Almost every Barolo and Barbaresco lover remembers that “ah-ha” wine. You know what I mean. It was the one that set you on this course and left you hungering to know, to taste, and to understand more about Barolo. Maybe it was a modern producer, or maybe traditional; in the end it doesn’t matter, because it all leads to the same realization: Barolo and Barbaresco transcends the expectations of time. For me, the ’96 Pio Cesare Barolo was that “ah-ha” wine. To this day I remember each and every detail; the unbelievably earthy, yet floral and fruity nose and the way it seemed sweet while also savory and with a tug of tannin which kept it all in check. However, it was the experience itself which marked me. It was the thought that I could sit with that glass for hours and never grow tired of it.
Tasting these wines upon release can sometimes be difficult, but what truly puts it all into perspective is to see where it’s all going. Recently I was given the opportunity to taste through a range of Pio Cesare Barolo and Barbaresco. It felt like something of a homecoming. The best part was that this tasting was focused on a comparison of new releases, followed by the ‘06s and then a vintage from the nineties. It was a perfect example of the evolution of Nebbiolo.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Pio Cesare was one of my first Barolo experiences; the name has been synonymous with Barolo for over 100 years. It’s a name that goes back to another time; long before vineyard-designated Barolo ruled the scene. Pio Cesare was one of the largest bottlers of Barolo in Piedmont, back when most farmers sold their grapes and large houses created blends of vineyards that would represent the house style and what they believed was the perfect, balanced Barolo. It is in this blend of vineyards that many producers insist on to this day, and in a way this is all coming full circle.
Through the decades, as vineyard-specific Barolo and Barbaresco came into style, Pio Cesare was already poised to jump into the game, with over 130 acres of vineyards across Barolo and Barbaresco. The winery decided on the Ornato vineyard in Serralunga for their single vineyard Barolo, a commune known for its dark, brooding, mineral-inflected wines with tremendous aging potential. As for the Barbaresco, they chose the best sites from their Il Bricco estate in Treiso for its finesse and gorgeous floral tones. However, with these wines, they also decided to take a more modern approach—a departure from their classic Barolo and Barbaresco, which to this day remains firmly set in the traditional style.
Yet as I said before, Barolo and Barbaresco has an ability to transcend the expectations of time, and this tasting was a testament to that end. As I taste through the ’97 and ’99 single vineyard Barolo and Barbaresco, I can’t help but admire how beautifully they have aged. The oak has integrated beautifully, and even in a wine as young as the 2006 Barolo Ornato, I have to give credit to how utterly brilliant the fruit remains in contrast to a slight hint of oak. Like most producers in Piedmont, Pio Cesare is now dialing back on their new oak, and the future is very bright.
What about that classic Barolo? You see, as good as these single vineyard wines may be, it was the classic, multi-vineyard Barolo that was my “ah-ha” wine many years ago. Pio Cesare has never lost sight of their roots, and the classic Barolo is their true flagship. To this day it remains an amazing value in Barolo. Yet there’s more to this than meets the eye. Global warming is changing the scene in Piedmont, and you can see from the reviews of the top critics that multi-vineyard Barolo is making a big comeback. Simply put, the sum can be much greater than its parts. I believe we’ll see a lot more blending in the future, yet Pio Cesare is already on the scene. The 2010 Barolo is a classic in the making, and at a price that makes it an extremely attractive option. This is a wine which will surely make it into my cellar.
On To The Notes:
2010 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Bricco Di Treiso – An initial whiff of vanilla quickly blows off in the glass to reveal rich, ripe cherry, sweet floral rose and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it is intense and structured, yet finessed with focused red fruits and inner floral notes. The palate-coating finish shows youthful tannin yet still provides much enjoyment as lingering fruit slowly fades from this ripe and feminine Barbaresco. (91 points)
2006 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco – The 2006 Barbaresco shows all the hallmarks of a classic in the making with a nose of dried cherry complemented by soil and undergrowth, tobacco and a hint of caramel. On the palate, it shows sweet red berries, violets and inner floral tones with a tannic tug, which pulls at the senses and leaves an impression of classic young Nebbiolo. This is a wine with incredible potential. (94 points)
1999 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco – A great example of ’99 Barbaresco with notes of dried cherry, minerals, sous bois, tar and dried leaves. On the palate, it shows perfectly resolved tannin with plum and dark berry in a sweet and savory expression of fruit. The finish was long with sweet dark fruit, soil, minerals and crushed dried leaves. This is perfectly seated in its early drinking window with years to go before any sign of decline. (94 points)
2010 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The 2010 Ornato is a dark and mysterious Barolo with dark cherry, black licorice, mineral and hints of caramel. On the palate, I find a mix of ripe wild berries, dark soil, and minerals, yet it quickly firms up as it flexes its tannic muscle, leaving the senses saturated in dark fruits with a savory, bitter note adding complexity. (92 points)
2006 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The 2006 Ornato is a beautiful monster with massive dark red fruits, roses, soil, minerals, and a hint of brown sugar. On the palate, it is rich and seductive with notes of dark berry and soil tones, yet still youthful with chewy tannin. A note of sage rings out on the finish with long dark fruits. This wines shows huge potential and walks the line between intensity and finesse. (94 points)
1997 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – Most ‘97s these days come across as slightly disjointed or in their drinking prime, yet the ’97 Ornato remains backward in the best possible way. The nose shows dried cherry, dusty spice, menthol and hints of undergrowth. It’s angular on the palate yet balanced with a mélange of dark fruits, soil and minerals. Its Serralunga roots show in spades here and make for an excellent contrast to the vintage’s inherently ripe character. (93 points)
2010 Pio Cesare Barolo – Traditional and classic to the core, the 2010 Pio Cesare Barolo shows dark red fruits and floral perfumes contrasted by notes of tobacco and mountain herbs. Tart, yet intense red berry fruit permeates the palate, complemented by rich soil and mineral tones. Tannin clenches the palate through the finish, quelled only by its focused red fruit, promising many years of development. (94 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido