We sat down the other day with Pio Boffa and daughter Federica to taste the current releases of Pio Cesare. Pio showed us the quite different 2014 and 2013 vintages of Barbaresco and Barolo, and Federica pulled out two older vintages of Barolo that she had carefully packed in her suitcase for her trip from the Piedmont to Washington DC. Along with Pio Cesare’s importer, Maisons Marques & Domaines, we tasted and then paired these very special wines with the solid cuisine of the Blue Duck Tavern.
Assisted by Federica, Pio Boffa manages the downtown Alba estate founded in 1881 by Cesare Pio. Today he farms 70 ha of vineyards, including 38 ha in Barolo and Barbaresco. Pio’s father Giuseppe Boffa purchased the estate’s outstanding single vineyards Il Bricco in Barbaresco in 1964 and Ornato in Serralunga in 1970. In addition to single vineyard bottlings from these vineyards, Pio Cesare makes distinctive Barolo and Barbaresco blends. Pio claims these vineyard blends are the true expression of Nebbiolo in these regions. For his traditional blends, he ages mostly in large, 20+ hl botti, while the single vineyard bottlings are aged predominantly in barriques.
The Barolos and Barbarescos we tasted are from the 2014 and 2013 vintages and thus still youthful with firm tannins, but they’re made in a style that’s ready to drink young, although cellar age will add complexity and better integration. Pio also showed us the 2010 and 2004 vintages of his Barolo blend to compare with the 2013 and 2014 Barolos. The 2010 was from a cooler vintage, like the 2014, and showed incredible, layered complexity. The 2004 was from a warm, dry vintage, somewhat like the 2013. It, too, was complex, showing more dried fruit with prominent secondary flavors and still firm tannins. Tasting these wines, it is clear that Pio Cesare has a distinctive house style that offers bold and richly flavored wines of purity and refinement that reflect the special terroir of Barolo and Barbaresco.
Pio Cesare 2015 Chardonnay Piodilei DOC Langhe ($50) 93 Vibrant with aromas that recall honeyed lemon and lightly toasted hazelnuts. Fruit and acidity work in tandem on the palate with expressive flinty minerality and rich texture and seamless integration of oak. The grapes come from Il Bricco in Treiso in Barbaresco, fermented 10 months in 1/3 new oak.
Pio Cesare 2016 Barbera d’Alba DOC ($28) 90 Lively bouquet with flavors reminiscent of purple plum, red cherry and raspberry. Bright fruit shows on a refreshing, youthful palate. This is the classic version of the Pio Cesare Barbera, crafted from grapes grown on Barolo and Barbaresco terroir and matured 18 months in Alliers oak, 30% barriques (a small portion new) and 70% 20-50 hl botti.
Pio Cesare 2015 Barbera d’Alba Fides DOC ($45) 91 Complex, rich bouquet of dark plum, black cherry, licorice and a hint of chocolate shavings. The palate reveals a silky mouth feel with dense flavors and lively freshness. Finishes long and rich. Sourced from a single parcel in the Colombaro vineyard in Serralunga planted in 1993. Aged 20 months in oak, 80% barriques, 20% in 20 hl botti. Only 500 cases made.
Pio Cesare 2014 Barbaresco DOCG ($77) 92 The red fruited and elegant 2014 Barbaresco reveals a refined bouquet of dark red cherry with hints of mulberry. Mouthfilling and pure, it has a firm acid backbone and opulent fruit and edgy acidity. Sourced from four different vineyard sites, including the high altitude, south-facing Il Bricco at 425 meters altitude.
Pio Cesare 2013 Barbaresco DOCG ($68) 92 Medium red, fading at the rim. Compared to the 2014, the 2013 Barbaresco is bigger, riper and fuller. It reveals scents of macerated cherries and huge volume on the palate with firm, dry tannins. Aged 30 months in oak, 35% barriques (one-third new), 65% botti.
Pio Cesare 2014 Barbaresco Il Bricco DOCG ($140) 93 The 2014 Cascina Il Bricco single vineyard Barbaresco reveals delicate scents of roses and cherries with hints of tobacco and menthol. It’s refined on the attack and palate with precise focus and fine, firm tannins. Matured in 70% new barriques, 30% 20 hl casks, for 30 months. Only 500 cases made. Cascina Il Bricco is located in the village of Treiso.
Pio Cesare 2014 Barolo DOCG ($77) 93 Medium red. A complex and opulent wine revealing dark cherry and pomegranate married to tar like tobacco leaf. It’s optimally ripe with a clear focus that runs from the attack through to the finish. Fine firm tannins. About 60% of the fruit comes from the Ornato vineyard in Serralunga, although 7 different vineyards contribute fruit.
Pio Cesare 2013 Barolo DOCG ($68) 92 Showing spicy dark cherry and notes of underbrush and minerals, the 2013 Barolo is softly textured with dense, rich extract and still firm tannins.
Pio Cesare 2014 Barolo Ornato DOCG ($140) 94 A structured yet elegant wine, this full-bodied Barolo sourced entirely from the Cascina Ornato in Serralunga offers a beautifully perfumed, multi-faceted nose of dark red rose petals, dried cherries, spice and tar. It offers a silky attack and a dense, layered and supremely refined palate with rich extract and purity on the finish. Matured in 70% new barriques for 36 months, the oak is seamlessly integrated
Pio Cesare 2013 Barolo Ornato DOCG ($120) 93 Offering pomegranate, earth, savory herbs and mineral scents, the 2013 Ornato is a big, concentrated wine that, while already delicious, will improve still more over time. It’s richly flavored, dense and firm on the palate and delivers a lingering, succulent finish.
Pio Cesare NV Vermouth Piemonte ($60) 93 Authentic Vermouth made using the Cesare family’s traditional recipe of Moscato Bianco and Chardonnay macerated with absinthe and 26 aromatic herbs and spices and burned sugar and aged a minimum of 4 months in oak barrels. Unique and intensely flavored with dried and candied fruit and herbs, cinnamon, ginger and other spices.