A Day with Luigi Pira


This past May I made sure to visit Luigi Pira, particularly in light of the brilliant showing of his 1998 Barolo Marenca in a recent vertical tasting.

While the cantina Luigi Pira is quite young (production had only just started in 1993 when Gianpaolo Pira took over farming from his father Luigi), the wines have quickly emerged as some of the most interesting, and most improved in all of Serralunga.

Prior to making and bottling their own wine, the Piras had sold the fruit from their prized vineyards -- Margheria, Marenca, and the famed Rionda -- to some of the most well-known producers in the region.
From the start, Luigi Pira was fairly firmly in the modernist camp, though being in the commune of Serralunga placed certain limitations on how far on the style continuum Luigi could move his wines. The use of new oak, shorter macerations, and other winemaking tweaks to help accentuate the fruit of Barolo can work wonders on the softer wines of La Morra, for instance, but here in the dirt of Serralunga, Barolo is quite simply tough to tame. The wines are typically darker flavored with medicinal herb and earth tones dominating the fruit, particularly during the wine's first decade or so. With time, the subtle, rich fruit does reveal itself, but it seems to require a more natural approach.

That's not to say that Gianpaolo Pira wasn't practicing a natural approach to winemaking (to this day, only organic compounds are used in the vineyards), which depends on natural ground cover as well as a holoistic approach to insect and disease management for the health and balance. These are wines that start in the vineyard, though what has happened in the cellar over the years reveals a subtle yet steady change in the thinking here. The reliance on barrique has generally faded.

The marenca, for example, has gone from being aged in barrique, with a large percentage new, to a combination of barrique and 500 liter tonneaux for the 1998, to exclusively 500 liter tonneaux today. The results speak for themselves; the wines have become more elegant and better able to transmit the uniqueness of each site. While Gianpaolo is moving towards somewhat more neutral winemaking, he has not abondoned the barrique quite yet! The Margheria still sees some time in barrique, and the Vigna Rionda still sees only barrique, though with a far smaller percentage on new barrels than was originally used, now typically between 30% and 40% each vintage.

The winemaking has adapted to the vineyards' style over the years, allowing the fresher Marenca to express its sweet core of fruit earlier, while at the same time allowing  the strict, austere Vigna Rionda to keep its unique character, even if it is expressed in the Gianpaolo Pira Style!

Read my tasting notes from this recent visit on page two.

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  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,999

    Good background, Greg, especially on the evolution of their winemaking philosophy and use of oak. As for the tasting, I'm curious about the seemingly large gap between the levels of execution at the lower and upper ends of the rather extensive portfolio. How does a house that can produce one of your 93s also throw out an 83? Any comments about that?

    Jul 30, 2010 at 4:41 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Well, with producers that use different techniques for different bottling you can always run into severe stylistic changes that make one of their wines distinctly different from another. In the case here the Vigna Rionda bottlings seemed heavy handed, over-extracted, and heavily masked by their oak treatment.

    Will time help, probably but not definitely. Do other people enjoy these wines more than me? Oh yes indeed. But for me, at this moment, I just can't muster much love for these wines.

    Aug 02, 2010 at 3:05 PM

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