iDealwine update: One-way Crichët
The undulating hills of the Langhe in north-eastern Italy are home to the country’s answer to Burgundy: the notoriously pernickety Nebbiolo grape, which, when grown in the right conditions and vinified with respect, produces hauntingly fragrant Barolo and Barbaresco with the kind of finesse most commonly associated with the Côte de Nuits.
The Roagna family has been producing wine in the Barbaresco area since before its official classification in 1890. The estate’s story began in the late 1800s, when Luca Roagna’s great-grandfather worked with a small group of pioneers in the region who started making Barbaresco as we know it today. Luca represents the fifth generation of winemakers, having learnt the ropes from his father, Alfredo.
During the 20th century, the family gradually acquired prestigious parcels and expanded their area under vine. Today, the estate covers 12 hectares, including four small plots in the cru vineyards Asili, Carso, Montefico and Pajè, in addition to 7ha at Pira in the Castiglione Falleto area of Barolo.
A further 8ha owned by the Roagna family remain wild forest. Their portfolio includes: a Barbaresco Riserva; a range of single vineyard Barbaresco wines; a Barolo from the Pira vineyard; a Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbera d’Alba; a red and white Langhe DOC, and the Opera Prima cuvée created by Alfredo, a multi-vintage blend of Nebbiolo.
Yet the jewel in Roagna’s crown is undoubtedly Crichët Pajé. The name comes from the Piedmontese dialect, Crichët roughly translating as ‘top of the small hill’ and Paje referring to the location of the vineyard. Crichët Pajé is thus a micro parcel within the Pajé vineyard, with a terroir particularly rich in white calcareous soil and the estate’s highest content of limestone.
Overlooking the Tanaro river – which mitigates the cold winters and hot summers – the parcel enjoys a unique microclimate that is particularly propitious to Nebbiolo. The youngest vines used to produce Crichët Pajé are over 60 years old; some are so old that they produce only a single cluster of grapes.
Requiring long ageing in large (neutral) oak barrels, Crichët Pajé is generally released around 10 years after harvest. It is considered by many to be the ultimate expression of Nebbiolo, and the attention it is garnering in the international wine scene is testament to that undeniable quality. Less than 1,000 bottles are produced in some years; the maximum production is just over 2,000.
The Roagnas are considered to be some of the finest grape farmers in Italy, placing much emphasis on the promotion of biodiversity in the vineyard. Their 10-point manifesto outlines the domaine’s values in vineyard and winery: (1) old vines located in historic vineyards; (2) massale selection – no clones – single vineyard wines; (3) biodiversity, no herbicides, no pesticides, no fertilisers;
(4) maturity at harvest; (5) wild-yeast fermentation; (6) long ageing in large oak casks; (7) bottling using low sulphur, and no filtration or fining; (8) long maceration using a submerged cap; (9) family tradition; (10) purity from the terroir without any oak flavour.
The winemaking at Roagna is therefore gentle, long and slow. Following fermentation, the wine is left to macerate with a submerged cap, for up to three months for the Crichët Pajé cuvée. The élevage can last up to 10 years, and eschews new oak entirely, a significant choice given a fairly widespread proclivity – until recently – for new oak ageing of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. The wines offer incredibly precise purity of fruit, with delicate, fine-grained tannin, high acidity and typical aromas of tar, roses and liquorice. While the Barbaresco Pajé is likened to a Chambolle, Roagna’s mightily complex Barolo Pira is more akin to a Gevrey-Chambertin.
Much of Roagna’s annual 60,000-bottle production is exported, particularly to the receptive US, UK and Scandinavian markets. This year has seen all of Roagna’s wines performing well, particularly Crichët Pajé, although it is very rarely seen at auction. A 1999 magnum was sold on 21 October for €1,340 (£1,210).
The 2011 vintage went under the hammer for €850 this March, making it one of the most expensive Italian wines on the market. All vintages are estimated at over €600, and we expect more mature vintages to command even higher prices in the future.
Roagna’s other cuvées are also increasingly sought after. Prices for its Barolo La Pira Vieilles Vignes – an old vine bottling made only in the best years, which shows impressive depth and concentration – have begun to soar, the 2008 vintage is now priced at €209, and a 2013 bottle went for €322 this October, after several years of stable prices.
The 2007 Barbaresco Pajé Vieilles Vignes sold for just under €200 in late 2019, while the ‘simple’ Pajé cuvée (made from younger vines) in the 2004 vintage went for €154 this year, doubling its price in three years. A combination of rarity and reputation can go some way in explaining the current appetite for Roagna. These wines will make converts of lovers of Burgundy. Indeed, in the face of rising prices in France, many fine wine collectors are looking to its prestigious transalpine counterparts for better value for money.
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