Elio Altare

About the Producer: 
Elio Altare, a philosophical winemaker who refers to himself proudly as a viniculture (grape grower), enjoys celebrity status in Piedmont for wines made by methods that are as avant-garde as any of Europe. It may seem curious to an outsider that the wine that best represents his ideology is Arborina, classified under the common Langhe DOC, instead of the Barolo from the same Arborina vineyard and the same Nebbiolo grapes that qualifies under the highest official category of DOGC. “They’re the same wine, just aged differently,” he explains. “Arborina is vinified and matured entirely in new barrels of French oak, Barolo in barrels that are one-fifth new and the rest used once or twice.” Which is best? “That’s for critics to decide,” says Elio, who is known to be mercilessly self-critical. “I’ll let you know in a decade or two.” Elio attributes his wines’ virtues to grapes grown in low yields due to fastidious pruning and thinning of old vines. He’s equally meticulous in the cellars, treating each batch of grapes as a chance to experiment with fermentation temperatures, length of maceration on the skins (which are stirred by a rotary system for rapid extraction of components of color, aroma, flavor, and body) and the influence of wood on the final product. “Most of the world’s great wines are matured in small oak barrels, but in Piedmont barriques are still controversial,” he says with an ironic grin. “Some of us went ahead with them anyways and by now we have the results of nearly two decades of experience. Tastings of early vintages of Arborina are positive, but I’m willing to wait. If, after ten or twenty years it appears that barriques were a mistake, well, I’ll apologize to the world and start over.” Altare’s production of about 50,000 bottles a year includes DOCG Barolo(regular and Vigna Arborina), DOC Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba and DOC Langhe Larigi (Barbera) and La Villa (Barbera and Nebbiolo).