NOV. 22 was Thanksgiving Day, a huge American holiday that is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November. The huge annual celebration, along with Christmas and New Year, is part of the official US holiday season. While there were some establishments locally, including some restaurants, that rode along with this American tradition, we Filipinos normally don’t bother with this. Actually in Philippines, the “Christmas holiday feel” commences much earlier and you start hearing Jose Mari Chan songs being played on the airwaves just after All Saints Day, Nov. 2.
In my curiosity about the Thanksgiving tradition, I did my research, and the story of the origin was actually quite interesting. The first Thanksgiving dated back to the fall of 1621, when the English Pilgrims marked their first harvest, which came about because of the help of the Pokanoket Wampanoag Native Americans, with a celebration held in Plymouth, the coastal town in Massachusetts, south of Boston. When the English Pilgrims came to America via the Mayflower on December of 1620, they began building their township. Sadly though months after they arrived, they still had a hard time adapting to their new environment and food rations were really getting scarce. This was when the English colonists established communication and even made a treaty with the Wampanoag tribe, through the leader Massasoit Sachem or Ousamequin. That spring of 1621, the Pilgrims were able to successfully grow crops, fish, and hunt for their food as taught to them by the Native Americans, which now prepared the town for the coming winter. To celebrate their sufficiency in food by the fall of that year, the Pilgrims held a three-day feasting jamboree with Massasoit Sachem and his people joining in — this would turn into Thanksgiving Day in modern times.
PIO CESARE THANKSGIVING DINNER AT OKADA MANILA
While again we do not celebrate Thanksgiving Day, there is always something to be thankful for if you get to attend a sumptuous dinner, with amazing wines, and with even the added comfort of having a family member from the winery explaining the wines as you dine. This happened on Nov. 22, when Augusto Boffa, a 4th generation family member of the famed Pio Cesare winery from Piedmont, was in Manila to join a small group of 40 people for an exclusive wine dinner at La Piazza restaurant in Okada Manila. The Pio Cesare brand has been renowned for its classic Barolos, making the Pio Cesare Borolo wine one of most listed wine brands in the world, and easily found in the best hotels and restaurants.
Augusto Boffa and cousin Pio Boffa are among the 4th generation managing family owners of Pio Cesare, the winery named after Augusto and Pio’s great-grandfather Cesare. The winery has been family owned since its founding in 1881. Pio Cesare is located in the old town center of Alba, in the Langhe region of Piedmont, in the North-Western part of Italy. Despite the global reach of the Pio Cesare brand, the winery is not as big as people would expect. The winery makes around 550,000 bottles annually, with over 75% going to export. At present, the winery owns 70 hectares of vineyards, with primarily ideal hillside growing conditions located in multiple communes within the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations.
The Pio Cesare winery also has the distinction of being located right in the heart of the idyllic Alba town. I love this town — I have visited Alba three times the last six years, and Alba is also known for being the home of the Italian dessert pana cotta, white truffles, and even Nutella. While the other wineries moved out of the city to nearby communes to build new equipment, storage rooms and warehouses during the wine boom and expansion period, Pio Cesare actually stayed put.
The winery is walking distance from the touristy Alba Cathedral. Inconspicuously concealed by its modest facade is a beautiful winery that has been making some of the best Piedmont wines since 1881. The winery, which has been upgraded several times with the most modern wine making facilities, still operates in a cellar built in the 2,000-year-old city’s ancient Roman walls.
Both Augusto, Pio, and the family’s 5th generation, led by their nephew Cesare Benvenuto and Pio’s daughter, Federica Rosy, travel around the world and serve as their own brand ambassadors in events similar to this one at the Okada Manila. This has worked beautifully in keeping Pio Cesare a top-of-mind brand not only among Barolo drinkers, but serious wine lovers in general. And, as I experienced on Nov. 22, tasting Pio Cesare wines while Augusto Boffa was explaining each bottle only make the wines all the more appealing, delicious, and surreal.
Below are my customary tasting notes, with added flair coming from the explanation of Augusto Boffa. The wines were paired with an exquisite menu prepared by Okada’s own chef Gleb Snegin.
In order of serving:
• Pio Cesare Gavi 2015 — as Augusto explained, Cortese, the grape used in Gavi, is the most important white varietal in the region and their version is as good of a quality as you can get; “flinty nose, faint green apple, very subtle, fresh and good acid backbone, quite quaffable and crisp at the end.”
• Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay 2012 — Piodilei is the top Chardonnay of the Pio Cesare estate, and is a single vineyard wine coming from the winery’s own “Il Bricco” Estate, in the Barbaresco area from old vines planted as early as 1980. Chardonnay, being a foreign grape from France, as a varietal was only made into a D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) from I.G.T. (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) around 1994. Pio Cesare is one of the earlier Piedmont wineries to plant Chardonnays; “creamy, warm, vanilla, medium bodied, less fruit nuances, white spices and a long lemon-peel finish; has an aged white Beaune (Burgundy) characteristic in its complexity.”
• Pio Cesare Fides Barbera 2013 — Fides is single vineyard Barbera planted in the winery’s prime Barolo area that could have otherwise been planted with Nebbiolo to make Barolo wines, but instead the family decided to plant and create probably the best Barbera wine in the region; “very grapey, a hearty fruit-bomb, cinnamon, some earthiness, complex, overripe berries, supple tannins on the palate, very rich with good acid backbone, and a succulent juicy finish.”
• Pio Cesare Ornato Barolo 2011 — This is the third single vineyard wine of the dinner; a Borolo wine made from the winery’s prime Ornato vineyard; “spicy nose, black truffle, cigar box, lots of power from both fruit and oak, firm with chewy tannins, long lingering licorice finish; shows so much more potential for aging.”
• Pio Cesare Barolo Classico 2000 — Augusto reminded everyone that calling the Pio Cesare non-single vineyard Barolo wine as regular Barolo is wrong, and it should correctly be called Pio Cesare Barolo Classico. This Barolo has been the winery’s flagship wine since it started, and the winery blends the different Nebbiolo juices coming from their different vineyards in the appellation to create their house style — this house style at its most ravishing was seen in this 18-year-old Barolo Classico 2000; “no sign of its age other than a negligible drop in its hue, the nose remains vibrant, from black cherries, strawberries, herbs, and cinnamon, some tar, still full bodied, very supple tannins and very round and deep at the end; a surprise to most dinner guests as the wine still shows much freshness.”
Now … that was something to give thanks for! Bravo!
The author is now a proud new member of UK-based Circle of Wine Writers. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.