Visiting Barolo – a day with my Sister

Leaving the kids tucked up in our little house in the woods ( near to Mombaruzzo famous for its sweet amaretti biscuits, we headed (a little late) towards the famous village of Barolo famous for its intriguing red wine (27 Oct 2016).

View from Pira in Serralunga d’Alba of the single vineyards of Margheria with Marenca below.

45 minutes south west towards Alba famous itself for its white truffles and Nutella, we arrived at Barolo wine producer Pira Luigi in the hilltop village of Serralunga d’Alba one of the region’s most famous.

Gianpaolo Pira received us (despite our retard) and the fact that he was busy with his baby wine. Harvest was over a mere  week (21st October 2016) or so before so fermentations were still in hand. We tasted his range of wines including his Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo de Langhe and his single vineyard properties Margheria, Marenca and Vignarionda (all 2012 village).

We then drove through the vineyards as they were changing colours. heading eastward down into the valley and up to neighbouring village of Castiglione Falleto, another famous Barolo village where we enjoyed a light lunch on La Terrazza Direnza of a range of antipasti (and a glass of Nebbiolo of course).

Only the warm south and south west facing slopes are planted with the picky Nebbiolo. The less sunny northfacing slopes are planted with Dolcetto and Barbera which created swathes of different autumn colours (as they have different life cycles) from patch to patch ranging from mustard to bright orangey red.

Then towards La Morra (good tourist information for maps) and the fabulous view to see the whole of Barolo’s famous villages and vineyards before heading home (quick drive through Barbaresco (great enoteca in the old church) and the quaint Neive hilltop village with its fab wine bar “le nid” run by exuberant Mikaela. Not bad for a day with my sis.


VISIT OF PIRA LUIGI – Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba

Nebbiolo is the special grape variety of the area, an adored prodigy which demands to be perfectly understood in order to reveal its special qualities. It demands special attention during its extra long growing season. Pira carried out two green harvests – less volume of grapes results in better ripening.  The first took place in July where the bunches were literally cut in half  to help the long tight bunches of Nebbiolo to ripen better. Another took place in August.

The vines are trained very high to maximise photosynthesis in the tall canopy. Shoots are trained to wires to spread them out and enable sun to penetrate and wind to aerate.

Once it is in the vat care needs to be taken to gently extract its perfume of rose and bizarre stable-mate of tar and earth. Fermentation is slow and involves continually submerging the thin grape skins in the juice to try to best extract the colour and tannins. These slow movements are done with a vertical rotary vinificator (3 times per day for 1 hour).


Serralunga d’Alba is one of the DOCG of Barolo’s key  villages (along with La Morra, Barolo, Castiliogne Falleto and Monforte d’Alba – there are actually 11 in total).It comprises of a long ridgeline with the road through the village which divides the township into two opposite slopes facing east and west.

With the later it produces the stronger style of Barolo wines due to its clay and limestone soils. Gianpaulo is third generation and owns parcels on the western hillside of Serralunga d’Alba. Open and luminous the western slopes are made up of a series of ridges and ampitheaters. The cantina of Pira Luigi have vineyards in the fourth section situated in the central part of the slopes include the floral Margheria (1.5 ha – minerally, fresh hay, limestone, for connaisseurs! 27€/btle), the powerful Marenca (2 ha – my favorite richer but classy, aromatic herbs, the only other owner is Gaja he calls his wine fantasy name Sperss 37€/btle) and the intensity of Vignarionda (rich, balsamic, powerful, coffee, chocolate, complex) 57€/btle). We tasted the 2012 vintage (quality good to very good, volumes low).

These single vineyards or ‘cru’ each have their own character – Nebbiolo is very sensitive to even slight changes in aspect, altitude or soil. 

The crus of Barolo (and Barbaresco) are called ‘menzione geografica’ in Italy. In the past the different areas were blended for consistency. Now the differences are celebrated! There are maps of the cru and there is incredible detail in the bible of Barolo (Barolo MGA Menzione Geografica Aggiuntive by Alessandro Masnaghetti). 

The vineyard of Vignarionda  (total 10 ha) for example is owned by 8 different producers. Pira owns 1 hectare of it.

Ageing the Single Vineyard Wines

In the past Barolos were aged in large slovenian oak barrels (2500 litres) so the taste of oak was not present but ageing took place over several years. Today most producers use some smaller oak barrels and the more traditional larger ones.

Margheria – 2 years in 2500 litre slovenian oak

Marenca – 1 year in 500 litres french oak barrels and 1 year in  2500 litre slovenian oak

Vignarioda – 1 year in french barrique 225 litre (30% new oak each year), 1 year in 1 year in  2500 litre slovenian oak

Notes to Understanding Barolo Territory

There are 3 north to south ridges and two main valleys (Barolo  and Serralunga) each with eastfacing and warmer westfacing vineyards. Also secondary ridges give some special southfacing slopes. Altitude 200m to 550m is ideal for late ripening nebbiolo.

Barolo needs 38 months ageing 8 months in oak

Barolo 11 communes with a myriad of sub-zones due to aspect, soil, altitude.

WESTERN HILLS – deeper more fertile soils of calcareous marls so produce lighter style Barolo

La Morra Best vineyards: Brunate, le Rocche, le Serra, Cerequio

Barolo Village (lower) Best vineyards: Cannubi

EASTERN HILLS – infertile soils of sandstone produce beefier, more concentrated style of Barolo with longer ageing

Serranlunga d’Alba – highest vineyards. Best vineyards: Cerretto,la Serra, Fontafredda, Monvigliero, Marenca

Castiglone Falletto Best vineyards: Bricco Roche (softer), Bricco Fiasco, Villero

Monforte d’Alba Best vineyards: Bussia, Ginestra




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