I remember standing with Elio Altare in his vineyards in the late 1980s as he explained how shocked his father had been when he introduced the practice of green harvesting...
Producer profile: Elio Altare
Visits to Burgundy had taught him the importance of moderate yields, but when in 1978 he began removing bunches his father was furious. It was understandable – after World War II, grapes were nutrition, and cutting off bunches before harvest was tantamount to throwing food in the bin. Elio also stopped using chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Then in 1983 he chucked out the traditional casks and replaced them with barriques. When his father died in 1985, Elio was cut out of his will and had to start up on his own.
As well as French oak, he acquired roto-fermenters, which give a shorter maceration but a more efficient extraction without the bitter tannins from seeds that often bedevilled traditional Barolo in those days.
This is not the place to discuss the technicalities, but no one has accused Altare of making wines that lack perfume, fruit and ageing potential. One clear advantage of this method – and others such as Clerico adopted it too – is that the wines were accessible younger.
‘Traditionalists are content to have tannic wines that need a lot of bottle age,’ he told me.
‘But I distrust wines that are very tannic when young yet, we’re assured, will come round after cellaring. Sometimes they never do. But over time the results can be very similar. Wine is an interpretation of variety and soil. It’s like fillet steak. You can cook it rare or well done, but it’s still fillet steak.’
Slight, good-humoured and self-effacing, Elio Altare has become a patriarchal figure to generations of Barolo producers.
He has stuck to his guns, never ceases to experiment, and the wines continue to be beautiful.
Wines to try from Elio Altare
Elio Altare, Barolo 2006
Wonderfully perfumed, lifted nose of cherries and strawberries. But there’s nothing too overtly pretty about the palate, which is concentrated, suave and pungent without being hot. It’s intense and long, both chewy and ethereal as it isn’t too extracted. Very stylish. (92/100pts)
Elio Altare, Arborina, Barolo 2009
Very perfumed raspberry nose, showing purity of fruit, charm and finesse. Although medium-bodied, there is ample tannin on the palate. Concentrated but lively, with a light touch that gives elegance and length. (92/100pts)