The Buyer
Pio Cesare and the experiment of pairing the 2020s with Chinese food

Pio Cesare and the experiment of pairing the 2020s with Chinese food

Never done before, fifth generation winemaker Federica Rosy Boffa decided to eschew pasta and ragu for the launch of her new 2020 vintage wines and see if her new Barbaresco and Barolo would pair well with Chinese food. Peter Dean went along for the ride, learnt more about the estate’s innovations, tasted their first Sauvignon Blanc and got a glimpse of what else is new in the pipeline.

Peter Dean
19th May 2024by Peter Dean
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

Think of a perfect food-match for a classy Barolo or Barbaresco and you would probably come up with a fresh pasta served with wild boar ragu or partridge breast smothered in shaved white Alba truffle. You might not, however, immediately think of serving a Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Brico Pio 2011 with steamed king prawns with garlic or sesame prawn toast.

But it is to the immense credit of Federica Rosy, over on a flying visit to London, that she took the decision to show her Pio Cesare 2020 vintage wines to a select and highly influential group of wine buyers…. over a Chinese meal. Admittedly it wasn’t takeout from your local, but rather China Tang at The Dorchester, but it was still a highly spiced, intense, sweet and sour cuisine.

“I wanted to show that Barbaresco and Barolo does not necessarily need to be paired with either Italian food or with meat, it will be interesting to see how the tannins can mix with different cuisines,” Federica says adding, before the meal, that this is the first time they have chosen a non-European restaurant to show their wines.

She also confides that she is not quite sure how well the experiment will work – there being few Chinese restaurants in the winery’s old town home of Alba. Like none.

Taking over the reins of this family-owned Piedmont producer, along with her cousin Cesare Benvenuto, somewhat earlier than expected given the tragic premature death of her father Pio Boffa three years ago, Federica is young, bold and totally prepared to embrace wine drinking in its modern setting. Aged Barolo with Chinese – why not? Who says it won’t work?

Federica Rosy Boffa (centre), Peter Dean and assembled wine buyers, China Tang, Dorchester

Pio Cesare embracing the spirit of innovation

More about the meal later, but the overall concept of the evening smacks of the invention and rule-challenging spirit that Federica embraces and has inherited from the winery’s four previous generations.

We start the meal with Blanc Langhe Sauvignon Pio 2022, a new white wine, that comes on the back of their hugely successful Chardonnay, which was one of the first Italian Chardonnays in the region, planted as the vines were back in the 1960s???

Also in the works is a 100% Timorasso which is currently in development the family’s inspiration coming from a 20-year-old bottle tasted which compelled her to seek permission to make a Timorasso in Piedmont. “It tasted like an aged Riesling,” she says.

To accommodate the three white wines, building started last week on a new winery building opposite the family’s home and historic winery, the only one left in the historic town centre of Alba.

Another investment for the future is 10 hectares of vineyards in the Alta Langhe which the family bought six years ago with climate change in mind – the higher altitude resulting in higher acidity in the fruit which will help offset the effect of rising global temperatures. Piedmont’s DOCG appellations are increasing by 622 hectares next year, but Pio Cesare was ahead of the curve here.

At 500 metres (over 100 metres more than their other highest vines), the Alta Langhe has always been too high for Nebbiolo to ripen but that is changing every year with climate change. 2023 was the first vintage for Pio Cesare’s Alta Langhe site and the fruit has been used in the Langhe Nebbiolo but expect to see it incorporated in the estate’s traditional (blended) Barolo and Barbaresco in vintages to come.

So how did the new wines work with the Chinese?

The family has been growing Sauvignon Blanc for 21 years and previously it was blended with Chardonnay for L’Altro. Here Blanc Langhe Sauvignon Pio 2022 is the first 100% SB and it is a winner – a concentrated herbal nose, followed by an elegant, bitter, dry palate all green lemon skin and very gastronomic. No malo in the vinification on account of keeping the acidity nice and bright. The wine was paired with Har Kau and Scallop Dumpling and it worked a treat, even handling the heat of the accompanying chilli oil.

Siu Long Bao, Siu Mail and Sesame Prawn Toast followed by two of the new flagship reds – Barbaresco Pio 2020 and Barolo Pio 2020 – which are the traditional multi-region wines made with fruit sourced from a variety of the family’s vineyards and made in the same way – vinified in steel with 25-30 days maceration and then aged for 30 months in oak ‘botti’ followed by a short time in barriques. Love it that the label says ‘Please don’t call it regular’.

The Barolo had a ripe, voluptuous nose with red cherries and fresh flowers. The palate also had a coffee note. The tannins are soft, powder fine and approachable. Great dry finish which complemented the food well. The Barbaresco was polished, pure, light, elegant and clean with sweet cherry and liquorice notes. Delightful wine which also worked so well with the food

The three single vineyard wines Barbaresco Il Bricco Pio 2020, Barolo Ornato Pio 2020 and Barolo Mosconi Pio 2020 were served with Classic Peking Duck. Each of the wines have far greater power, structure and concentration – the Il Bricco was big and powerful, rich and ripe with nicely integrated tannins, the Ornato had real Ooomph, great structure. The wines were a great match with the spice and flavours of the duck but the sweet plum sauce was a no-no. Just killed the wines and lost all the subtleties.

With four main courses and rice we were served Barbaresco Pio 2011 and Barbaresco Il Bricco Pio 2011 from large format. What was interesting here was how impressive and fresh the 2011s were given how hot the growing season was and the fact this was a vintage overshadowed by 2010. The wines were great but to be honest with king prawns, garlic, beef in black pepper sauce, chicken in black bean sauce the nuances were greatly blurred.

Key takeaways (see what I did there?) were the SB was impressive and distinctive and well worth looking into; the 2020 vintage is a winner both in Barolo and Barbaresco; and matching Nebbiolo with Chinese food works brilliantly if you keep the sweet, dense, black sauces out of the equation. Fascinating evening many thanks Federica and MMD which distributes the wines in the UK.