Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pio Boffa and the Wines of Pio Cesare, Piedmont, Italy

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Pio Boffa in Washington DC

Pio Boffa and the Wines of Pio Cesare, Piedmont, Italy

Pio Boffa, owner of the famous Pio Cesare Estate in the Piedmont region, came to Washington DC to introduce us to his outstanding wines.


The province of Piedmont is in the northwestern corner of Italy, located in the foothills of the Alps forming its border with France and Switzerland. The most well known wines from the region are Barolo and Barbaresco. They are made from the Nebbiolo grape. While Turin is the capital of the Piedmont, Alba and Asti are at the heart of the region's wine industry.

Although the winemaking regions of the Piedmont and Bordeaux are very close in latitude, only the summertime temperatures are similar: the Piedmont wine region has a colder, continental winter climate, and significantly lower rainfall due to the rain shadow effect of the Alps. Vineyards are typically planted on hillsides. The warmer south facing slopes are mainly used for Nebbiolo or Barbera while the cooler sites are planted with Dolcetto or Moscato.

In the past, Barolos used to be very tannic, and they needed a lot of time to soften up. This was so because fermenting wine sat on the grape skins for at least three weeks, extracting huge amounts of tannins; then it was aged in large, wooden casks for years. In order to meet the international taste, which preferred fruitier, more accessible styles, the "modernists" cut fermentation times to a maximum of ten days and put the wine in new French barriques. The results, said “traditionalists", were wines that weren't even recognizable as Barolo and tasted more of new oak than of wine. The controversies between traditionalists and modernists have been called the "Barolo wars".

The standard grape used in Barolo is Nebbiolo. Yield is regulated – there are limits for the yield per hectar. The Barbera grape is the most widely planted variety in all of the Piedmont and makes a juicy, muscular red wine that is not as tannic as the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco. The wines have a sense of spiciness to them with little acid and tannins. They are able to be drunk relatively young and tend to be the every day drinking wines of the Piedmontese.

Pio Cesare

For five generations, the Pio Cesare family has now been producing Piemontese wines in its ancient cellars, located in the center of the town of Alba. The cellars walls date back to the Roman Empire period. Recently, significant investments have been made to rebuild and restructure the cellars and the winery's facilities.

Pio Cesare ownes more than 50 hectares of vineyards. In addition, Pio Cesare has fostered long term relationships with growers and manages all aspects of viticultures in these vineyards. These growers have been selling grapes to the family for generations.

The name of this estate is derived from the name of its founder, Cesare Pio, who set up this now long established family business in 1881. It remains in the family, with Pio Boffa, the great grandson of the founder and our host at the tasting, at the helm.

The Wines

We tasted

2008 Arneis

Grape variety: 100% Arneis
Vineyards: Sourced from very select vineyards in the hills of Barolo and Barbaresco.
Vinification: Fermentation takes place at low temperature in stainless steel with extensive lees contact.
Ageing: In stainless steel until bottling in March after the harvest.
Tasting Notes: light yellow in the glass, spices on the nose with hints of licorice and stony minerals, slightly aromatic with notes of pears and apricots on the palate, a round wine.

2008 Chardonnay Piodilei

Grape variety: 100% Chardonnay
Vineyards: A single vineyard barrel fermented Chardonnay from the very first Pio Cesare Chardonnay vineyard, planted in 1980, at the "Il Bricco" Estate in Treiso, in the Barbaresco area.
Vinification: Low yields. Fully ripened grapes, late harvested. Fermentation on the lees in new French oak barrels.
Ageing: 10 months on the lees in French oak barrels. Six months of bottle age prior to release.
Tasting Notes: light yellow in the glass, buttery-lemony oak-influenced nose with a wave of spices, continuing on the palate, coupled with warm and ripe fruit, long finish, an out-of-the box Italian wine.

2006 Barbera Fides

Grape variety: 100% Barbera
Vineyards: A single vineyard Barbera from the Pio Cesare’s "Colombaro" vineyard near the famous Ornato Estate in Serralunga d'Alba. Fides is the Latin word for trust and faith. A true act of faith and trust was made by the Pio Family when, instead of Nebbiolo, Barbera was planted in a vineyard, where a great Barolo could have been produced instead.
Vinification: Fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Skin contact for about 10 days.
Ageing: Right after the drawing off, the wine rests 20 months in medium toasted French oak casks: 80% in barriques and 20% in 20hl casks.
Tasting Notes: ruby red in the glass, thick legs, black cherry and cinnamon on the nose with floral and chalky notes, full bodied wine with structure depth and full concentration, a sumptuous wine.

2008 Dolcetto d’Alba

Grape variety: 100% Dolcetto
Vineyards: Sourced from family-owned vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba (The Ornato Estate), in Grinzane Cavour (Cascina Gustava) in Treiso (Il Bricco Estate) and from vineyards belonging to historical suppliers.
Vinification: Stainless steel fermentation at rather cool temperature.
Ageing: In stainless steel tanks until bottling, which is usually in March following the harvest.
Tasting Notes: purple-red in the glass, a bit like a Beaujolais, the nose offers aromas of rose petal tobacco and roasted fruits, lovely balance on the palate, which has spicy fruit, with a leathery edge, firm, tingling acidity keeps the wine fresh, a round wine.

2005 Barolo

Grape variety: 100% Nebbiolo
Vineyards: There are two Pio Cesare Barolo cuvees: a single vineyard wine, Barolo Ornato, from a family-owned site near Serralunga d’Alba. First produced in 1985, this cuvée is only released when the quality of the harvest is exceptionally high. This site is also a source of fruit for the straight Barolo cuvée, together with Castigion Falletto and Monforte.
Vinification: In stainless steel tanks. Skin contact for about 20 days.
Ageing: In mid toasted French oak for 3 years: 70% in 20 to 50 hectoliters casks; 30% in barriques.
Tasting Notes: A classic Barolo, ruby red in the glass with thick legs, eucalyptus, leather and mint with plum on the nose, full bodied wine with exotic aromas with tar, roses and white truffles on the palate, the tannins of the wine add texture and serve to balance, a wine with a long aging potential.

2004 Barbaresco Il Bricco

Grape variety: 100% Nebbiolo
Vineyards: There are two Barbaresco cuvées; a single vineyard wine Il Bricco, from a site near Treiso. Like the Barolo Ornato this wine is released only in the better vintages, with the first release being 1990. Fruit not used for Il Bricco is blended in the straight Barbaresco, together with that from near Barbaresco itself and San Rocco Sen d’Elvio.
Vinification: Fermented in stainless steel tanks; 15 days of skin contact.
Ageing: This wine ages in French oak for 30 months. 70% of it in new barriques and 30% in a 20 hectoliters casks.
Tasting Notes: ruby red in the glass, black cherry, strawberry and raspberry notes on the nose, powerful and structured, opulent and spice, a full-bodied wine, lots of tannin on the palate, with a leathery edge, mouth drying, will clearly improve with aging, drink again in 10 years

The tasting took place at the Teatro Goldoni on K-Street in Washington DC. Exceptional cuisine is the underlying theme that drives this restaurant, and Executive Chef, Enza Fargionae, had indeed prepared an outstanding dinner to go with the Pio Cesare wines. This extremely innovative dinner was in my view at the 3 star Michelin level.

Teatro Goldoni
Washington DC

Pio Cesare Aziendo Agricola, 12051 Alba
Telephone: +39 0173 440 386
Fax: +39 0173 363680

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  1. Hello DC (really like that city). Langhe Nebbiolo from Pio C. is also a nice one.

  2. There is indeed a lot going on "in the Nation's Capital". Just came back from a "Women of the Vine" event on the occasion of the "International Women's Day". Will post about it. Cheers.

  3. Enzo Fargione, the chef who put an antiquated Teatro Goldoni back on the culinary map, was fired from his job earlier this month after owner Michael Kosmides allegedly told the toque that he was “just too expensive,” according to the dismissed cook.

    Teatro’s owners, says Fargione, plan to turn the K Street institution into a more informal trattoria. The first step in the process was apparently firing the guy who had created what is possibly the best chef’s table in the D.C. area.