Barolo is known as the “king” of Italian wine, heralding an elegance and nobility that is fitting of royalty. Produced in the region of Piedmont from Nebbiolo grapes, the wines are characteristically shy, taking many years to fully bloom. Even with more than twenty years of age, Barolo can be tight and reserved, but with coaxing the wines give forth layers of delicate complexity and nuance.
As a true student of wine, I have been an avid follower of Barolo since the beginning of my wine journey thirty-five years ago. I truly became a fan with the 1997 vintage, within which there seemed to be a limitless collection of amazing Barolo. Having acquired and laid-down many producers from this pivotal vintage, the wines are showing incredible grace and elegance with a twenty-year patina that is like no other wine.
Prices escalated as Barolo racked up successive vintages of stunning wines. It was clear that a favored region was becoming inaccessible.
And then the 2013 vintage arrived. Heralded as one of the best vintages of the decade, the wines are coming to market with all the characteristics of the famed 1997 vintage, and surprisingly in some cases the prices are actually quite reasonable.
I have tasted through most of the major producers and will be highlighting those that I have chosen to purchase over the next few months. The good news is that if you are lucky enough to grab some of these wines, you will not be disappointed. Their aging potential seems as prodigious as the wines of 1997, so keeping them around is an admirable end game. The bad news is that in many cases the quantities of some of these wines is limited, so finding them may be a challenge. Especially finding them at reasonable prices. Like any supply-and-demand market, as supply dwindles, demand rises and so does price.
The Cantina Luigi Pira is a Barolo that is new to me. The winery was opened in the 1950’s, first supplying grapes and then primarily bulk wines through the 1980’s. In the 1990’s, Pira began to stress quality over quantity and in 1993 they produced their first Barolo. Later in the decade the winery acquired the three Serralunga plots that provide the Nebbiolo for its single vineyard Barolo wines: Rionda, Marenca and Margheria.
The estate now farms 12 hectares (approximately 29 acres) of vineyards planted mostly to Nebbiolo, with smaller plantings of Dolcetto and Barbera. Cantina Pira Luigi avoids the use of chemicals in the vineyard, instead favoring natural farming practices that emphasize low yields. Production is relatively small with just 5000 cases made annually.
The wine featured here is their basic Serralunga Barolo, made from grapes obtained from the “Le Rivette” zone located in the lower parts of the Marenca and Margheria vineyards. Like a second label wine from a fine Bordeaux Chateau, the essence of quality present in the “first growth” wines is clearly in evidence. The calcareous-clay soil provides great structure and terrior to the wine.
The wine is showing very well now, with a vibrant nose featuring cherry, dried herbs, mineral and light floral hints. Very pretty. Well-balanced with firm tannin and moderate acidity. The palate is dense and dark with tightly-packed fruit, exhibiting gamey, savory notes and a hint of allspice. The finish is very long and somewhat closed. With time, the aftertaste blossoms with layers of wonderful complexity. The wine should improve with time in the bottle, perhaps ten years or more.
I picked this wine up at the Medfield Wine Shoppe a few weeks ago. It was priced very reasonably at $39.99/bottle before any case discounts. I can’t say if they have anymore at that price, or if they have anymore of the wine period, but I can say that if you enjoy Barolo and you want a wine that can age gracefully for at least the next ten years, then this wine is an extraordinary value worthy of a phone call…