Saturday, 3 March 2012

Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG (2007)

Pio Cesare’s Barolo is the wine for which Pio Cesare has become best known. Despite garnering an international reputation for high quality across their range of traditional Piedmontese wine it is Pio Cesare’s (entry-level) Barolo – with its blend of classic flavours, traditional presentation and accessible (for a Barolo) price – that has remained at the forefront of the Pio Cesare range of wines for the last 140 years.

Founded in 1881, by Cesare Pio (the great grandfather to the current generation of family owners) the Pio Cesare winery is located near to Alba, which itself is around 11 kilometres north east of the Barolo zone of production. Around three times the size of the zone of production permitted for Barbaresco (the other Piedmontese wine made from Nebbiolo to which Barolo is often compared), Barolo is nonetheless a small zone of production that is only around 8 kilometres wide and 11 kilometres long at its widest and longest points.

1,827 hectares of land are eligible to produce Barolo and Pio Cesare is considered to be a moderately sized producer, holding as it does 50 hectares of land in Piedmont. Within Barolo, Pio Cesare owns the Pio Cesare “Ornato” Estate and the Pio Cesare “Colombaro” vineyard (both in the commune of Serralunga d’Alba), the Pio Cesare “Gustava” Estate (in the commune of Grinzane Cavour), the Pio Cesare “Roncaglie” Estate (in the commune of La Morra) and the Pio Cesare “Ravera” estate (in the commune of Novello). Whilst the flagship Pio Cesare Barolo “Ornato” is a single estate wine (i.e. all the grapes used in the production of it come from the “Ornato” Estate in Serralunga d’Alba), this “entry level” Pio Cesare Barolo is made from grapes from across all of Pio Cesare’s vineyard holdings in the Barolo zone, as well as drawing on grape supplies from other family growers, many of whom have been supplying grapes to Pio Cesare for it’s Barolo for generations.

Much has been made of the “Barolo wars” and the significant stylistic differences in Barolo that can arise in the wine depending on whether a particular Barolo has been made by a traditional producer (one who uses only large, old oak barrels to age their Barolo) or a modernist (who would use only small “barriques” to age their Barolo). In respect of this, it would be fair to describe Pio Cesare as treading something of a middle road – a forward looking traditionalist if you will. 70% of this “entry level” Pio Cesare Barolo is aged in large oak casks (traditional) with 30% aged in “barriques” (modernist). All Barolo must be aged for 38 months before release from the winery, with a minimum of at least two years spent in oak (from the 2010 vintage this has changed to 18 months) – in making this Pio Cesare Barolo, Pio Cesare chose to age the wine for 3 years in the mix of oak described above.

Nebbiolo (the only grape from which Barolo is permitted to be produced) is a notoriously delicate and late ripening grape, with the effect that there can be great variations between different vintages of Barolo (even in the wines of the same producer). The 2007 Barolo vintage was very unusual (described as “unique” by some producers) with Nebbiolo grapes appearing on the vines up to 4 weeks earlier than normal (due to a warmer than average spring) only for a cool summer to mean that grapes ripened very slowly, resulting in a harvest only a week earlier than average in most cases. By comparison to an “average” vintage in Barolo, in 2007 the grapes were on the vines much longer than normal, but still harvested early.

Returning to this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo, the bottle of this Pio Cesare Barolo is wonderfully ornate. Adorned with the coat of arms for the town of Alba, gold medallions and elaborately rendered font, this is the way that that a wine with respect for its history and for the history of the area in which it is produced should look. The cork of this Pio Cesare Barolo is real and appears to be tightly grained – Barolo is famed for its ability to age if cellared correctly and the cork used to seal this Pio Cesare Barolo looks as if would withstand a good a period of time under the right conditions (although the 2007 vintage of Barolo is on the whole better suited for drinking younger than Barolo from 2006 or 2004).

In the glass, this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo is clear (i.e. not faulty) and shows a lovely garnet hue of medium intensity. There is an obvious change in the colour of this Pio Cesare Barolo towards the rim of the glass, from a light cherry red through to a rusty, balsam-influenced brown hue – this is perfectly normal and is a product of both the Nebbiolo grape’s natural propensity to change colour with time in bottle and the three years in oak that this Pio Cesare Barolo has experienced. On swirling, this Pio Cesare Barolo in the glass, a moderate alcohol content is revealed as the legs of the wine dissipate relatively quickly. The quoted abv for this Pio Cesare Barolo is 13.5%, which is lower than most Barolo produced in 2007, with the vast majority of 2007 Barolo developing 14% or 14.5% abv.

On the nose, this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo is clean (i.e. not faulty) and wonderfully pronounced with classic Barolo aromas unfolding from the glass. The basis of the bouquet of this Pio Cesare Barolo is red fruit, with damson and a little red cherry providing a backdrop against which a potpourri of smoky tobacco, liquorice and nutmeg spice can perform. The extended period of oak aging that this Pio Cesare Barolo has experienced is evidenced by the tobacco notes and a degree of sweetness, part of which will be driven by the application of 30% of this Pio Cesare Barolo to “barriques”.

Once in the mouth, this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo is dry and full-bodied, with a high level of tannin and acidity in evidence. Again it is those red fruit notes (damson, red cherry, a little plum) that form the basis of the long palate of this Pio Cesare Barolo, with a sweet spiciness engendered by notes of liquorice, nutmeg (even a touch of ginger too) adding complexity and nuance. The tannin structure of this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo is still prominent (despite 2007 generally being a softer and more approachable vintage) and grips a little overtly at this time.

Overall, this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo is a very good Barolo. Despite its relative youth (this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo probably has up to 10 years ahead of it should you wish to cellar it) the fruit is not overwhelmed by tannin as can be the case in some lesser Barolo, even if overt the structure of this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo will be a little too prominent for those who prefer a more modern style of Barolo (with more overt fruit) at this stage in this wine’s life.

£35 for a bottle is never an “inexpensive” bottle of wine, however this 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo looks good value next to Pio Cesare’s 2007 “Ornato” single vineyard Barolo that retails for almost twice the price at £65 per bottle. This 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo also represents fair value for a substantial increase in quality over the majority of “entry level” Barolo that is priced at the £20-25 per bottle level.
Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG (2007)

Score: 86/100 – An accomplished Barolo in a (semi) traditional style

Value for Money: 7/10 – At £35 per bottle, this Pio Cesare Barolo can be considered to be fairly priced in the context of its competition.