A real-live rhinoceros has never set foot in Italy, yet Piemontese winemaker Giorgio Rivetti graces his La Spinetta winery bottles with an image of the magnificent animal.
Does it have anything to do with the wines?
"There's no connection to the vineyards or Italy," Rivetti replies with a mischievous grin. "I just love the art. When you're the winemaker, you can do what you want. My family likes it, too."
Actually, the rhino label has a story. The image is a famous — and fanciful — woodcut by German artist Albrecht Durer. It depicts the first European arrival of an Indian rhinoceros in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1515. Durer drew the animal based on descriptions sent to him.
In truth, Rivetti's wine is his art, even though he takes little credit for the unique wines produced in La Spinetta's Piedmont and Tuscan vineyards. No chemicals or pesticides are used at the family-owned winery. Rivetti personally plows fields with horses and directs a "green harvest" each July, when vines are thinned of grape bunches to keep yields low and to maximize the fruit's healthy development.
"We respect the land and it returns beautiful fruit," he says. "That's what we want to get into each bottle — the character of the land, not the winemaker's hand."
Recently, Rivetti was at David Maione's Vino Italiano wine store in Waltham, where he hosted a tasting of several new releases, including La Spinetta's gorgeous 2015 Barolo Campe ($120) and his three, single-vineyard Barbaresco crus.
A review of the tasting follows. (Prices reflect Vino Italiano's special promotion.)
2016 LANGHE NEBBIOLO, $25 — An elegant, 100 percent Nebbiolo featuring black cherry, licorice, menthol and sweet tobacco notes. A splendid entry-level Barolo taste without the hefty price tag.
2015 BARBERA D'ASTI "CA DI PIAN," $21 — A tremendous, top-tier (DOCG) value from an excellent vintage, it impresses with mascara cherry, plum and violet notes. Very silky.
2018 VERMENTINO, $16 — From the winery's Tuscan branch, this golden-yellow-colored wine exhibits pure expressions of pear and melon fruit, floral aromatics and pleasant minerality on the uplifting finish.
2018 IL ROSE DI CASANOVA, $17 — A 50-50 mix of Sangiovese and Prugnolo Gentile (a Sangiovese clone), this Italian rosato excites the palate with strawberry and citrus flavors. The finish is dry and lingering.
2015 BARBARESCO GALLINA, $108 — La Spinetta's old vine crus are all Nebbiolo, and this one is exceptional across the board. Wine expert Antonio Galloni rated it 96 points, writing, "For now, the 2015 is one of the finest wines I have ever tasted from La Spinetta." I concur.
2015 BARBARESCO STARDERI, $108 — A touch of citrus emerges with red fruits in this impeccable wine. Built to last another 30 years in the cellar, it's drinkable now with decanting.
2015 BARBARESCO VALEIRANO, $108 — Only 7,000 bottles were produced of this intense, refined wine that's layered with spices and finesse.
2015 BAROLO CAMPE, $120 — In the 1980s, Rivetti became known as one of the "Barolo Boys" who helped modernize Piedmont methods to create approachable Barolos that can be enjoyed in the present life (rather than after decades of cellaring and possibly dementia). This is his masterpiece, like Caravaggio's "Bacchus." Exquisite, energetic, divine — and only 8,000 bottles made. Look for Durer's pencil drawing of a stately lion on the label. "Barolo is the king of wines," says Rivetti, "so I felt the king of the jungle is good." (Rivetti explains the label naming process in this humorous video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmY_f4ilzTQ)
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DEAL OF THE WEEK — Costco just brought in the 2017 Kirkland Signature Carneros (Sonoma) Pinot Noir for $11.99. This juicy, easy quaff won't last long at this price.
Read more on Jim Campanini's wine blog at www.grapefullyyours.live.