Pira in May

Roagna

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For the last few years we’ve been trying to get in touch with Luca Roagna so that we could visit with him, but Luca is very busy and not easy to find. In the meantime the wines seemed to be getting expensive, especially the Barbaresco Crichet Paje, which is now at least $450, often a lot more, and the other bottlings didn’t look like bargains.  I would remind myself that Roagna does some of the best grape farming in Italy, and that the winemaking was getting better and better, but I was still skeptical.

Luca in the cellar                                      

Then, as a late surprise we were able to visit with Luca in Castiglione Falletto, on the last day of our May trip. We’d had a stellar 16-day stay in Barolo, tasting the mostly very fine 2013s, and we frankly were not expecting anything to surpass any of those highlights. We were mistaken! The quality of the wines is as good as any others in the region – high praise indeed. To say that our small group was stunned, blown-away, amazed, entranced – all would be an understatement. Since the wines are given some extra time in bottle before release, these are some of the current releases. If you like the wines of Cappellano, Bartolo Mascarello, and Giuseppe Rinaldi, you owe it to yourself to try Roagna 2011. Jamie Wolff

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Roagna 2011 Barbaresco Paje

Close to the Roagna family house in Barbaresco, Paje feels like the home vineyard; the Roagna vines run down from top of the slope, nestled in the apex of an open oval. As on all of their land, the plants between the rows of grapes are never cut. Luca says that the hand-work in the vines helps to keep the growth down; the plants compete for water and so force the vines to grow deeper roots. Many growers will tell you that too much growth in the rows promotes excess humidity and risk of mildew, but the Roagnas feel this isn’t an issue because their vines have always co-existed with the other plants and are generally in great health. The vines themselves are also never trimmed, the theory (which is somewhat widespread) being that the plant should be permitted to continue to grow naturally, instead of being forced to put more energy into ripening fruit. Paje 2011 is stellar, a wine to make converts of lovers of Burgundy, Chambolle to the Barolo Pira’s Gevrey, delicate, with very fine-grained tannin, a bit reserved, and very elegant. Jamie Wolff

PS The image is of Luca in Paje at the edge of his plot; behind him you can see the neighbor's neatly herbicided rows.

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Roagna 2011 Barbaresco Paje Vecchie Vigne

We didn't get to taste the Paje VV - and now there are 2 bottles left... 

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Roagna 2011 Barolo Pira

Pira is a monopole of the Roagnas, and is separated from Rocche di Castiglione by a little indentation in the hillside; the Pira vines are lower in elevation. The soils gradually shift from the ‘blue’ clay of the southern part of Rocche to the yellow soils of Scarrone (which begins on the north side of Pira). Gevrey to Paje’s Chambolle; although fundamentally austere now the 2011 is a super-sophisticated and complex wine, with a rich side and with great cut; there are only hints at its depths, but more than enough to fall in love. Jamie Wolff

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Roagna 2011 Barolo Pira Vecchie Vigne

The Roagnas replant as needed, vine-by-vine, and the average vine age is very high; in their usage, “old” begins at 50 years of age. Their old vine bottlings (made only in better vintages) show increased concentration and depth in comparison with the ‘young’ versions (which many other producers would call old vines). My take-away note from our visit: “these wines are worth the prices”. Well, value is a relative perception, but the Pira VV is one gorgeous wine. Again I thought first of great Burgundy because of the wine’s finesse and refinement and elegance. We needed more time to with it – the wine developed a lot in the glass as we tasted, and just began to show its fantastic quality and qualities. 111 points, at least. Jamie Wolff

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Roagna 2011 Barbaresco Asili Vecchie Vigne

Asili VV 2011, tasted in the cold cellar, was still expressive as it opened in the glass, showing very clean earthy aromatics, followed by black fruits – a lovely balance. Over just a few minutes it grew much deeper, showing delicate old vine concentration. Another stellar wine. Jamie Wolff

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Roagna 2011 Langhe Rosso (Nebbiolo)

This wine is better than most Barolos, period. So long as you don’t require a lot of oak, or a lot of pomposity in your Nebbiolo, if you were served it blind I think you would agree that it’s on par for quality with Roddolo Nebbiolo, or G. Rinaldi’s. Like those wines, this is easy enough to drink, although you might get the feeling that some more years in the cellar will only make it finer. Jamie Wolff

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