Nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean sea, Piemonte offers rugged terrain and a climate that is often mercurial. These attributes make it the perfect environment for growing grapes and producing compelling wine. During Autumn, the confluence of cold Alpine air and warm maritime moisture regularly creates a misty shroud of fog, called “nebbia”, that lies over these foothills. This natural October wonder is the mother of the name for the noble grape of the region, Nebbiolo.
Cesare Pio founded his winery in 1881. After tumultuous times during and after the Second World War, today his vision has materialized and grown to include ownership of approximately 175 acres of ideal vineyards in both the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. Fourth generation proprietor Pio Boffa, the great grandson of Cesare Pio, continues to lead the family with an approach to wine-making founded on minimal intervention. This ceaseless devotion to the individuality of each vineyard and the wines borne from them, is reflected in choices made in the cellar and evident in the finished wines. Joined by his nephew Cesare Benevento and his daughter Federica, the family estate’s 5th generation is poised for more success.
The cellars of Pio Cesare are some of the few still operating that are located in the historical center of the town of Alba. Built at the end of the 1700s, the cellars are delimited and surrounded by the ancient Pompeii Roman walls, which date back to 50 B.C. and are still its main foundations, seen in every corner of the cellar. Significant renovations have been made over the years to rebuild and restructure the cellars, including a new fermentation room with a racking by gravity area and a new barrel ageing room 12 meters beneath the existing building and the Roman walls. Care has been taken to preserve the pre-existing architectural style, in order to preserve an atmosphere that is rich with charm and history.
Pio Cesare sources fruit for its Barbaresco from 66 acres of family owned vineyards spread between Treiso and Rocche di Massalupo in south western portion of the Barbaresco zone. Pio Boffa once told me that being ever so slightly closer to the Barolo zone, his Barbaresco is often riper, bolder and more long lived than some other examples. In fact, he is quick to point out “please don’t call this Barbaresco “regular” simply because it does not have any specific indication on the label. I’ve met Pio Boffa a few times. Years ago, on one occasion, he was presenting his wines at a local retailer. Typically, but perhaps not surprisingly, there weren’t many people paying attention. So we were able to talk at length and he graciously signed one of the bottles I purchased that day.
The 1996 Pio Cesare Barbaresco is indeed a special wine. In fact, the day he signed it for me, I remember him telling me that it would be drinkable at least until its 25 birthday. Well, my patience wore thin at the 22 year mark, but I will say that his assessment was probably correct. After removing a perfect cork, the wine is a deep ruby color that still displays youthful violet reflections. Even still, there is a slight fade to orange/brick at the edge of the bowl. The aromas are filled with classically aged Nebbiolo. Bright cherry fruit is joined by autumn leaves, fennel, dried flowers, worn leather and orange rind. In the mouth, the wine displays its fully resolved nature. The tannins have melted away and what’s left is smooth, ripe, velvety crushed cherry fruit accented with dried cherry and orange peel, cured meat, fennel and mushroom. Medium to full bodied, it appears a bit to reserved without food but with ravioli and seared duck breast, the elegant nature of this wine made the perfect pairing. I don’t think I’d hold this wine any longer if you have some. In fact, to my palate I think it would have been better around the 20 year mark, but that’s a minor complaint. Really a delicious wine and everyone should experience a well aged Nebbiolo. 93 points. About $45 upon release, current vintages are approximately $60. I’d buy new vintages with no hesitation. Find this wine.