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Pio Cesare wine dinner, with Pio Boffa

July 28, 2009

When Ms Lydia Yee of Excalibur Wines rang me up late afternoon last week saying she’d be inviting me to dinner, I had no idea that it would at The Tower Club, featuring the famous barolos of Pio Cesare of Alba, with the owner signore Pio Boffa himself (great grandson of founder Cesare Pio back in 1881, and often mistakenly addressed as Pio Cesare!!) in attendance! Needless to say, I jumped at the invitation, and when I arrived at The Tower Club this evening, 27 July 2009, I was met by Mr Antonio Koo, a Hongkonger who owns Ponti Wine Cellars, and who was hosting the dinner. It was the first time I’d met the affable Mr Koo, an extremely gracious gentleman and wine lover who, obviously, had traveled extensively and had gained the acquaintance of many in the wine industry.

Pio Boffa

The dinner itself was a private affair for only about 20 guests. I quickly realised that practically everyone in the room knew their stuff about wine. Apart from Pio Boffa himself, Mr Koo had also invited Mr Joel B Payne, an American residing in Cologne and a leading authority on German wines, being the author of the Gault Millau Wine Guide, who is also a brand ambassador for Pio Cesare. While waiting for everyone to arrive, we began with the 2007 Pio Cesare Gavi DOCG, made from 100% Cortese grapes. This wine was full, with good acidity and minerality imparting fresh, lifted notes of lime, citrus and a hint of peach and apricot. There was, perhaps, just a bit too much stuffing in the middle, but I could have easily mistaken it for a good, young village Burgundy.

We settled down to dinner, where I found myself sitting opposite Mr Payne. The 2008 Pio Cesare L’Altro Chardonnay that accompanied the low temperature ocean trout, in contrast to the Gavi, was much lighter in texture. Served too cold initially, it appeared simple and straightforward, with dominant notes of fresh lime and a touch of leafy mint. It opened up gradually in the glass, gaining greater body and fullness. Several diners (notably the ladies) commented favourably, but this isn’t my preference for chardonnay.

We quickly moved on to the evening’s pair of reds: the 2005 Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG, drunk alongside the 2004 Pio Cesare Barolo “Ornato” DOCG, paired with saute foie gras and the main course of chargrilled Angus beef fillet. Both wines are 100% nebbiolo, with the Ornato coming from a single vineyard. The 2005 Barolo had a distinct nose of plum and spice. Full-bodied, quite lush, good mouth-fill but not much in the way of structure, not unlike a straight merlot. Initially it came across as a bit four-square with a rustic feel. However, as dinner wore on, it expanded more on the palate, revealing the purity of the excellent nebbiolo fruit, becoming softer and more elegant.

In contrast, the 2004 Ornato, displaying a slightly deeper red, was rather muted initially, but with gentle coaxing, notes of dark cherries, truffles and creamy vanilla came through, betraying the new oak. A big wine with a plush entry, very full, somewhat monolithic, more structured, with sophisticated but unresolved tannins. Nevertheless, these never threatened to obscure the richness and density of the fruit, the superb quality of which was clearly evident. Like the preceding Barolo, it expanded further in the glass, developing greater depth and lushness, although the oak remained omnipresent. 

Although 2004 is generally acknowledged as an outstanding vintage, Pio Boffa  maintained that the 2005 actually pipped the former in quality, an opinion not, however, shared entirely by Mr Payne. Based on tonight’s experience, the 2005 Barolo is singing at this point of time, but I feel that the 2004 Ornato will last the distance and hit all the right notes years down the road. We wrapped up dinner with the 2007 Pio Cesare Moscato d’Asti DOCG – light, delicate and refreshing, a perfect foil for the evening’s reds and the accompanying white chocolate nitro.

I must really thank Antonio for the generous hospitality, and the presence of signore Pio Boffa and Mr Payne, for what has been a wonderful educational opportunity into the nuances of Barolo Old World.

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