Visionary winemakers only come along once in a great while, especially in a region like Piedmont, where tradition is now of the utmost importance. From the ashes of the Barolo wars, where modernist and traditionalist faced off, we have found ourselves with an entirely new catchphrase for Barolo and Barbaresco, and that’s “classic.” It doesn’t matter if you green harvest or age in small barrel, as long as your wine shows transparency of place and purity to its Nebbiolo fruit.
But what’s the next step? Which producer is on the path to becoming that next “visionary” talent in Barolo? In my opinion, it’s Roagna.
Roagna marches to the beat of their own drum, describing the approach as “Postmodern.” So what does this translate to for you and me? Sustainable practices for one thing, believing and truly living a natural approach in the vineyards and winery. Alfredo and Luca Roagna see each of their parcels as its own eco-system, with a unique biodiversity, which helps the vines better express a sense of place. Within their parcels and throughout each row, you’d find a mixture of flora. Because of the grasses, herbs and flowers found here, some onlookers might believe these vines to be uncared for, but they would be sorely mistaken.
The fact is that Piedmont has begun to suffer from over cultivation, as witnessed by repeated landslides since 2008. Yet for Roagna, the same cover crops that provide a natural fertilizer for their vines also prevent erosion. What’s more, they have been known to practice a centuries old technique of burying the shoot of one vine to start another, hence propagating the lineage of the vine before it. The risk involved in doing this is high (think Phylloxera), but the result is their ownership of some of the oldest vines in the region, many of them ungrafted, pure representations of Nebbiolo. Yet risk is something that Roagna is willing to endure to create great Barbaresco and Barolo. I often think back to the 2003 Pajé, a monumental wine made in a substandard vintage.
Roagna’s non-interventionist approach continues in the winery, with extended maceration times and natural fermentation (no temperature control) in large open wood vats. From there, the wine is moved to large Slavonian cask, where it can stay for as many years as the Roagna family sees fit. Each individual wine is allowed to take its time throughout the process. In fact, the 2010 Barolo and Barbarescos are the winery’s current releases, and good luck finding a tasting note—as Roagna refuses to show his wines before they are ready.
Upon bottling, each cru receives two different distinctions, a normale (Barolo or Barbaresco) and a Vecchie Viti (old vines). Whereas the Vecchie Viti of each cru is always a step up and drives the collecting market mad, it would be a serious mistake to ignore the normale, as these are some of the best values in the region. Lastly, there is Crichet Pajé, Roagna’s late release, which is a special selection from ancient vines in the Paje Cru. Aged for an extended time in barrel, it’s a wine of epic proportions that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Monfortino.
As Piedmont undergoes its modern day renaissance with repeated comparisons to Burgundy and musing over how these may one day be just as rare and expensive, it truly pays to get to know Roagna, who is undoubtedly the next visionary producer in Piedmont.
2008 Roagna Barbaresco Pajé – The bouquet alone was worth the price of entry. The lifted and floral nose revealed crushed cherry, exotic spice, sweet herbs and roses, before taking on ginger, tobacco and dusty soil tones–all the while remaining feminine and remarkably pretty. On the palate, tart cherry with hints of cedar, herbs and orange zest soothe the senses while fine tannin provided grip to its light-bodied frame. It finished on tart fruit, spice and tannin. The 2008 Pajé needs time for the palate to flesh out and catch up to it’s aromatics, but once it does…I can only imaging. (94 points)
2003 Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda – The nose of the Roagna was classic in every way as a bouquet of cherries and earth with tar, roses and undergrowth wafted up from the glass. On the palate, it was, at first, very tight and focused with sweet cherry. With time in the glass it began to take on weight and show darker red fruit with earthy minerals and cedar. The finish was structured, yet long and truly showed this wine’s youth. From all the 2003s I’ve tasted, it showed the most classic and will benefit from further aging. (93 points)
1999 Roagna Barbaresco Pajé – The ’99 Pajé showed gorgeously on this night. A bouquet of woodland fern, mint and cedar gave way to dried cherry, plum and dark floral tones. It was feminine with lively acidity and youthful tannin still showing. Cherry and strawberry dominated with a hint of spice, turning to cranberry as it carried across the mid-palate. The finish was unbelievably long with tart red fruits and earthy floral tones. I simply did not want this experience to end. (94 points)
1996 Roagna Barolo La Rocca e La Pira – A drop-dead gorgeous Barolo, which is classic in every way and just starting to enter it’s drinking window. The nose was vibrant, showing sweet florals with dried strawberry, dark earth, dried flowers and dusty spice. On the palate, it was lean at first, yet fleshed out in the glass with red berry, earth and hints of menthol. It’s balanced structure kept this lively and fresh, yet intimidating all the same, with a finish that begged for years in the cellar–yet its tart, concentrated red fruit, which lingered on the gums, made me lust for another taste. (95 points)
1995 Roagna Barolo La Rocca e La Pira – Initially, there seemed to be a dirty note to the nose, but with time in glass it came to life, showing undergrowth and floral notes with cinnamon and bright cherry fruit. On the palate, it was lush with sweet ripe strawberry and dusty cherry, minerals, and earth on a structured frame with lifting acidity. The finish showed a hint of drying tannin against focused fruit, giving the impression that this wine may be a few years short of its peak. (93 points)
Click Here, to explore Morrell’s selection of Roagna Barolo and Barbaresco.
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido