Roagna Barbaresco Crichët Pajé: 2001-2014


The room is buzzing with energy as our Crichët Pajé is about to kick off. It’s one of the things I love most about our events: the enthusiasm, passion and deep knowledge guests bring to these lunches and dinners. The 60th floor at Manhatta is especially evocative on this morning. A thick blanket of fog weaves throughout the New York City skyline as if we had arranged for the most perfect Barbaresco meets New York views imaginable. We aren’t that good.

The Brooklyn skyline as seen from the 60th floor at Manhatta, in the heart of New York City's financial district.

The 2024 edition of Festa del Barolo got off to a fabulous start with this vertical of Roagna’s Barbaresco Crichët Pajé spanning vintages from 2001 through 2014. Before you ask, one of our goals in recent years has been to expand Festa del Barolo without changing its essential values as a small, intimate event. As part of that evolution, we have gradually started to add tastings that feature Nebbiolos from other regions.

This tasting included all the vintages Luca Roagna has made since taking over the family estate in 2001. Because of tiny production, some vintages were served from magnum (indicated with a *) while others were served from bottle. It was a truly special lunch. In fact, Luca Roagna had never tasted all these vintages at the same time.

The complete lineup: Roagna Barbaresco Crichët Pajé 2001-2014.

The Roagnas have been making wine in Piedmont since the late 1800s. Giovanni Roagna e Maria Candida Rocca Roagna (Luca Roagna’s grandparents) purchased their farmhouse in Pajé in 1953. For several decades, Pajé was the center of the family’s viticultural activity and life. This is where I first tasted with Alfredo Roagna, Luca’s father. Smaller acquisitions followed in the ensuing years. In 1990, the Roagnas bought their property in Castiglione Falletto, which today is home to their new winery as well as vineyards that inform several Barolos in what has become a large range of single-vineyard wines. Crichët Pajé remains the flagship. First bottled by Alfredo Roagna in 1978, Crichët Pajé is Roagna’s top wine from Barbaresco. In recent years, it has been joined by an ultra-rare Riserva version, but that is a very new development.

How about a little Roagna trivia? Four lucky winners took home this signed map from Alessandro Masnaghetti created especially for the occasion.

Farming and winemaking remain minimalist, although there have been some notable refinements over the years, probably more in the cellar than in the field. Vineyards, many of them quite old, are farmed with a light hand. Ironically, little has changed in that regard over the years. Only fashions have changed. It wasn't too long ago that the vineyards here were looked upon unfavorably because the trend of the day called for highly manicured vineyards worked with far greater inputs, both human and chemical. Today, producers favor much less intervention in all aspects of their work. I see more changes in the winery. The Roagna wines have always been made with very long macerations and long aging. One of the results of that approach is that the wines sometimes tasted a bit mature on release. Luca Roagna has changed the aging protocols such that the wines spend less time in wood and complete their aging in cement, with the total time of aging before bottling more or less unchanged. Roagna is continuing to take that approach to the maximum with his recent purchase of small cement vessels that will give him the opportunity to age small volumes of his wines for extended periods of time. Another major change has been a significant upgrade in corks, so essential for wines that are intended to drink well for decades. Readers will find plenty more information on Roagna on the Vinous website.

Back to our lunch. I chose to present the vintages in thematic flights rather than in chronological order, which I find much more effective for tastings such as this one. Roagna did not bottle Crichët Pajé in 2003 or 2009, while the just-released 2015 was shown as a guest wine at the Festa del Barolo masterclass two days later. We opened all the bottles two hours before service and double-decanted a few vintages I felt were especially closed. The team at Manhatta did a terrific job with all aspects of this lunch, from food to wine to service. Although perhaps not the main focus today, the menu prepared by Executive Chef Justin Bogle and his team was spot on.

One of the first things Luca Roagna did when he took over management of his family's estate was improve the quality of corks.

First Course

Chicory Salad with Pickled Pear; Castelvetrano olives, sesame crumble, pecan vinaigrette

An Introduction to Crichët Pajé: 2001*, 2006* & 2012*

For this first flight, I chose the three vintages that I thought would be most accessible. The 2001 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is very clearly a wine of transition at Roagna. Dark cherry, earthiness, dried herbs, menthol and crushed flowers open first. Chunky, large-grained tannins add to an overall impression of rusticity. Within the context of more recent Crichët Pajés, the 2001 comes across as rather burly and not especially elegant. However, tasted next to the 2000, which we served at a Vinous dinner a few months prior, the 2001 is a major step up. That is what inflection points and perspective are all about, what we seek to convey in events such as this one.

The 2006 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is a touch reduced at first. Aeration and time gradually release hints of dark cherry, gravel, menthol and licorice. It’s an attractive wine, but one from Luca Roagna’s early period. When it was released, the 2006 gave the impression of a wine with some evolution. It has aged quite well, likely helpd by the magnum format. A more contemporary expression of Crichët Pajé emerges in the 2012, a wine marked by lifted aromatics and considerable finesse. Ethereal and quite delicate, the 2012 offers up sweet red cherry fruit, white pepper, crushed rocks and flowers. Silky tannins wrap it all together. The 2012 is an especially ethereal, delicate Barbaresco Crichët Pajé. Here, too, time has been kind.

A perfect dish for a cold winter day and a vertical of Crichët Pajé. Butternut Squash Agnolotti; Beurre Blanc, sage, pickled and roasted mushrooms, balsamic, pomegranate seeds.

Second Course

Butternut Squash Agnolotti; Beurre Blanc, sage, pickled and roasted mushrooms, balsamic, pomegranate seeds

Under the Radar Vintages...2005, 2007 & 2011

In this second flight, I thought it might be instructive to look at Crichët Pajé through the lenses of three very different vintages that aren’t talked about much these days.

Two thousand-five is an interesting vintage, as it is a year that was basically saved by technology. Weather forecasts called for a prolonged period of rain around harvest, which prompted producers to pick early or know they would have to wait to pick until after the rain. In a previous generation, producers would have simply been rained on during the most critical part of the year. In 2005, technology provided data and options. The 2005 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is a gorgeous wine that captures the essence of the year in its tense, sculpted personality. There’s terrific purity and cut to the Nebbiolo fruit, yet the 2005 remains a wine of linear intensity first and foremost.

The 2007 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is stellar. Kirsch, rose petals, flowers and mint convey exoticism. The warm, dry season produced a heady, racy Crichët Pajé that is immensely pleasing and seductive today. Shorter aging in wood was so beneficial here. I loved the 2011 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé when it was first released. It is every bit as special today. A wine of explosive energy and intensity, the 2011 is endowed with notable textural depth. In this tasting, it comes across as quite young.

The last two flights are truly spectacular.


Atlantic Salmon; Beurre Rouge, parsnip purée, baby vegetables


Braised Short Rib; Aged Balsamic, celery root purée, Brussels sprouts, glazed cipollini onions

The Essence of Nebbiolo: 2002, 2008* & 2014

Vintages with late harvests often produce wines of exceptional beauty, as Nebbiolo does so well under these conditions. It was so interesting to taste the 2002, 2008 and 2014 together. I loved this flight. The 2002 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is dazzling. Exotic, ripe and nuanced, the 2002 captures the best that was possible in this cold, late-ripening vintage. Kirsch, leather, tobacco, incense, dried flowers, mocha, cedar and menthol infuse the palate with striking depth and complexity. Crichët Pajé is a rare triumph in this very challenging, rainy year.

The 2008 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is another stellar wine from Luca Roagna. Dark and mysterious, this possesses magnificent balance from start to finish. The silkiness and polish of the tannins impress more than anything else. What a stunner. The 2014 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is a fine example of the style Luca Roagna favors today. Elegant and refined, with tons of ethereal beauty, the 2014 conveys tons of nuance and complexity, but without excess weight. Hints of kirsch, red plum, mint and spice lead into the refined, sublime finish. Superb.

Atlantic Salmon; Beurre Rouge, parsnip purée, baby vegetables.

Cheese Course

Modern-Day Classics: 2004*, 2010* & 2013*

In this last flight, my goal was to present what I believe to be the finest Crichët Pajés Luca Roagna has made so far side-by-side. Let’s just say the wines did not disappoint.

Served from magnum, the 2004 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is one of the most surprising wines in tasting because of how much weight it has gained in bottle. The 2004 is powerful, dark and thrilling from the very first taste. Hints of mocha, leather, spice and dried flowers add myriad layers of nuance throughout. What a wine!

The 2010 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé is one of the wines in this tasting I would choose to cellar. Of course, the magnum format has something to do with that. Dark, savory and intensely mineral, the 2010 is defined by its energy and classic sense of youthful austerity. Readers will have to be patient. I can’t think of a better wine to end this tasting with than with the 2013 Barbaresco Crichët Pajé. Tasted from magnum, the 2013 dazzles with its combination of explosive energy and sheer elegance. Rose petals, cinnamon, crushed rocks, mint and white pepper are some of the many notes that emerge from this wonderfully complex, dynamic Barbaresco. Quite simply, the 2013 is unforgettable.

With Luca Roagna at the end of lunch. No one wants to leave. I can't blame them. 

Guests are left to savor these last three wines. It’s a Friday afternoon, and no one wants to leave. Neither do I. But the rest of Festa del Barolo awaits…

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