new law dictating how producers blend and label designated crus.

Since the death of his father 22 years ago, Rinaldi has bucked the modern, French-influenced trend of single-cru Barolos in favor of a traditional approach of blending from different vineyards. Like his late cousin Bartolo Mascarello and a handful of others, he listed two or more crus on his labels.

Now, starting with the 2010 vintage to be released this year, it is basta to all that. The law from Rome, the result of Europe-wide wine standards, allows only one vineyard (representing at least 85 percent of the contents) to be listed on a bottle. Or, none at all.

"È stupido!" Rinaldi shakes his mop of unruly gray hair as we tour his small winery eccentrically peppered with birdhouses, hanging tobacco leaves and artifacts like a restored 60-year-old Lambretta scooter. He removes a small Toscano cigar from his lips and stabs the air with it. "These stupid laws don't recognize the real tradition of Barolo."

Up until now, Rinaldi has released two Barolo blends. The darker, more potent Barolo Brunate-Le Coste (2009 vintage: 93 points, $129) blended up to 70 percent austere Nebbiolo from Brunate with the softer wine made from grapes in the sandier soils of Le Coste. A lighter, more elegant Barolo Cannubi S. Lorenzo-Ravera (2009: 91 points, $129) was assembled from another two plots. But the 2009 vintage was their last.

Rinaldi has never been enamored with the Italian wine bureaucracy. But he finds the new law particularly harmful to Barolo.

"We are not Burgundy," explains Rinaldi, who has travelled to that wine region every year since his first motorcycle tour in the 1960s. "The oldest tradition of Barolo is to blend to have harmony of acid, tannins and color. We have our own history. We have our own dignity!"

To conform to the new rules, Rinaldi and his two winemaking daughters, Marta, 29, and Carlotta, 26, blended and tasted the 2010 crus with a circle of friends in late February.

Their decision was to bottle in late March a Barolo Brunate (with the maximum 15 percent from Le Coste) and another wine containing the remainder of Le Coste with the two other crus. The latter will simply be labeled Barolo di Barolo, and Rinaldi is not yet sure whether he will add to the label the made-up moniker of Tretine, hinting that the wine is made from three crus.

"We wanted to write the truth [on the bottles]," Rinaldi says, shrugging, "but we cannot write the truth."

To Rinaldi fans, these 2010s may well be seductively delicious. But to Rinaldi, they are a compromise. Of the future he says, "Maybe next year I will make my life easier and blend it all together into one Barolo. I don't know. It's a political decision."

"Beppe" Rinaldi is, by his own admission, a man from a forgotten time. His winery has no website. He doesn't own a cell phone and says he is "incapable" of using a computer. But in some ways Rinaldi personifies what is right about Italy. In spite of stifling bureaucracy, impossible politics and widespread confusion, nothing keeps the Beppes down.

Jonathan Ho
Canada —  March 27, 2014 6:14pm ET
I love Rinaldi wines and this is simply stupid. I have no doubt the wines will still be beautiful, but his blends really did work, and it is a shame that he can no longer go forward with this technique due to stupid political decisions.

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