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Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay 1996
At Pio Cesare, there has always been a conviction that great wine can come only from the finest grapes and the winery's output has always been limited through adherence to the highest standards. Pio Cesare limits its production by using only the most mature and healthy grapes. The ripening of the grapes is carefully monitored and the harvest is rigidly controlled with each grape selected by hand.
Today, the estate is managed by Pio Boffa, great-grandson of Pio Cesare. Under his stewardship, the wines of Pio Cesare have become famous throughout the world. Great strides have been made in quality, and single vineyard offerings have dazzled the wine press.
A prestigious and distinctive region for red wines in northwestern Italy, Piedmont is responsible for some of the country’s longest-lived, most sought-after wines. Set in the foothills of the Alps, the terrain consists of visually stunning rolling hills. The most prized vines are planted at higher altitudes on the warmer, south-facing slopes where sunlight exposure is maximized. The climate is continental, with cold winters and hot, muggy summers. Despite the rain shadow effect of the Alps, precipitation takes place year-round, and a cooling fog provides moisture that aids in the ripening of grapes.
Easy-going Barbera is the most planted grape in Piedmont, beloved for its trademark high acidity, low tannin, and juicy red fruit. However, the most prized variety is Nebbiolo, named for the region’s omnipresent fog (“nebbia” in Italian). This grape is responsible for the exalted wines of Barbaresco and Barolo, known for their ageability, firm tannins, and hallmark aromas of tar and roses. Nebbiolo wines, despite their pale hue, pack a pleasing punch of flavor and structure, and the best examples, when made in a traditional style, require about a decade’s wait before they become approachable. Barbaresco tends to be more elegant in style while Barolo is more powerful. More affordable and imminently drinkable Nebbiolo can be found in the larger Langhe area as well as Gattinara, Ghemme, and other less-prominent appellations. Dolcetto is Piedmont’s other important red grape, ready to drink as quickly as Barbera but with lower acidity and higher tannin. White wines are less important here but can be high in quality, and include Arneis, Gavi, and sweet, fizzy wines made from Muscat.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.