On my most recent visit to this producer based in the town of Alba, the house's Barolos and Barbarescos were more impressive than ever:while their aromas and flavors are classic, and their density of texture outstanding, the slight rusticity that has so long characterized this producer's wines has virtually been eliminated. The long project to renovate the winemaking facility was nearly complete, but director Pio Boffa noted that "finishing touches" could go on for many months in Italy. According to Boffa, 1998 here was better than '97 and even '96, thanks to improvements in the winery and the elimination of some ancient barrels. "The '99s are fruity and elegant wines," he added, "while the 2000s are packed. Two thousand one is more like '96 in style:what a great traditional Barolo and Barbaresco should be. "Pio Cesare's Barolos are aromatically complex and slow-aging wines, as the producer's 16-hectare Ornato vineyard ripens late in the cooler, iron-rich soils of Serralunga. "Although we get a lot of tannins, we never get pruney Barolos," Boffa explained. (Paterno Wines International, Lake Bluff, IL)

2003 Pio Cesare Chardonnay L'Altro

($24; from the same Treiso vineyard as the Piodilei, planted in 1980; aged in 75% stainless steel) Cool, minty aromas of fresh apple and pear. Then fat, supple and very ripe, with warm, spicy flavors verging on exotic. Fairly fresh but a bit alcoholic. Needs more flavor intensity and cut.

85

2002 Pio Cesare Chardonnay Piodilei Langhe

($51) Bright, pale color. Smoky, leesy aromas of pear, coconut and spicy oak. Fresh and restrained, with a floral purity and a hint of butterscotch. Offers more body and intensity than the 2003 Altro but comes across as moderately ripe on the back end. Subtle notes of truffle and minerals on the slightly edgy finish.

88

2003 Pio Cesare Dolcetto d'Alba

($25; done entirely in stainless steel) Good bright ruby-red. Highly aromatic, floral nose of cassis, black cherry and violet, with a primary crushed fruit character. Supple, fresh and layered but quite dry; dark fruit flavors complicated by a minty nuance. Not at all overripe for the year. Finishes rather tannic, with a suggestion of thick skins and seed tannins. Needs some aging. Boffa says the house's 1978 dolcetto is still vivid today, and that this will be long-lived too. My only question mark here is whether the tannins are too tough.

87(+?)?

2002 Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba

($25) Medium red. Pure aromas of redcurrant, cherry and nutty, smoky oak. Sweet but restrained, with very good vinosity and slightly edgy acidity. Offers subtle, dry fruit flavors and a cedary note. Finishes with light tannins and considerable acidity, and a rather mellow oakiness. But this could use more fruit.

86

2001 Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba Fides

($48; aged for 24 months in 70% barriques and 30% larger casks, mostly new) Full red-ruby. Deep, smoky aromas of cherry, redcurrant, cedar and nuts, with a Barolo-like woodsy quality. Supple, lush and deep, with velvety red fruit and smoky oak flavors. Large-scaled, rich and serious. Really opens out on the back end, finishing with very suave tannins.

90

2001 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco

(sample taken from barrique; part of this lot will also go into the classico Saturated ruby-red. Ripe dark fruits, spicy oak and minerals on the nose. Dense and sweet, with the wine's oak element contributing to its impression of firmness and shape. Quite youthfully backward today, and considerably less lush than the Fides barbera I tasted before it. Finishes with substantial wood tannins and impressive length.

90-93

2001 Pio Cesare Barbaresco

Medium red. Deep, woodsy aromas of redcurrant, tobacco, mocha, truffle and mint. Then superrich, thick and seamless, with subtle notes of mint and white truffle. Very classically styled Barbaresco, finishing with fine tannins and lingering sweetness. A bit of barrique juice will give this wine more austerity, notes Boffa; I then confirmed his prediction by making a blend in my glass.

2001 Pio Cesare Barolo

Good full medium ruby. Highly aromatic nose combines cherry, blackberry, tar, truffle, dried flowers, minerals, humus and spices. Utterly silky on entry, then drier and more laid-back than the Barbaresco classico in the middle palate. Very long and rich on the back end, with substantial but ripe tannins and terrific building length. I added a bit of barrique juice to my glass to approximate the final blend, and found the wine to be even fresher, spicier and more minerally.

2001 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato

((again, this was a sample taken from barrique; part of this juice will go into the classico Saturated, deep ruby-red. Knockout nose of dusty black fruits, tar, truffle, minerals and underbrush, lifted by spicy oak. Richer, deeper and sweeter than the classico, with an even more powerful backbone. An outstanding Barolo in the making) huge but not heavy, and even fresher than the Barbaresco Il Bricco owing to its great spine. Finishes with fine, noble tannins and outstanding, subtle length.

93-95

2000 Pio Cesare Barbaresco

($70) Good medium red. Superripe, complex aromas of ripe plum, nuts and underbrush; alongside the 2001, this came off as a bit roasted. Then wonderfully rich, supple, sweet and creamy, with underbrush and truffle nuances. Round and fat, yet quite classic in the context of the vintage. Finishes with substantial dusty tannins and hints of exotic jammy dark fruits.

91

2000 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco

($137; just bottled) Saturated ruby-red. Textbook Barbaresco nose of tar, dried flowers, chocolate and coffee, with an overlay of spicy oak. Fat and dense but backward and not especially sweet in the middle palate, with somewhat medicinal dark fruit flavors. Then turned increasingly rich and sweet on the back half, with sheer fruit extract overwhelming the wine's oakiness and buffering its substantial tannins. Still, this distinctly medicinal Barbaresco calls for at least five or six years of cellaring.

92(+?)

2000 Pio Cesare Barolo

($72) Full, deep red. Vibrant aromas of raspberry, smoke and underbrush; as with the 2001s, this comes across as more primary than the Barbaresco. Fat, dense and backward, with a layered texture and superb acidity for the vintage. Not at all a jammy style of 2000; in fact, this seems distinctly cool and aristocratic. The huge, rising finish features big, ripe tannins and powerful, brooding fruit.

2000 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato

($146; 80% new barriques Saturated medium ruby-garnet. Subtly complex aromas of redcurrant, truffle, tar and underbrush; I never would have guessed the vintage. Silky on entry, then wonderfully intense but supple, with flavors of dark cherry and iron. A huge, seamless wine of great thickness and richness. Incredible slow-building, classy finish really stains the palate. Any coffee and chocolate from the oak is hidden by powerful minerality. Boffa told me this wine boasts 37 grams per liter of dry extract, which is higher than either the '99 or the '01. A knockout.

95(+?)

1999 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato

($146) Medium red. Very closed nose hint at crystallized dark fruits, menthol, marzipan and minerals. Distinctly closed in the mouth, conveying great energy and juiciness but much less fat and early complexity than the 2000. Following the 2000s, this very rich wine comes across as a bit lean today, as it's passing through a sullen stage. Completely different in style from the 2000 and 2001 examples. But this is classic Barolo with great cut and lift, in need of at least a decade of patience.

93+
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