The passenger seat of a fully insured rental car heading from Monforte d'Alba to La Morra was not a bad place to be at 9.30 am on a cloudless Saturday in October 2007. The narrow roads gently climbed through the undulating hills. Spectacular views of Barolo's vines, their leaves browning with the onset of Autumn, passed our open windows. V and I were on route to Azienda Agricola Elio Altare for a 10 am appointment with Elio's daughter Silvia. Shotter's Nation, bought solely out of curiosity at Stanstead Airport the night before, was sounding surprisingly good on our second listen and our satellite navigation system continued with her silent treatment, as if waiting for an apology or the end of Peter Doherty.
Elio Altare is one of the pioneers of Barolo. He travelled to Burgundy in 1976 at the tender age of 26 before returning to his family's vines in La Morra to experiment with winemaking techniques he'd seen on his travels and a dream of elevating his wines to quality being achieved in Burgundy. Elio challenged the established wisdom that Barolo required long maceration periods. He shortened his maceration times and sought to achieve elegance, finesse, fruit and balance. The wines soon developed a reputation as being among the most elegant and perfumed wines of Barolo.
Silvia greeted us with a smile and led us about the wine-making facilities and cellars with great enthusiasm, charm and a likable Californian twang to her English. We tasted a few of the very recently harvested 2007s before heading to Altare's rather large tasting room, a room which has the good fortune of peering out over the famed Alborina vineyard. The Altare's two dog's yipped about our feet whilst other members of the Altare family and their friends drifted in and out, animating the room with conversation and laughter in way that only Italians do. Altare's 10 hectares are harvested each year exclusively by friends and family. They fill the tasting room for lunches and dinners prepared by Elio's wife Lucia. The harvest here sounds much more like fun than work. The Altare's clearly love what they do and it shines through in their wines. My tasting notes on the wines Silvia poured for us (and the 1998 Barolo which V and I bought at Enoclub, Alba, an hour or so after leaving Altare) are set out below.
2006 Dolcetto d'Alba. 2/3 day maceration and aging in used French barriques for 3 weeks then steel tanks for 10 months. Deep reddish purple and lots of ripe red fruit. Surprisingly tannic but these are reasonably soft. As expected, not much acidity here.
2006 Barbera d'Alba. 4/5 day maceration and aging in used French barriques for 6 months. Interesting savoury and vegetal notes along with some fine spicy red fruits. Refreshing acidity.
2003 L'Insieme. 3/5 day maceration and aging in new French barriques for 18 months. An international style of wine made with about 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Barbera, 20% Nebbiolo, 10% Dolocetto and small quantities of Syrah and Petit Verdot. 5 euros from each bottle produced is donated to a pool used for various good causes in the region. Intense red, rich ripe black fruits, cassis, tasty new oak, noticeable ripe tannins, harmonious and balanced.
2003 Barolo. 4/5 day maceration and aging in French barriques - 20% new and 80% used for 2 years. Soft red fruits, crushed violets and notes of licorice and spice. Richly perfumed and elegant, but despite coming from the hot year, would still prefer to give this more time.
1998 Barolo. Maceration and aging as above for the 2003. Wow. Soaring perfume of black cherries, roses, tar and bbqed herbs. Sublimely elegant and balanced. Sweet tannins. Tasted with veal cheeks in Barolo at Enoclub, which perfectly accompanied this wine. I wanted more and more of this wine. Stunning.