“I want to address the ladies in the room for a moment.” Chiara said, quietly interrupting Tim Farrell, Brooklyn Wine Exchange’s head buyer, as he was discussing the sediment in the bottom of our glasses. “This sediment, it is pure antioxidant!” She mimed rubbing the sediment all over face. “I go to my dermatologist as she asks me what I do to keep my face young. I tell her, “I drink the Barolo!” She tells me, “Not enough.””
This is Chiara Boschis, a bubbling and bombastic Italian full of anecdotes and passion for her native town of Barolo and its legendary wines. Barolo’s reputation in the United States, particularly in the North East, is Trump-like: when you get it in the room, it’s the loudest and most powerful voice, even if you don’t always understand what is being said. Barolo, particularly when it is young, is not for everyone, but even the most cautious wine drinkers are tempted to give way in its presence. Chiara’s wines, of which there are very few bottles, are a response to that aloof grandeur. These Barolos are sensual lovers with, dare I say it, girth. You walk away weak kneed and sweating. Your second sip is like the next round in bed: you’re still reeling from the first, but you can’t wait to take more.
Chiara probably wouldn’t mind these metaphors; she’s been working in an industry so dominated by big men with big egos who probably would screw their own wine if they had a chance. Last Wednesday, BWE’s proclaimed “Queen of Barolo” visited New York to let us sample her wines and discuss her illustrious history. Chiara was the Nebbiolo region’s first female winemaker/proprietor, having taken over the E. Pira & Figli estate in Cannubi after her family purchased it in the 1980s. Chiara produced her first vintage in 1990 and has been making stand-out wines ever since.
As she was introduced by one of her American distributors, she reveled in the art of self-deprecation and ribbing winks. “My mother sent me to college for economics. I had no interest, but she is my mama so of course I did it.” She describes her Dolcetto d’Alba, as “the wine you bring to the table to appease the fussy ones who you love but don’t deserve your real love.” (Of course her Dolcetto is by no means just some shitty table wine you bring for friends but an effervescent, high acidity marvel with wild strawberry and mushroom notes.) She can wax philosophical about her commitment to unfiltered wine and her barrel-selection methodology, but when Tim mentions her star role in the 2014 documentary “The Barolo Boys“, she merely smiles slyly and says “Oh yes, that was nice.”
A quick primer on Barolo. Barolo is made from the nebbiolo grape, grown in the Langhe region of Piedmont, Italy. Barolo is one of several wines made from nebbiolo, but Barolo is the most rigorously regulated and extensively aged before release. (The current vintage of Barolo is 2011.) Barolo is highly tannic which means whoa there pony, slow your roll before you take such a big sip. If you are lucky enough to try an old Barolo (and trust me, I’ve been lucky enough to try a 2008 Barolo at best) these tannins begin to soften and fall away, leaving behind a luxurious and earthy wine rich in flavors of dark cherry, leather, tobacco, mint and even (deliciously) tar.
For our tasting, we tried both a horizontal pairing of Chiara’s 2011 “Cannubi” and “Mosconi” Barolos, and a vertical pairing of the 2011 and 2009 Mosconis. The “Cannubi” is Chiara’s flagship wine and it is easy to see why: even as young as it is, this Barolo is belching out earthiness and sophistication. Chiara noted that part of making her wine unfiltered is allowing the terroir and the winemaking itself to shine through. What is also so remarkable about her wines is how completely approachable they are. You could drink a glass of Cannubi at five years old and still relish the story of the vineyard. Similarly, the Mosconi, which is made just down the road, tells a completely different but equally legible story, one which expresses all of the subtle differences in the soil and microclimate of the Mosconi part of Barolo. Incredibly, the 2009 Mosconi (which I preferred and had some heavenly caramel notes on the nose) was cheaper than the 2011. Chiara explained that this was the first vintage of this particular variety and they wanted to price it down to account for its youth. Consideration for the customer’s experience, top-to-bottom, is vital to Chiara.
I could gush about this boss-ass woman for days, but I will end this review by saying as much as you think Barolo is for old dudes with cigars sitting in dark lounges in Midtown, remember that for some people it is the expression of a very modest farm life. Chiara told us that most of her childhood friends fled Barolo as adults because it was such an ordinary, no-frills life. For those who stayed to make wine (and even cheese) Barolo is like our wheat fields or family dairy cows. It is their pride and their burden. It is their spirit and, in Chiara’s case, their skin-care regime.