2016 E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Langhe Nebbiolo
Longtime shoppers at PRIMA will well remember some previous vintages of Chiara Boschis’ Langhe Nebbiolo. The 2011 blew our minds, the 2012 sold out in a few days, and the 2013 was not only was our best-selling version of Nebbiolo in the year 2016, we actually named it our #1 Wine of the Year. Unfortunately for us, we’ve not seen a bottle since….a situation I’ve finally remedied to our (only modest) satisfaction with the 2016. Chiara is, of course, most notable as the sole female member of the so-called ‘Barolo Boys’ group that so drastically changed the international market for Barolo back in the early 1990s. Known then as a firebrand, her wines challenged the status quo, pushed the envelope of style and completely changed what we, as neophyte consumers, could expect from a bottle of Barolo. She has, however, over the past ten years or so, reconnected with the more traditional side of her winemaking persona, and is now making some of the most elegant, sophisticated, terroir-driven wines in all of the Langhe. Really! She farms organically and, by sheer dint of her extraordinary charisma, charm and doggedness, was single-handedly responsible for converting all of the dozens of growers in the Cannubi vineyard to in Barolo to organic farming- an incredible feat considering some of the crusty old farmers she had to convince! Besides Cannubi, Chiara has holdings in some of the top vineyards in the Barolo appellation including very important parcels of Terlo, just behind her cantina in the town of Barolo, and a good chunk of the fabled Mosconi in Monforte d’Alba. She also leases small but well-situated parcels in Gabutti and Baudana, two of Serralunga d’Alba’s best sites. In addition to fashioning her three benchmark Baroli (Cannubi, Mosconi and a blend called Via Nuove), Chiara reserves the younger vines of the former three crus and all of the fruit from the latter two to make a small production (only 3000 bottles) of a particularly svelte, sexy Nebbiolo delle Langhe. Though it spends a year in cask to add texture and to help soften the tannins, Chiara is determined that wood not be a flavor factor here. But, in its absence, the wine’s really voluptuous, pure Nebbiolo fruit definitely is! You’ll be hearing lots and lots of good things about the 2016 harvest in the Langhe- it could go down as one of the best, even given some of the extraordinary vintages of the past two decades. Grapes like Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo for Langhe Nebbiolo fared particularly well in the area, producing wines of not only great volume but classic structure as well. And Chiara’s 2016s? Wow! As for her Langhe Nebb, I always hesitate to use the term ‘Baby Barolo’ to describe it because that isn’t entirely accurate. I think of it as a sort of hybrid version of an easier drinking Langhe red but with all of Barolo’s ruddy red color, expressive aromas and great cherry confit mouthfeel. It’s made in a more accessible, easier-to-enjoy-now style without the variety’s usually searing tannins. Lovely to drink even now (please decant), you don’t have to think as carefully about pairing it with food as you might with a Barolo. It’ll go as well with smoky, spicy or herby grilled chicken, peppery steaks, juicy burgers and rosemary-scented chops as it will with braised beef dishes, aged hard cheeses or richly sauced pasta dishes. In short, it’s a great wine to have within reach at all times. And, despite its $40 price tag, it’s actually what we’d call a solid value! But here’s the bad news- Boschis’ importer brought only 6 cases of this wine to the West Coast. Even though I availed myself of them all, that’s not a lot….especially because the first six bottles are coming home with me! :- ) First come-first served.