The 2011 Barolo Arborina is a fantastic expression that boasts a seamless fusion of dark fruit and spice. It delivers character, power and a feminine side that comes forward thanks to pretty floral definition. Pressed violets and roses rise from the glass. Elio Altare makes his wines on the verge of reduction (meaning with minimal contact with oxygen) as a way of safeguarding the aromatic intensity. In the mouth, the wine awards fine tannins and silky, long persistency.
I enjoyed a fascinating visit to Elio Altare this year and was ceremoniously served a tantalizing breaking news scoop from Mr. Altare himself. He announced that I would be the first journalist to learn of the mysterious grape vine that grows in an inconspicuous location between a cement wall and a parked tractor down by his garage. Not knowing any better, I may have easily walked past this vinous protagonist unaware of the untapped genetic material trapped within. Like any aspiring archeologist of the vine, my inner Indian Jones immediately came to life. The story goes like this: Many years ago, a rogue seed fell from the sorting table during harvest and got wedged in the pavement near the tractor shed. That tiny specimen gave birth to an adult vine that Mr. Altare decided not to eradicate because it provided beauty and greenery against a nondescript wall. As the vine began to produce fruit, Elio noticed that its clusters were smaller and more compact than all the Nebbiolo he knew. In fact, he theorized that the grape was a variant of Pinot Noir because of the many physical characteristics it shares. He called in researchers and professors to share his discovery and sent in samples for genetic testing. When the results came back, he was told that with 98 percent probability, the grape is indeed Nebbiolo. Yet, the specimen does not correspond to any clone of the varietal currently on records. Under Italian wine legislation, if a grape vine is born from seedling (as opposed to cutting) it cannot be given a varietal name. Even though his sample was deemed to be 98 percent Nebbiolo, it cannot be called Nebbiolo. No matter, it is clear that what is before us is a new genetic mutation of Nebbiolo that can be added to the grape’s already vast genetic patrimony. If he likes, he can chose to register the grape one day in the future. Elio decided to plant an experimental vineyard with his new clone (on 420A root stock) and to make an experimental wine with the findings. There are a mere 150 plants. That wine will be made in 2016. With this, he has officially announced the existence of a new Nebbiolo variant that Mr. Altare hopes will demonstrate that there is a distant genetic link between the Piedmont grape and Burgundy’s Pinot Noir.