A Historic House in Alba

Dec 14, 2007

My last visit in the Langhe was to the venerable house of Pio Cesare, founded in 1881. Pio Boffa, the company’s current owner and the fourth generation of the family to run the winery, picked me up at my hotel in La Morra. We visited some of the estate vineyards on the drive to Alba, where the historic winery is located.

Pio Cesare owns a total of 136 acres of vineyards in Barolo and Barbaresco, including 44 acres in Serralunga d’Alba, the source of its Barolo Ornato. An additional 160 acres of vineyards supply the winery with grapes, thanks to longstanding relationships with growers, some dating back more than 100 years.

In addition to a range that includes Arneis, Gavi, Chardonnay Langhe Piodilei, Dolcetto, Barbera d’Alba, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbaresco and Barolo are the single-vineyard Barolo Ornato, Barbaresco Il Bricco and Barbera d’Alba Fides.

The winery, which comprises several blocks in the center of Alba, encompasses the old Roman wall of the town, as well as a Medieval wall built centuries later. It has expanded over time to accommodate the increase in production and is gravity-fed on several levels.

The Nebbiolo is fermented in stainless steel tanks, but not rotofermentors, with pumping over happeneing during fermentation, and a gentle post-fermentation maceration. Some lots are aged in barrique for two to two-and-a-half years, while others go into cask. “It all depends on the tannin structure and where the grapes are from,” said Boffa.

We tasted a cask sample of the Barolo 2007 and Barbaresco 2007, both of which showed plenty of fruit. Boffa had also prepared approximate blends of the 2004s.

The Barbaresco 2004, a refined red with excellent length, offered cherry, raspberry and violet notes. It will need a little time yet to shed its oak, but the extra time in the bottle will help to refine it. Its sibling, the Barbaresco Il Bricco 2004, had less obvious aromas, but more depth, finesse and length on the palate.

As expected, the Barolo 2004 was a bigger, more powerful wine, with cherry flavor and denser, chewier tannins. It’s 50 percent from Serralunga d’Alba fruit. The Barolo Ornato 2004 showed incredible aromas of violet and raspberry and a core of fruit wrapped in the dense, tight structure. Great potential there.

Over a casual lunch, Boffa poured several other Pio Cesare wines, including an elegant, minerally Chardonnay Langhe Piodilei 2006, a black currant-infused, firm Barbera d’Alba Fides 2005 and the Barolo 1997, which had mellowed to a mix of licorice, tar and dried cherry on a silky texture.

Boffa described the Pio Cesare style as one in which the wines can be enjoyed on release, yet can age well too.

He is also very upbeat about the 2007 harvest. “Qualitywise, they were the best grapes I have seen in my life,” he said.

Italy Piedmont

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