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A lifestyle blog by Allison Arbuthnot on The Whole 9

Allison was raised on the vine in Sonoma, California, and believes that life is too short to drink bad wine, count calories, or second-guess your destiny. She now lives in Los Angeles where she practices many things, the two most important being contentment and tricks for opening a wine bottle without a wine key.

The Revelation of a New Tradition

July went out in fine style this year. On the second to last day of the month, Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills was selected as the site for the unveiling of a new wine at the from the Pio Cesare estate of Piedmont, one of Italy’s most traditional and respected wineries. Culina, the hotel’s latest and most celebrated update, is designed as a contemporary Italian, urban enoteca, and was an apropos location for the first domestic tasting of Pio Cesare’s new Oltre Langhe DOC 2006, the first modern blend ever to hail from this very traditional, varietal-specific winery.

The intimate press luncheon was hosted by Pio Cesear 5th-generation family winemaker Pio Boffa, and the new Oltre Langhe 2006 was one of eight wines paired with a four-course meal designed and executed by Culina Executive Chef Vic Casanova.

Culina hosts LA’s only crudo bar, and thus the meal began in modern Italian meets Beverly Hills glam with a beautiful sampler plate of ricciola (yellowtail with star anise oil and orange sea salt), gamberoni (Pacific shrimp, lemon and basil-tomato oil) and aragosta (lobster with grapefruit and chive oil and pink peppercorns), paired with the Cortese Di Gavi DOCG 2009.

The Cortese, the only traditional dry white wine of Piedmont, is a bright, clear straw colored wine, crisp and full of bold minerality and green notes: lime rind, green apple and green leaves. Grown on hillside vineyards in Gavi to enable the fruit to ripen long in dry soils, the wine has solid acidity without being searing, and with the crudo, each sip was clean and brilliant as sunshine. “It’s the kind of wine you don’t need big wine degrees to appreciate,” joked Boffa.

With a traditional caprese of heirloom tomatoes and local burrata cheese was the Piodilei DOC 2008 Chardonnay, a flaxen liquid with stone fruit and cooked apple aromas, bright tropical fruit on the palate with a smooth crème brûlée finish, which led the way into the reds.

Piedmont is a land of single-varietal wines, known for their esteemed Barbaresco and Barolo, both gigantic, burly styles of wine composed of 100% Nebbiolo and named after the villages in which they are made. While these big reds are some of the most respected wines in the world, the region is also known for the more quaffable but still highly structured Barbera, named for the grape rather than the place. Like much of the Old World, the wines here are not made to cater to market fads, but rather they adhere to time-tested methods to produce traditional wines built for optimum drinkability and aging potential.

Boffa defines tradition as not just employing traditional winemaking techniques, but maintaining the ability to produce “traditional” wines—wines with the same flavor profiles as the wines his father and grandfather and those before them were making over a century ago—in a changing world with different soil compositions, weather patterns and influences than that of his forefathers. This approach allows him to benefit from modern innovations while perpetuating the customs and winemaking wisdom of generations before him. “I don’t belong to the modernists; I don’t belong to the traditionalists. I don’t belong to anything,” said Boffa. “I believe in continuing to produce traditional wine.”

The Barbera D’Alba DOC 2007 is one such traditional wine. A “classic” Barbera that pulls fruit from a selection of family-owned vineyards throughout Alba, the wine skates around the palate with a pointed acidity rounded out with salted, stewed plums and a rich, spiced brown sugar nose. This was followed by another Barbera, the Barbera D’Alba Fides DOC 2006, a single-vineyard wine grown in the Barolo region. “Fides” means “trust” in Latin, and signifies the trust the Pio Cesare family has in the Barbera grape. The Fides is a dark cherry-red wine, with ripe black fruit and currant jumping out of the glass chased by a hint of smoke.

Alaskan white king salmon over summer vegetables and drizzled with a Barbera reduction accompanied these two wines and a third, the Oltre Langhe DOC 2006, Pio Cesare’s new baby and the first blend ever produced by the family.

“Oltre” is Italian for “in addition to,” and the Oltre Langhe DOC 2006 is the debut of this modern blend: In addition to the region’s native Nebbiolo and Barbera, this wine is produced with Cabernet and Merlot grapes grown on estate-owned vineyards. As Boffa says, “It is a Barolo with a little bit of a gentle touch.” Of the addition of the 5 percent Bordeaux varietals, “The Cabernet and Merlot add a bit of fruit and sweetness to the end.”

The wine is a deep crimson color with brick-red highlights. It is 70 percent Nebbiolo, and as expected, has a powerful structure with very firm tannins. A balanced vibrant acidity follows round, ripe fruit and soft toast on the palate to make each sip clean and extremely food-friendly. As with most Nebbiolo, the Oltre will benefit from time in the cellar; still, attendees were pleased with the Oltre even in its youth, and its first tasting outside of Italy seemed to grant it a welcome reception.

The third course brought a Niman Ranch bone-in rib-eye and the final three wines, robust and dignified Nebbiolos with teeth-scraping tannins and a long lifetime ahead of them. The Barbaresco DOCG 2005 is a bright scarlet in the glass with rose-colored rims and a dusty nose of dried violets, blackberries, barbeque smoke and an intense aroma of black licorice. A powerful yet graceful wine, the Barbaresco was perhaps my personal highlight of the tasting.

Two Barolos concluded the tasting is classic Piemonte fashion. The Barolo DOCG 2006 is a dark purple and masculine wine, initial plant-based aromas of basil and coffee beans evolving after some time in the glass into charred black fruit and charcoal. The single-vineyard Barolo Ornato DOCG 2005 was also a deep purple but clear and bright with crimson reflections. Dense cooked black fruit stewed with espresso and vanilla tobacco lead the way to fat tannins and a wine that will truly shine a good 15 years from now, a fine example of one of wine’s greatest lessons: the best things are worth waiting for.


  1. I’m drunk just reading this :)

  2. You write so beautifully. Where is my glass?

  3. Alli,
    If I was that winery I would hire you exclusively to promote my product!!!! At every word all I could think of was “where can I get this wine”?
    Love You,
    Mama Eva

  4. There is nothing better than Italian wines with Italian food, in Italy. I went to Venice, since my favorite place in the world. A casual lover of Italian heritage told me “Calle Madona”. I went to this trattoria Calle Madona next to the Rialo Bridge and there I found The Venetian Nose. There is was, a clientele of Venetians, truly a distinctive people, and they had the nose so prominent, the nose you see in the paintings of Venice. Amazing. Like discovering a flower long ago considered extinct. Another, a more solitary thrifty evening, I gathered my market cheese, figs and wine and bread and took the Vaporetto to The Lido, and looking back on the domes and spires of Venice I gathered it all in.

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  1. By Pio Cesare Lunch at Culina | RSS Lens on September 21, 2010 at 5:13 am

    [...] The Revelation of a New TraditionIn Vitis Veritas: Wine, Wisdom & Awakening [...]

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