BAROLO

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents -

The king of wines, the wine of kings

Of­ten re­ferred to as “the king of wines, the wine of kings”, Barolo is one of Italy’s finest wines. Pio Boffa of the leg­endary Pio Ce­sare tells chek wong about his fam­ily’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the clas­sic red

in a packed tast­ing room, an au­di­ence mem­ber asks Pio Boffa which wine re­ceives higher pri­or­ity dur­ing harvest: The “ba­sic” Barolo blend or the sin­gle vine­yard bot­tling? “Ba­sic?” roars Boffa, eye­brows raised dra­mat­i­cally. “You say ba­sic again and I shoot you!” Boffa’s anger is feigned of course, but the ex­as­per­a­tion is real. As the fourth gen­er­a­tion of leg­endary Pied­mont pro­ducer Pio Ce­sare, he has staked the rep­u­ta­tion of the com­pany on the clas­sic Barolo that bears his great-grand­fa­ther’s name. It is a mas­ter­piece of blend­ing, weav­ing dis­parate notes to­gether to cre­ate a harmony of flavours. To call it ba­sic or reg­u­lar is an af­front to what the wine rep­re­sents. To un­der­score this, Boffa even added a line to the wine la­bel (start­ing from the 2012 vin­tage), stat­ing: “Please, don’t call it reg­u­lar”.

Boffa has been with the com­pany for an im­pres­sive 45 years. As the youngest child of Rosy (Ce­sare’s grand­daugh­ter) and Giuseppe Boffa, he says there was no pres­sure for him to take over the busi­ness. None­the­less he learnt a lot about wine by lis­ten­ing to his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther talk shop dur­ing meal­times. He was sur­prised when, after fin­ish­ing high school, his fa­ther told him he would not be spend­ing his hol­i­days re­lax­ing at the Ital­ian Riviera as ex­pected, but rather learn­ing about wine­mak­ing with Napa-based Robert Mon­davi. “It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence for me because I had the chance to talk to a dif­fer­ent world. The Mon­davi win­ery at that time had a lot of tech­nol­ogy and money, and in Pied­mont there was very lit­tle of both.” After univer­sity, Boffa joined his fa­ther at the win­ery, work­ing up from a desk job in fi­nance

to even­tu­ally head the com­pany, “still with the same pas­sion, love and ded­i­ca­tion that I had at day num­ber one”.

Pio Ce­sare was es­tab­lished in 1881 in the town of Alba. To­day it ex­ports to over 50 coun­tries. Rather than hir­ing brand am­bas­sadors, pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties are done al­most ex­clu­sively by fam­ily mem­bers, a strat­egy de­cided on from the out­set by Boffa’s great-grand­fa­ther. “We are a fam­ily-owned com­pany and have al­ways been run by a gen­er­a­tion in charge,” says Pio. “We be­lieve that in the ar­ti­sanal way of con­duct­ing the wine busi­ness, it is im­por­tant to as­so­ciate the brand and the per­son. It is one thing to stand up and say my name is Pio and I am the fourth gen­er­a­tion of the Pio Ce­sare fam­ily, and some­thing else to say I am the am­bas­sador of Pio Ce­sare — it makes a com­pletely dif­fer­ent im­pres­sion. I’m not say­ing any­thing against brand am­bas­sadors but they do not have the blood of the Pio fam­ily.”

This hands-on ap­proach ex­tends to ev­ery as­pect of wine­mak­ing, from grape-grow­ing and har­vest­ing to the fer­ment­ing and age­ing pro­cesses. Since the 2015 vin­tage, the win­ery has used only es­tate­grown fruit, hav­ing suc­cess­fully bought over the re­main­ing vine­yard parcels it did not pre­vi­ously own.

Barolo has al­ways been a wine with unique at­tributes. Its force­ful tan­nins, com­bined with a flo­ral aroma and del­i­cate red berry flavours, has earned it a rep­u­ta­tion as “iron fist in a vel­vet glove”. Traditional Barolo was a wine that re­quired ex­ten­sive age­ing be­fore it was ready to be drunk. (Boffa’s own grand­mother drank only Baro­los that had been cel­lared for more than 10 years, he re­veals).

In the 1970s and 1980s

how­ever, pro­duc­ers went through a pe­riod of self-re­flec­tion brought on by changes in con­sumer pref­er­ences towards fruit-for­ward and less tan­nic wines. A great de­bate erupted, with mod­ernists cham­pi­oning the use of new oak bar­rels and shorter fer­men­ta­tions which re­sulted in the wines be­ing more ap­proach­able when young. Dur­ing this time Pio Ce­sare stuck to its own for­mula, which in­volves fer­ment­ing the must for eight to nine days fol­lowed by 40 days of mac­er­a­tion, then age­ing in a com­bi­na­tion of small bar­rels and large casks (or “botti”).

Boffa ex­plains, “We did not be­long to the traditional or in­no­va­tive group — we have al­ways been known for the Pio Ce­sare style. We con­tin­ued to use our own phi­los­o­phy up un­til the mo­ment when the war be­tween the in­no­va­tors and tra­di­tion­al­ists came to an end. Right now, ev­ery­body has gone back to the clas­si­cal style, even the most in­no­va­tive guys.”

Yet as a con­se­quence of cli­mate change, Boffa states the Baro­los of to­day do not re­quire the long age­ing of the past. “Now we pick the grapes one month ear­lier, with new clones we can have bet­ter phys­i­o­log­i­cal ripen­ing of the grapes, we can make Barolo with riper tan­nins — they are not that as­trin­gent and green. So we can now en­joy a Barolo that is three-, four- or five-year­sold much bet­ter than 40 years ago, when it was not even drink­able.”

Pio Ce­sare’s vine­yard hold­ings cover a re­spectable 80 hectares in Pied­mont. This is no mean feat, as the price of land through­out the re­gion has been steadily in­creas­ing. Ear­lier this year, a buyer set a new record in Barolo at a price of €4.5 mil­lion per hectare, “which is in­sane,” says Boffa. “It doesn’t al­low any­body to buy a piece of land and still make money, but this is how pre­cious the soil of Barolo has be­come.” Sin­gle-vine­yard wines, mod­elled on the cru sys­tem of Bur­gundy, com­mand the high­est prices, but Boffa ar­gues it is the clas­sic blend that is a more faith­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Barolo.

“What makes our Barolo dif­fer­ent from oth­ers is our con­cept of blend­ing dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in­stead of just con­cen­trat­ing on sin­gle vine­yard lo­ca­tions. If you have a prop­erty no­body else has because it is your own prop­erty, the wine you make from that prop­erty is of course unique, but it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be the best sim­ply because it is unique,” he ex­plains.

The mo­saic of soil types of dif­fer­ent sub-re­gions in Barolo re­sults in dif­fer­ent styles. Wines from La Morra and Barolo are said to be lighter while wines from Ser­ralunga d’Alba, Mon­forte d’Alba and Castiglione Fal­letto are more struc­tured and pow­er­ful. “In or­der to be a great wine,” ex­plains Boffa, “it is not only about power and mus­cles but also fi­nesse, el­e­gance and the bou­quet... each of these char­ac­ters lies in a spe­cific ter­roir. Only by blend­ing can we make a Barolo that is the epit­ome of the en­tire area.”

The mer­its of Barolo have long been ap­pre­ci­ated by the Ital­ians, but it took the rest of the world a lit­tle longer to catch on. The Neb­bi­olo grape va­ri­ety used to make Barolo is no­to­ri­ously finicky, and plant­ings else­where around the world have failed to cap­ture the divine per­fume and age­abil­ity of Barolo.

Which leads Boffa to con­clude: “It is very re­ward­ing for us that our 137 years of ex­pe­ri­ence are fi­nally recog­nised by the ma­jor­ity of wine con­sumers. In pre­vi­ous years, Barolo was mainly in the Ital­ian sec­tion of the mar­kets or Ital­ian res­tau­rants. Now, Barolo is avail­able in the cel­lars of col­lec­tors the world over, and con­sid­ered to be quite unique.”

THE BAROLO WINE RE­GION IS AR­GUABLYTHE MOST FA­MOUS IN PIED­MONT, AND PIO CE­SARE IS ITS STAR PRO­DUCER

A GOOD BAROLO COMES TO THOSE WHO WAIT. AND AT PIO CE­SARE, FAM­ILY MEM­BERS(FROM LEFT) CE­SARE BENVENUTO, PIO BOFFA, FEDERICA BOFFA AND AUGUSTO BOFFA KEEP THE WIN­ERY’S 137-YEAR LEGACY ALIVE

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