Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Pio Cesare: Wines with a Modern Approach in a Traditional Style

When we think of Piedmonte, we think of Barolo and Barbaresco.  When we think of Barolo and Barbaresco, we ultimately think of Nebbiolo, a wine that commands attention, respect and a little bit of patience.  These same three characteristics rang true when I met  Pio Boffa, the producer of the family owned winery Pio Cesare, in Piedmonte, Italy. 

The man walks into the room at La Chronique in Montreal, and I immediately stand up a little taller, as he unknowingly commands presence and attention.  Nothing is left to chance as Mr. Boffa was keeping a close eye to every minute detail before the tasting with journalists began. Meticulous, he made sure each wine was at the perfect temperature and in the correct order, not shy to express exactly how the tasting was to be orchestrated. 

In 1881, his great grandfather Cesare Pio (at that time, it was common for people to place last names first and the first names last) founded the estate with a desire make small quantity wines with the highest possible quality.  Cesare Pio was an entrepreneur in various fields, but what started as a hobby quickly turned into something much more meaningful, and he started making wine for himself and the generations after him.  Today, the family has strictly kept the quality, tradition, respect and dedication for the wines that Cesare Pio had started so many years before. 

Barolo and Barbaresco  as we know them today, was not the same when it was initially being produced over a hundred of years ago, as they were quite sweet. Pio’s great grandfather was the first to not only erase the sweet styles, but also one of the first to make sure his wines were being exported across the world. 

Today, Pio Cesare does not make huge quantities of wine, as it is not the aim of the family.  The aim of the family is to produce, year after year, a wine that is loyal to the style of the wine that was made by the years and generations before, in the sense they are trying to portray the true essence of the terroir of Barbaresco and Barolo.   This can be difficult to do, given there is not only a change in climate, but the clones of the grapes and the people behind the wines have also changed.  As each generation comes into the business, they have their own ideas, their own opinions as to how they think things should be done, and adjustments need to be made.  “But if we keep the word respect in mind, if we adapt with the environmental and scientific changes that come, we will always respect the desire of what my family wanted to do generations ago, which is to make a style of wine that can express purity, finesse and elegance.”

One of the ways they stay true to their tradition is by blending wines from different vineyards. “This is our way of being classic, traditional, a way of being close to the way our family has been making wine.”  Since 2012, Pio Cesare has added a small quote on their labels.  Please don’t call this wine regular.’  Mr. Boffa explains, “In the industry, there is a tendency for people to believe  that the Barolos with the name of single vineyards have to be considered higher of quality, but this is not the case. In the past, at the end of the 1800’s, Barolo and Barbaresco was made by blend different locations in order to give the best expression of place.  By knowing the potential of each location, they would really produce a wine by blending grapes from the different locations which becomes the real essence of the entire location.”

The wines of Pio Cesare have a mid of a modern approach, yet set in a traditional style.  Nebbiolo is allowed to show its potential here - a gentle expression of fruit that is multifaceted.  Wines that are great young, but like people, with age get better and better.  A very special thank you to Mr. Pio Boffa and Elixirs Vins et Spiritueux for this incredible tasting.  

Pio Cesare Fides 2013
SAQ: 10802349  $45.00

Meaning ' Faith' in Latin, this 100% Barbera offers juicy strawberries and sour cherries, and spices.  Plenty of acidity, crunchy tannins and perfect kiss of oak.  There a great concentration of red fruit and bits of earth on the finish. Lovely. Drink now or in the next 8-10 years. 

Pio Cesare Oltre 2014
SAQ: 11353047  $32.25

This is a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is fresh and intense with ripe cherries, blackberries and plum.  The hints of tobacco and spice present themselves mid way through the sip as does the grippy tannins and very bright acidity.  Medium bodied, and smooth of the palate, this wine is very approachable and easy to drink.  The finish is nicely structured with an earthy touch.  Drink now or in the next 8-10 years.
Pio Cesare Barbaresco 2014 
SAQ: 00905026 $72.00  

A classic, well made Barbaresco which displays notes of cherries, strawberries, plums and roses.  The fruit is intense, ripe, and ever so delicate. Soft spices dance across the palate, with the slightest hint of vanilla. This wine has power and depth, but keeping balance and elegance throughout.  This is a very special wine with plenty of aging potential. Hold on to this for a bit... drink in the next 10-12 years.

Pio Cesare Barolo 2012

This wine is layered in intense cherries, strawberries and plum with spice, dry earth and beautiful floral elements.  The youthful tannins add depth and texture, and will tame down given some time. The vibrant acidity is balanced with a great depth of fruit and licorice and flowers.  The long, elegant finish ends on loads of cherries, with a fine mineral streak. Gorgeous.  Be patient here - do not open this for at least another 6-8 at the very least.  With the raspy tannins, fruit and high acidity, this has great aging potential.  

Friday, 20 July 2018

Jean-Luc Colombo: Quality Wines from a Quality Person

There seems to be a recurring theme when I drink wines that I really enjoy, that sometimes make me stop in wonder.  A wine, that at first sip takes you somewhere and resonates with you in a way that cannot be explained.  This is the experience I had last year,  when I first tasted a Côtes de Rhône from winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo. To have the opportunity and meet him some months later, was quite incredible.  As he spoke, his smile, kind eyes and demeanour displayed nothing but pure passion and love for his work. Recently, Agency LCC Vins et Spiritueux was generous enough to invite me to a tasting with Jean-Luc Colombo at Ferreira Café here in Montreal. 

Jean-Luc was immersed into the culinary world growing up, as his mother and grandmother were chefs.  There was always plenty of talk about food in the household; a passion that was clearly passed down to Jean-Luc, as he dashed into the kitchen at Ferreira to spontaneously order our table an extra dish specifically for a wine pairing:  “This fish is the perfect accompaniment to the St-Péray, we are about to taste.” His smile and excitement was contagious. 

Jean-Luc Colombo started making wine in the 1986, when he purchased 246 acres of old vines in Cornas.  He was considered a bit of a rebel at the time because he was doing things differently than his old-fashioned counterparts. Throwing no caution to the wind, he along with his wife Anne,  carefully tended to vineyards, grew beautifully ripe fruit, and kept an impeccably clean cellar. (Very important, according to Jean-Luc.)   They gained much success by producing high quality wines with excellent depth, richness, character and complexity.

Today, the couple are making wines which are expressive of terroir, paying deep care and attention to the environment on which these vines grow.  They do not use pesticides in their vineyards, encourage biodiversity, and since 2012, has been taking the steps towards being certified organic.  Only the best fruit gets into their top tier wine.  They own 30 hectares in their vineyards in Northern Rhône, and another 20 hectares on the Blue Coast.  In 1996, he acquired land on the Blue Coast near Marseille, not far from where he grew up.  It is here that he produces the absolutely gorgeous and quaffable Cape Bleue Rosé.  (With a blend of Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre, this wine was one of my favourite’s at the tasting.) The remainder of their fruit is sourced from grower's in which they have close relationship.

Jean-Luc is has strict opinion when it comes to irrigation:  it should not happen. He believes the vines struggle and search for water adds complexity to the wine.  "Wines from year to year should not taste the same.  Of course, we want to make the best fruit, the best wine...and constantly improve....but the weather, it is never the same from one year to the next.  Therefore, the fruit will not be the same. How can we appreciate or understand vintage variation, if there is no discrepancy in the wine.  A good winemaker should be able to make great wine, even in the worst of vintages."

The definition of incredible wine is really quite simple; it’s a wine that gives us pleasure and satisfaction when we drink it; a wine that moves us in some way.  I can say with complete content that the wines of Jean-Luc Colombo will most certainly be making me very happy for some time to come.  Special thank you to Jean-Luc Colombo for his incredible generosity and conversation, and also LCC Vins et Spiriteux for this outstanding opportunity and tasting. 

All of the following wines are available, or shortly available at the SAQ. Keep an eye out.

Côtes de Rhône La Redonne 2016
SAQ: 10783951  $25.55

This lovely white is a blend of Viognier (70%) and Rousanne (30%), coming from gravel soils.  The palate is round and refreshing with crisp citrus and apricot fruit with a nice tinge of honey and pistachio.  The finish has bright, crisp fruit with bits of salty minerality.  Very approachable and fruit driven wine. Drink now or in the next 2-3 years.  This would pair this with a crispy fried tilapia on a bed of ginger infused rice and warm soft tortilla.

St-Péray La Belle de Mai 2016
Available soon at the SAQ  $52.75

This wine is a blend of 60% Rousanne and 40% Marsanne.  Fragrant, fresh and pure this excellent white is showing notes of intense citrus, peach and honey.  The flavours are layered, and the acidity is super fresh balancing the concentrated fruit and creamy that comes through.  As the wine finishes, the soft palate has notes of stony minerality and zesty fruit.  Drink now or in the next 5-6 years.  This would incredible with Saffron Shrimp Pappardelle. 

Cape Bleue Rosé 2016
SAQ: 12219309  $17.55

This rosé so fruity, so refreshing and easy drinking....it will not last long on your table. Strawberries, raspberries, and peach over salty mineral notes and flowers...only to start right back at strawberries again. The refreshing acidity if perfectly balanced with the crunchy red fruit and that hit of salinity just makes it so quaffable! Available at the SAQ Depot, because you will need to buy a case of this anyway...  Drink now.  This would be well matched with Atlantic Crab rolls with bacon and tarragon mayonnaise.  

Saint Joseph Les Lauves 2016
SAQ: 13466555 $31.00

100% Syrah, this wine displays notes of juicy layered fruit like blackberries, plums and dark cherries. The warm spice and Mediterranean herbs is showing nicely as does the refreshing acidity.  Tannins are medium grained, still youthful, adding texture and depth.  The wine is lifted a bit with some notes of violet adding even more complexity.  This is an incredible wine that needs just a bit more time to soften up in the cellar, maybe 2-3 years...but this can easily age another 8-10 years if your patience allows. Beautiful wine!  A great food pairing would be a roasted leg of lamb with dried cherry sauce.  Here is a recipe I often use, and it is mouth watering: 

Cornas Les Ruchets 2015
SAQ: 12188274 $107.50

Youthful and concentrated cherry and blackberry and fruit with spice, earth and violet undertones.  There is a depth of fruit, each showing itself bit by bit, balanced with very good acidity and youthful, firm tannins.  The concentrated palate has incredible purity where the finish is quite long and ends on a lovely mineral, slatey touch.  It is a powerful and elegant wine, but it needs some time to develop.  Because I am impatient, would wait 5-6 years to open this, but another 12-15 years in the cellar would be prime. A special wine deserves a special meal, and when you are ready open this wine, have a Beef Wellington filled with mushrooms and a touch of truffle oil. Recipe from:

Côte de Rhône Les Forots 2015
Available soon at the SAQ $25.55

With a blend of Grenache and Syrah, this is fragrant and approachable wine with notes of dense blackberries, plums and bits of earth and minerality.  The is supple tannins, and balanced acidity make this a structured and classy wine.  Lovely freshness, pure fruit, great length.  Amazing value at under $30.  Drink now it in the next 4-5 years.  This wine is screaming for braised rabbit and roasted vegetables.