In the rolling hills of the Piemonte region of northern Italy, the Pio Cesare winery has been making high-quality wines for more than 130 years. Its owner, Pio Boffa, visited the Cayman Islands for a short time in March and attended a lunch at Luca that featured several of Pio Cesare’s wines.
When it comes to wine making, Piemonte, Italy is steeped in tradition. The Pio Cesare family has been making wines in the region since 1891 and the walls in its cellars in the town of Alba date back to 50 BC and the Roman Empire.
Pio Boffa, who currently runs Pio Cesare, noted that the tradition of wine making also runs in his family.
“I am the fourth generation of Pio Cesare,” he told the attendees of a lunch hosted by Jacques Scott at Luca. “We are one of the oldest wine-making families in the Piemonte region.”
Although Pio Cesare produces a number of wines, including whites like Gavi, Arneis and Chardonnay, and reds like Dolcetto and Barbera, it is perhaps best known for its relatively small production of highly acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from what is known as Italy’s noble grape, Nebbiolo. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are made under strict laws requiring the grapes come from small and specific areas near the town of Alba.
“Our family is known as one of the pioneers in the production of Barbaresco and Barolo in our area,” Boffa said. “We’re small, but very traditional.”
Tradition to Pio Cesare means, when appropriate, using wine-making methods that are tried and true. However, Boffa was quick to point out that the winery does use modern techniques and machinery in some cases.
“We don’t crush the grapes with our feet like we did in the past,” he said. “We also had to change some of our methods to meet the changes in climate conditions and still produce the same kinds of wine.”
Pio Cesare’s sense of tradition also comes through on its bottle, which has had the same label for more than 100 years.
“We don’t want to shock the lovers of our wines with a new label,” he said.
Much like the way French winemakers view Burgundy and Bordeaux, Italian winemakers believe that much of a wine’s character comes from its terroir, the uniqueness of the place grapes grow. Terroir takes into account such factors as soil composition, the angle of a vineyard to the sun and a variety of other climate conditions.
Although Nebbiolo grapes can and do grow in other parts of Italy and the world, only if they grow in the Barolo region can the be known as Barolo. Similarly, only Nebbiolo grapes grown only about 20 miles away in the Barbaresco region can be called Barbaresco. Although Barolo and Barbaresco are made with the same grape and almost identical wine making methods, they are two very distinct wines and the difference can be attributed to the differences in terrior.
Boffa said Pio Cesare takes great care to ensure that the terrior of the grapes comes out in its wines, which is one of the reasons why its production remains limited to about 40,000 cases per year.
“To increase production would require us to get grapes from other producers from different terriors and that would change the style of wine,” he said. “We don’t want to do that.”
Luca Restaurant is known for its authentic Italian cuisine and this lunch reflected true Piemonte traditions.
After a reception with Prosecco and a passed hors d’oeuvres, guests sat for a first course that is one of Piemonte’s signature dishes, Vitello Tonnato. This dish combines ultra thin slices of steamed veal loin with a mousse made of tuna and olive oil, topped with fried capers. It was served with Pio Cesare’s 2010 Chardonnay ‘L’Altro’, one of two Chardonnays produced by the winery.
“This one is the lighter of the two,” said Boffa. “It’s made with more of a fresh style.”
Although Chardonnay is not a grape that was traditionally grown in Piemonte, it grows quite well there. As is typical with all of the wines it produces, Pio Cesare’s goal is to make distinctive and complex Chardonnay.
“We try to produce a white wine that, although it has the colour of a white wine, it also has characteristics of a red wine, including aging potential,” Boffa said.
The next course was a wild mushroom ravioli with Castelmagno cheese fondue and it was served with 2009 Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba.
Barbera grows prolifically throughout the Piedmont region, but until the last couple of decades was used more to produce low quality, inexpensive wines mainly for the Italian market. A few producers, including Pio Cesare have committed to making quality Barbera, which because of its soft tannins and high acidity makes it a food friendly wine that is very drinkable when young.
Barbera vines, if left on their own, produce high yields of fruit, which dilutes the flavours of wine. Pio Cesare purposely reduces the number of grapes on each vine through a process called green harvesting, which simply means they cut off bunches of grapes from the vine when they are still green, allowing the remaining grapes to have more concentrated flavours.
In addition, Pio Cesare grows its Barbera grapes in the same areas used to grow grapes for Barolo and Barbaresco, giving it a sense of terrior and producing a wine that can age a little longer than most other Barberas. Boffa said growing Barbera in a region that could be used to grow grapes for much more valuable wines was something Pio Cesare feels strongly about.
“We believe we can give pleasure to the world by giving them a Barbera that is different than most of the other Barberas on the market,” he said.
Wines made from highly tannic Nebbiolo grapes cry out for red meats and the main course of the lunch was a duo of Barolo-braised short rib and herb-crusted lamb chops, served with smoked mashed potatoes and baby garden vegetables.
This course was served with two Barolos – Pio Cesare 2007 Barolo ‘Ornato’, which comes from a single vineyard in the Serralunga d’Alba area of Barolo, and 2004 Pio Cesare Barolo, which is made from grapes sourced from several of the family’s vineyards. Although single vineyard Barolo’s are prized and tend to be more highly rated, the 2007 ‘Ornato’ was still tannic and had many years to go before it reaches it peak, while the 2004 vintage Barolo – which received 98 points – was much closer to its peak and proved to be a real treat with lunch.