For the first event of the new year our Mondiale group decided to make an early start on the traditional Italian wine month of February and focus on wines from this country. Moreover why not go for the most renowned region that was soon to host the winter Olympic games as well? We met at the fast rising Pho Paris to spend a wonderful evening exploring the product of vintners from Barolo and particularly of wines from Luigi Pira and his sons. Pho Paris is a collaboration between our city’s most famous chef, Jean-Robert de Cavel, and the Le family of Song Long, a well known local Vietnamese restaurant. French-Vietnamese cuisine allows room for much imagination and they would later provide a great repast, but tonight was all about great Italian wines!
To begin our evening we started with a white wine from the Langhe district, a 2003 LaRocca. This is made from the cortese grape, also found in the well known Gavi, and is barrel fermented to bring a lush rich fruit and uncommon ripeness. We enjoyed several appetizers with this, highlighted by slightly decadent duck stuffed spring rolls. As all gathered and found a seat we proceed to the main event with an extra surprise.
Pira started in the 1950’s as a grape grower in the Serralunga region which is known for making deep powerful wines. The estate originally sold off production to local negotiants in bulk and did not start bottling wines until 1993 with the best nebbiolo grapes separated to vineyard designations. Since that time Pira has gained accolades and praise with an increasing stature for creating exceptional wines. In front of us were spread five different bottlings from the cellars of Pira, now under control of Luigi’s son Giampaolo Pira. First were three consecutive vintages of 1999, 2000, and 2001 from the Marenca vineyard. Thus we got to observe both the similarities from one terroir while trying to discern the difference between the years younger to older. Next to complement the 2001 Marenca we had two additional vineyards from 2001, Margheria (pronounced “mar GAIR ia”) and Vigna Rionda, the rarest and more highly valued. Now we got to look to pure terroir differences in a single vintage. For a finish we delighted in a bit of wine blasphemy from Vice Echanson Gordon Hullar as he had taken equal amounts of the three 2001 single vineyards and blended them together! This harkened back to the days when most Barolos were blended before Angelo Gaja almost single handedly started vineyard designations in the 1970’s.
For the three vintages of Marenca, the 1999 was the least developed, very tannic, and probably due to be the longest lived. The 2000 bottling was very inky with a nice balance while the 2001 seemed the most approachable with a full fruit nose and soft body. Comparing the Marenca with the other two vineyards from 2001, the Margheria had deep fruit up front going to a medium weight developing to a very rich long finish, while the Vigna Rionda had an oak dominant note and complex changing aroma that revealed rich dark meaty character in the flavors. Spirited discussion established no consensus as to a favorite other than all the wines were excellent, but this writer found the dusty cedar and perfume nose and exceptional balance of the hand made blend gave a unique experience not soon to be repeated.
To further explore our wines chef Jeron Whalen and the staff at Pho Paris provided a salad with flavors featuring sweet yellow pepper, pecans, and crunchy fried wonton dressed with sesame oil and rice wine vinaigrette. This was followed by glazed pork tenderloin and spice rubbed salmon courses, finally ending the evening with a choice of four desserts. Cranberry ropapilla, chocolate and Chambord crème brûlée, vanilla filled peanut butter cookie, and chocolate parfait with banana and candied lemon peel made for a difficult choice. It was best to simply enjoy them all with our fabulous Barolo bonanza and exclaim vive la Mondiale!
J.T. Mayer, Vice Chargé de Presse