Archive for the ‘Dolcetto’ category

Pio Cesare

December 2, 2007

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Every wine region has its names from the past but Barolo seems to have more than any other. Pio Cesare is one of them. In 1881 he founded his own winery and started to produce wine that was sold on the domestic and European export markets. By the time of his death in 1919 he left a brand that is recognised as one of Barolo’s best. The business has stayed in the hands of the family for five generations with the affable great grandson Pio Boffa at the helm. Under the guidance of Boffa and oenologist Paolo Fenocchio the wines rate among the best in Italy and the rest of the world. Regarding the sheer breed and quality of the wines it was a great pleasure to meet Pio Boffa last Thursday for a tasting of his entire portfolio.

Reigning over an established brand as Pio Cesare brings responsibilities towards the traditions of the past generations. Confronted with the near inevitable question whether Pio Cesare can be labelled as a ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ style producer, Boffa asked me permission to give the possibly arrogant answer that all wines aim to reflect the style of Pio Cesare. “For the traditional or generic range, the winery relies on purchased fruit from 15 different growers across the appellation in order to attain an optimal expression of regional characters. Some of these growers have been supplying high quality fruit to the family for generations despite the fact that large sums of money have been offered to them by other producers.” These longstanding relationships come both ways as good fruit is supplied in good vintages and more challenging fruit is bought in the difficult ones, “You look after Pio Cesare when things are good and Pio Cesare looks after you when things are not as good.” For the maturation of these generic wines predominantly large Slavonian botti are used instead of French barriques, while the traditional approach is ultimately reflected by the use of the label that decorates the bottles for over a century. 

All this doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed, far from that. Apart from using purchased fruit the balanced has shifted towards the use of fruit from the 54 hectares of family owned vineyards including Ornate and Colombaro in Serralunga d’Alba and Il Bricco in Barbaresco. Fruit from these vineyards is vinified seperately and bottled as the estate’s top crus. These wines are made in a more modern style with warmer fermentation and shorter maceration while around 70% is aged in new Seguin-Morreau barriques and the balance in large casks.

According to Pio Boffa it is the change of the climate instead of winemaking that leaves the biggest marks on his wines. Grapes are generally picked up to a month earlier at higher sugar levels than normal leading to more approachable wines with lots of sweet fruit upfront. Having said that, producers still have to cope with the viticultural hazards of this region, as was shown on Wednesday the 4th of September 2002, when hailstorms destroyed many vineyards in the western part of Barolo after an already wet August. Because the majority of Boffa’s vineyards are located in the eastern part around Serralunga d’Alba, Pio Cecare was able to make very good wines in this difficult vintage. “It were the media that wanted to create a picture that everything was lost in Barolo and when the BBC rang me for an interview I refused. When they asked me to confirm the disaster I said no, when they would have asked me how we would handle this challenging situation I would have said yes. It is like wanting to make news over the back of a just deceased person, it’s not appropriate. We were able to produce very good Barolo and we are proud of it.”

One of the new challenges for Boffa is to make a top wine from Barbera. “This underrated variety has been regarded as the everyday wine for the grapegrowers in Piedmont for a long time. In the past the focus has been more on quantity than quality and we want to prove that you can produce an ageworthy Barbera when the grapes are grown in the right vineyard with the right exposition and the right yields. That’s why we have planted Barbera in the Colombaro vineyard in Serralunga D’alba as this site would have been a very good one for Nebbiolo instead. With a serious Barbera d’Alba we can take people by the hand and build their love for the more difficult to understand Barolo and Barbaresco.”

I started the tasting of an impressive range with an intense ruby red 2005 Dolcetto d’Alba. This wine showed a bright and frangrant nose of raspberry, blackcurrant and a hint of pepper and a lively, fruit-driven palate with very fine tannins and notable acidity on the finish. A well-made example that combines fruit with body and structure (87 points).

Moving up in the hierarchy of Piedmontese varieties the 2004 Barbera d’Alba forms a starting point for what’s about to follow. The grapes for this wine are sourced from up to 10 different vineyards in the villages of Monforte d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Treiso, Sinio, Diano d’Alba and Grinzane Cavour. The handsorted berries are fermented for about 15 days in stainless steel tanks while part (70%) of the wine is aged for 18 months in French casks and the balance in French barriques. Lovely plum, cherry, blackberry, spicy and vanilla aromas lead to a smooth and balanced palate with the restrained use of oak underpinnig the intensity of fruit and acid. A delicious wine that drinks fantastic now or benefits from short term cellaring (88 points).

The 2004 “Fides” Barbera d’Alba shows the true potential of this variety with magnified intensity of aromas and flavours. Sourced from the Colombaro vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, the majority of the fruit is aged in French barriques for 20 months giving the oak a major – but not overwhelming – role in this full-bodied wine. Cherry, blackcurrant, plum, chocolate and vanilla dominate the nose while the rich palate shows ripe fruit, fine supple tannins and refreshing acidity with a mineral edge. This is an excellent ageworthy benchmark Barbera (90 points).

The tasting reached its apogee with the four wines crafted of the noble Nebbiolo. The generic 2003 Barbaresco is a blend of grapes from three different vineyards in the lesser known production zones of Treiso and San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. With fermentation temperatures around 25 degrees celcius, macaration around 20 days and maturation in predominantly large botti for 3 years this wine is moulded into a more traditional style. In the glass this purple brownish coloured  Barbaresco releases intense and fragrant aromas of violets, cinnamon, vanilla and concentrated berryfruit. The palate shows elegance and finesse yet power and structure with well balanced acid and tannins building from the middle towards the finish (92 points). 

One of the crown jewels of Pio Cesare is the Bricco vineyard near the village of Treiso, source of the estate’s single vineyard Barbaresco. The 2003 “Il Bricco” Barbaresco is made with super-ripe fruit of which the biggest part has spent 3 years in new French barriques. The aromas of this deep purple wine disclose cherry, raspberry, spice, vanilla, tobacco and a hint of toasty oak. The extraordinary balanced palate is intense and concentrated with a core of sweet red fruit giving way to tightly knit tannins and fresh acidity on a long and lingering finish. This wine needs at least a couple more years in the cellar to show its colours (94 points).

The philosophy behind the generic Barolo is comparable to that of the Barbaresco, with fruit sourced from 8 different vineyards within different zones of the appellation to create complexity while winemaking aims at producing a traditional style. The 2003 Barolo shows a garnet colour with an orange tinge in the glass from which a fragrant bouquet of violets, sweet red fruit, licorice, cloves and toasty oak are released. The full-bodied palate is incredibly smooth with  mouthdrying tannins and balanced acid towards the very long finish. This delicious wine combines power and concentration with a graceful austerity and promises a long life in the cellar (94 points).

The family-owned Ornate vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba is one of Barolo’s best, delivering fruit that adds breadth, concentration and structure to Pio Cesare’s top wine. This is Barolo at its best with delicious aromas of blackberries, vanilla, licorice, tar and roses. The perfectly balanced palate has a smooth and creamy mouthfeel where layers of sweet fruit, toasted oak and fine tannins dominate in an exquisite and persistant way. This is a masterful polished wine that will show its class and distinction for at least the next 15 years (95 points).     

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