The Roagna story began in Italy's Barbaresco commune in the 1880s, where the family started producing wine. In 1989, they expanded into Barolo, purchasing the Pira menzioni geografiche aggiuntive (MGA), a 12-acre monopole in Castiglione Falletto. It was there I met Luca Roagna, in his new winery and cellars and where the entire Roagna production is bottled.
Pira is the largest parcel of Roagna's 17-plus acres of vineyards, the remaining located in the Asili, Montefico and Pajé MGAs in Barbaresco along with some white wine vineyards in the Colli Tortonesi where Luca makes small quantities of Timorasso and Chardonnay. There is also a Dolcetto, Barbera and Langhe Rosso.
The Pira vineyard sits below Rocche di Castiglione Falletto at its southern end. Whereas Rocche is white soil, Luca showed me a layer of blue marl underneath the Rocche layer, exposed by a cliff between the two, which is the makeup of a good part of Pira's stingy soil. The Nebbiolo vines are propagated by selection, both visual, based on the health, balance and yield of the vines and randomly, because, as Luca explains, "Sometimes the random selection has good traits you can't see." In the oldest parcel of the vineyard, planted in 1937, the vines are still reproduced using the old system of marcottage, where a cane from an adjoining vine is used to propagate a new vine.
Roagna also grows cover crops in Pira, but they aren't mowed in the summer—they simply die. Likewise, Roagna doesn't believe in hedging the vine tips, but wraps them around the top wire to discourage new growth and balance the vines. This also allows the malic acid to transpire out of the vine, the remaining tartaric acid resulting in greater stability in the wines.
Despite Pira being the largest holding and wholly owned, the Roagna name is synonymous with Pajé, its flagship cru in Barbaresco, where the oldest vines (minimum 50 years old) on pure limestone soils are bottled under the Crichet Pajé label. There is also a Pajé and Pajé Vecchie Viti bottlings, based on the age of the vines.
There are three tries in the vineyard before harvest, to ensure the highest quality grapes. After picking, they are delivered to the oak fermenting vats. The fermentation typically lasts 10 to 12 days, and when it reaches 2 degrees of sugar, the cap of skins is submerged for two to three months.
The top 10 to 20 liters of each vat goes into Roagna's Langhe Rosso. Only the center of the tank is bottled as cru Barbaresco or Barolo, and no press wine is used. All the crus are aged about five years in wood except Asili, which after about three years goes into cement, and Crichët Pajé, which sees eight years in wood because its limestone origins require longer aging before bottling. Most important, there is no recipe. Luca uses a combination of wood and cement to achieve the correct maturation.
Roagna's wines are pure and expressive, with supple textures supported by dense tannins. Complex, they are built to last. The Barbaresco Pajé 2011 (95 points, $95), from 45-year-old vines, delivers aromas and flavors of truffle, cherry, spice and mineral. Rich and intense yet elegant and supple, it finishes with an essence of sweet fruit. The Barolo Pira 2011 (94, $95) exhibits more floral elements and finesse in Roagna's cellar; in a blind tasting in our New York office, it revealed more tannic structure.
A Barbaresco Crichët Pajé 2004 exudes perfume of cherry, rose, leather and tobacco. Still firm, it lingers with intensity and focus. "For us, Crichët Pajé doesn't have to be the body builder," says Roagna. "We always find more elegance."