E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis 2021 Dolcetto D'Alba DOC
In July 2022 my wife Emily and I visited the roly-poly hills of Barolo, Langhe. A romantic detour in our European summer trip that was probably a bit focussed on me actually, so I kept it to two days (ie. not enough). Skilfully however I had organised accomodation with a pool, but if I am being totally honest it was the only place available.
The hired FIAT 500 hybrid whinged up the hill from the Autostrada to the village of La Morra and like opening a book the vista unfolded in front of our little windscreen. It was breathtaking and difficult to judge scale - it looked more like photography than reality. The July sun was intense. A milky gauze of moisture in the air seemed to placate it somewhat though, creating a distinctively continental sensation. It struck me that it is a really good place to be part of the plant kingdom. Classically patch-worked vineyards coated every slope like wide brush strokes in chromium green, only occasionally punctuated by darker copses of cherries, hazelnuts and mixed woods. It smelt of the clayey earth and dried leaves. We hummed off down the winding road to the next village, Barolo (though I am not convinced the FIAT once engaged its electric motor the whole trip).
Upon arrival at our accomodation we found a very charming view of the village of Barolo to the right, the pool in the middle (💅), and the crenelated skyline of Castiglione Falletto to the left. Every road sign was plastered with familiar producer’s logos - Borgogno, Giacosa, Mascarello, Scavino, Vajra etc. It got the blood pumping, as did the immediate stroll I took up the slope into the Paiagallo cru vineyard just behind the town. In 37 degree heat and 50% of the way up a 30% incline I was reminded of my 60% below average lack of form. I earned my beer. (NB. I always have a little ‘scoping’ walk upon arrival in a new place, which I then follow with a regional beer accompanied by some local dried sausage sliced up using a folding knife that I have found in a tobacconist along the way. Beer is always the best thing to do while in wine country).
The visit’s other motive was a meeting with the wonderful Signora Chiara Boschis who had kindly allocated us 480 bottles of her Dolcetto D’Alba DOC under her brand E. Pira e Figli. I wanted to have a good chat with her and take her picture a few times. However I wasn’t the only visitor she had to squeeze in at 3pm on Monday July 10th 2022 it quickly became clear. After me, punctual me, came a belated queue of other bodies: an Arizonan buyer, a Finnish buyer, a Swedish buyer, another Swede who said not one word, and one or two others. She only makes 6500 cases a year too, so little to go around! We started with a walk up the hill immediately behind the winery, again (🥵), into a cru vineyard called ‘Terlo’, which is a plot used in the blend of a Barolo wine called ‘Via Nuova’ that Chiara was famously awarded a perfect 100 point score.
As we stood around listening, pretending we weren’t sweaty (we nearly lost a corpulent Swede), we bore witness to Chiara’s youthful energy. It was just gorgeous, and her passion is thrilling. She is circa 60 years old and most impressively didn’t crack a bead of sweat. It was hard to get a word in, she is full pelt. Chiara is unmarried, instead, wedded to her craft. She jovially and yet proudly explains to us that she could have ‘married vineyards’ but instead chose to buy them (It must be said that marrying strategically for the acquisition of very lucrative ‘cru’ vineyards is not uncommon yet commonly not talked about in many illustrious wine regions of the old world). She talked about the soil, sites and vineyard practices, too little rain, too much rain, pests and diseases, etc etc, all the things real farmers like to talk about. She showed deep connection to the land and a thorough understanding of her trade, but never pretended she knew everything.
It is obvious Chiara is a stalwart in the region too. She managed to single-handedly convince nearly all growers in Barolo to take the organic pathway with their vineyards (A necessary target if anyone wants to achieve Organic Certification because of the close adjacency of plot ownership, but ultimately a mutualistic undertaking). She was one of the only two women winemakers in Barolo in the early days and has cleared the path for more women like herself in the region. Her niece was working with her in the winery the day I visited, she had just come back from a stage in an Australian winery. Chiara was the only girl ‘Barolo Boy’ too, a change-of-practice movement in the 1980’s that really put Barolo and the Langhe region on the world stage, the corollary of which was The Langhe being made a Unesco World Heritage Site (as captured in the 2014 documentary film of the same name by Paolo Casalis and Tiziana Gaia).
Chiara brings some technique-led enlightenment to Barolo where engrained oenological practices are the norm (which can in many instances lead to tough wines lacking primary fruit nuance and freshness). She uses temperature controlled fermentations to retain aromatic primacy in the wine, this was a delight for me to discover and made a lot of sense after being captivated by the aromatic detail and fleshiness of her wines. Philosophically she intends to meet the power of Barolo wines with elegance, lushness and bountiful aromatics. I wouldn’t call this a feminine expression of Barolo, that would be facile, instead it is counter-dogmatic purification of Barolo style.
The Boschis family bought the E. Pira e Figli estate in 1981 after the old man passed. So Chiara had a new job. Her family used to be owners of the Giacomo Borgogno estate where Chiara learnt her early winemaking practices before lending her own more dynamic approach to the Pira brand and continuing the Pira legacy that, it is worth mentioning, began in the 1700’s under the Sardinian Kingdom. Her attention in the vineyard is fastidious, restraining yield with impeccable vine balance. She is harvesting Nebbiolo grapes at a point where the wines are vivid and bright still, but with rich fruit sweetness that isn’t dried out and tough. The Dolcetto variety she says has a perfect day to pick, a very narrow opportunity of optimal ripeness, whereas Nebbiolo has a much wider stylistic window to harvest within.
So why Dolcetto? Chiara agrees with me (which is nice of her) that Dolcetto, once the dominant red grape of Alba, is greatly underrated. Nebbiolo is the powerhouse grape, no doubt, but often excels only at the apex of its quality bandwidth (like Pinot Noir). Dolcetto in fact, might be a good measure of a producer’s prowess, as those in the know afford it the attention it deserves. Barbera, conventionally seen as superior to Dolcetto, is often laboured and over-handled leaving many of them acrid and hard. It’s acid is particularly pointy and uncomfortable at times. Whereas Dolcetto done well offers a very 3D and fleshy wine with pulpy tannins, jubilant and voluminous sweet fruits and lifted aromatics. A thick ball of juicy joy in the mouth that finishes with pleasant and more-ish tannins a bit like that of pomegranate. If you have become fond of the serious side of Beaujolais and the Gamay grape then I think Dolcetto is it’s Italian match (at the very least).
Chiara draws her Dolcetto grapes from some seriously pedigreed soils too, those typically reserved for Nebbiolo. The three Monforte D’Alba sites this wine comes from are Ravera, Mosconi and Le Coste (Familiar names to Nebbiolo lovers). The vines average 40 years of age and are very low yielding, hence the fruit intensity in these wines. Wines like this are best served at 10-12 deg c and best taken with antipasti, light pasta or meat dishes. They are the perfect red wine choice for summer evenings where lip smacking fruit flavour is desired over weighty and woody aged reds.
The next day we hit the Autostrada (and two Autogrills) after one more appointment in neighbouring Barbaresco. It sounds cheesy, but as I was driving I thought about Chiara and her efforts; the courage to change tact, the commitment to moving her ilk forward, making them better and not for reasons of fashion or ‘band-wagonning’, just with a strong sense of stewardship. She knows very well what she has under her feet.
Dolcetto "The little sweet one"
Sourced from three low-yielding vineyards in Monforte municipality - Mosconi, Ravera and Le Coste. Vine age averages 40 years. Grapes of perfect physiological ripeness underwent temperature-controlled fermentation to retain vivid fruit aromatics and intensity. This wine has minimal sulphites added and is intended for consumption in its youth.
Flesh, pulpy tannins, and stacks of concentrated fresh black fruits. Sheer smash-able joy yet seriously sophisticated stuff at the same time. Drink circa 10-12 deg c and perfect with pastas and meats on a balmy summer evening.
$60 each / $55 each for 6 or more bottles