Antonio Galloni: Tasting Notes for Elio Altare 1985-2008

Source: WineAdvocate.com.

Although Elio Altare is best known for the superb Barolos he crafts from the Arborina and Brunate vineyards, his entire range is among the most consistently brilliant in Italy. This truly once in a lifetime retrospective tasting traced the development of Altare’s Vigna Larigi, an old-vine Barbera made from a tiny one-hectare plot on the Arborina hillside. For the occasion Altare opened every vintage of Larigi from 1985 to 2006 – with the exception of the 1983 and 1984, which could not be located – a rare event by any measure, most importantly because Altare himself had never tasted so many vintages of the wine in one sitting. All of the bottles came from Altare’s personal collection, meaning that provenance was unparalleled. Readers will note that I have refrained from providing drinking windows for that very reason, as it is nearly impossible to replicate the sheer joy and profoundness older, perfectly-stored bottles offer. Still, there is a more important lesson to learn here, and it is that if purchased upon release and stored properly, top vintages of Larigi are capable of providing 20+ years of fine drinking.

1985
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
88
1986
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
93
1987
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
93
1988
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
94
1989
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
96
1990
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
95
1991
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
89
1992
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
87
1993
Elio Altare Vigna Larigi
93
1994
Elio Altare Larigi
88
1995
Elio Altare Larigi
90
1996
Elio Altare Larigi
94
1997
Elio Altare Larigi
94
1998
Elio Altare Larigi
?
1999
Elio Altare Larigi
94
2000
Elio Altare Larigi
94
2001
Elio Altare Larigi
96
2003
Elio Altare Larigi
92
2004
Elio Altare Larigi
96
2005
Elio Altare Larigi
92
2006
Elio Altare Larigi
90
2007
Elio Altare Larigi
(91-94)
2008
Elio Altare Larigi
(91-94)

Needless to say, this tasting provided a unique look at the career of one the world’s great vignerons. Altare remains perhaps the most ardent proponent of the modern school of winemaking in Piedmont. He was among the first producers to shorten fermentation times radically, use French oak for his wines and demonstrate that Barbera could yield wines of far greater pedigree than the over-cropped, acidic versions that were the norm when he was starting out. Altare’s importance in inspiring an entire younger generation of growers to estate-bottle their wines and leave behind the production of grapes and bulk wine can’t possibly be overestimated. One of the frequent criticisms hurled at Altare over the years was that his wines wouldn’t age. That misguided view has been proven wrong time and again by the splendid maturation of Altare’s Barolos from the 1980s, as it was again on this day with a simply superb set of Barberas. As Larigi ages, it takes on a surprising level of complexity in its aromas and flavors, and the 100% new French oak becomes virtually undetectable, especially in the very finest vintages.

The 1980s

Altare’s first vintage of Larigi was 1983, but unfortunately neither the 1983 nor 1984 could be found. Readers who have visited the estate know that Altare is down to just a few bottles of these early wines, so all things considered, it is remarkable that he still has a handful of bottles of all the remaining vintages! The 1985 Vigna Larigi offers up sweet, floral aromatics that meld seamlessly into a core of candied red cherries. The wine possesses much of the sweetness that is typical for wines of this warm vintage, but sadly if fades rather quickly in the glass with the appearance of leather and mushrooms that dominate the aromatic and flavor profile. At this point, the 1985 needs to be drunk up. The 1986 Vigna Larigi is the first in what will turn out to be a series of remarkable wines. Graphite, wild herbs and black cherries are some of the nuances that emerge from this deeply-colored Barbera. The fruit remains vibrant and incredibly pure all the way through to the long, polished finish, and the balance is simply awesome. In this hail-plagued vintage Altare harvested literally berry by berry, and the proof is in the glass. This Barbera is so alive and full of life it is hard to believe.

The 1987 is a mid-weight, floral Vigna Larigi. It is slightly more forward and softer than the 1986, yet possesses superb balance in its ripe fruit, leather, spices and flowers. Altare’s 1988 Vigna Larigi is an explosive wine that bursts from the glass with generous fruit. The wine reveals great balance in its ripeness, aromatics and structure, all of which come together in a vibrant, delineated style. This is another vintage that will drink well for at least another few years. The 1989 Vigna Larigi easily lives up to the reputation of this historic harvest. A full-bodied, powerful, intense wine, the 1989 Larigi possesses extraordinary purity in its fruit, along with sweet notes of menthol, minerals and flowers that come to life on the finish. In a word: spectacular. Based on this bottle another ten years of fine drinking seems like a safe bet. The 1990 Vigna Larigi is yet another wine that expresses the qualities of the vintage in spades. It is a fat, fruit-driven Larigi that blossoms on the palate in a generous, expansive style. Sweet notes of French oak linger on the finish. The 1990 should continue to age well on its deep core of fruit.

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Elio Altare

Winery website.

“I’m a farmer, I know the hard work from the past times. I was here when farmers would plough the vineyards with an ox and I did it myself until I was twenty. This way I learned to respect work and the land”

Grandpa Giuseppe came to la Morra in 1948, the family Altare was originally from the town of Dogliani, even if old documents and wills, translated by a close relative archpriest, spoke about some Jewish descent from Palestine.

Giuseppe bought the farm in La Morra, the estate covered 5 hectares, a few nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto vineyards, and some peach, hazelnut and apple trees, but those were times when orchards gave higher yield and more profit than vineyards.

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