Many have visited E. Pira & Figli’s cellars, tasted and broken bread with sister Chiara and brother Giorgio Boschis. I am certainly not the first nor the 500th but looking back at my visit with the Barolo sorella e fratello team on December 1st now seems to carry more weight than even I could have imagined. When we consider what has happened in Piemonte, up and down Italy and increasingly around the world over these past four months makes the timing all the more special.
I did in fact have the great fortune to taste and spend more time with Giorgio in January over dinner in Alba during the days of Nebbiolo Prima 2020. There is so much to know, admire and appreciate about these two special Piedmontesi, the level of respect afforded the work they’ve put in and a level of humanity to give meaning to the spiritual endearment “Brother Giorgio and Sister Chiara.” They are part of the integral and collective soul of Piemonte, Barolo, the vineyards they steward and the wines they fashion from lands larger than life.
Going back to the 1700s the Pirras were from Sardegna and the name morphed into Pirra. Then in more recent times Pira. In 1980 the legendary Gigi Pira, owner of E. Pira passed away. With no heirs to carry on a request for assistance was made to the Boschis-Borgogno family. Chiara Boschis’ father Franco purchased the cantina and vineyards and made the wines for a spell. She finished studies in Turin, cut her teeth working at Rivetti and took over Pira. This was by now long after the winery was established and present in the village of Barolo, in what Chiara refers to as the “Golden Ages” that begun in the 1850s. After Phylloxera ravaged the vineyards and did away with prosperity the youth left and the old remained, including Franco, one of the very few. Fast forward to the new golden times and Chiara Boschis becomes one of the “Barolo Boys,” a rat pack moniker bestowed on young nebbiolo toting winemakers, including Elio Altare, Giorgio Rivetti, Roberto Voerzio, Elio Grasso, Lorenzo Accomasso, Alessandro and Bruno Ceretto, Beppe and Marta Rinalidi, Beppe Caviola and Marc de Grazia. The lone woman? Chiara Boschis.
Chiara the pioneer was the scrappiest of the scrappy winemakers, carrying the Pira torch through the growth period of the late 80s and into the 90s, in a time when the collective plan involved “improving quality and the attention of the international markets.” She worked to reduce production, clean the cellars, install new wood and equipment and most important, the vinification of single crus. She started with Cannubi and Terlo, then in 2010 registered a “fantasy name” to make a cru assemblage. The new equipment refined the wines and practicing cellar hygiene led to the elimination of the dirty smells.
Robert Parker came to Alba in the 90s and announced the wines as too rustic. A light shone in the minds of the youngest winemakers who knew what had to be done. There were only 30 wineries in the area after the second world war, now there are more than 600. Boschis has always avoided the temptations. “We didn’t want to become the California winemaker. The pride of our roots took us to a much higher level and now it’s fancy to be traditional, even if so few are truly family anymore. The fact is we really just wanted to have clean wines.”
Chiara has always farmed organic and was finally certified in 2010, the year Giorgio joined hands. Together they purchased more vineyard space in the areas of Monforte and Serralunga. Cannubi and Mosconi are the two crus and they also produce their assemblage Via Nuova from several significant plots like Terlo and Liste in the commune of Barolo; Gabutti and Baudana in Serralunga d’Alba; Ravera from Monforte and Mosconi in Monforte d’Alba. Total farmed is 11 hectares producing 35-40 thousand bottles. Generally speaking the barrel program is one-third each new, one year and two years old wood of half and half barriques and botti. The exception is Mosconi which sees more barriques because, “it’s so much fruit.”
These are the five wines tasted with Chiara in the cantina plus one more with Giorgio in Alba.
E. Pira & Figli Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($30.95)
In the words of Chiara Boschis. “For me the dolcetto is part of my background, my history, the memories of the family.” Now listen closely to this dolcetto because a challenge will bring the best out of a winemaker and her wines. “This is the dolcetto that i like, fresh, fruity, drinking well.” The fruit comes from three plots in Monforte; Le Coste, Mosconi and Ravera. Not for aging, lacking structure but certainly not lacking in elegance and pleasure. Finishes with a white peppery kick. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted December 2019
E. Pira & Figli Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($43.95)
More potential than dolcetto and here the triangular travelling from flowers, through spice and into avid acidity makes this real, honest, true and long. One year in barrel (old only) and fruit drawn out of vineyards in Mosconi, Ravera (Monforte) and the lower, south facing part of Gabutti (Serralunga). Refreshing and so perfectly aligned, plus essentially designed to handle olive oil in every incantation, especially meats cooked and fried in the fats of the area. Only 4,000-5,000 bottles produced. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted December 2019
E. Pira & Figli Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($50.95)
Now into nebbiolo that is highly floral from one dedicated vineyard in Le Coste, of “bello” respect. High-level nebbiolo factor, traditional and extreme clarity. If most of the Barolo were drawn, executed and nurtured to prepare themselves to be this elegant than all would command full and utter attention. So pretty and wise, so joyous to be with. Clearly the vineyard is to thank. Might as well be Barolo? Nah, that misses the point. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted December 2019
E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Via Nuova 2016, Piedmont, Italy
Via Nuova is the assemblage, the house wine, Vigna della Casa and a wine of all encompassing perfume. A mix of finesse and structure. Also textured with a charming glycerin and experiential moments in thyme. There is much pride and dreaming hope for 2016, with great aging potential. The tannins creep up, take hold and remain, secured and bonded. That’s nebbiolo grip and persistence incarnate. Drink 2023-2035. Tasted December 2019
E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Mosconi 2016, Piedmont, Italy
Why is Mosconi so special. “Why is anyone more beautiful than the other?” Nature. A connection to Domenico Clerico and when Chiara had a chance to join this plot she jumped. The flowers come at you in waves. The fruit is everywhere and all is stored inside, kept safe, comforted and comfortable. South facing below the village and again it just must be the place that brings this level of joy, elegance and structure. There are 25-30 years of life ahead for this 2016. So glad Chiara became a part of la squadra Mosconi. Drink 2020-2025. Tasted December 2019
E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Mosconi 2015, Piedmont, Italy
Mosconi is simply Mosconi, exquisite, powerful, elegant and grippy. Mosconi in the hands of Chiara Boschis in possession of so much 2015 fruit (though when is it void in such a regard) and so more barriques to less botti ratio increases the textural component. Mosconi comes at you in waves, oscillations there of and with swaths of Rothko tactility. Paints Barolo red in incremental minutia through all the advancing warmth that can be coalesced in one bottle of nebbiolo. Generosity incarnate and the one to drink whilst you wait for 10s, 11s, 12s and especially 16s. Drink 2020-2030. Tasted December 2019
Good to go!