Elio Altare
Photo Credit: Stephen Tanzer
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Critics of new-wave Barolos that are fermented quickly in rotofermenters [usually, stainless steel cylindrical vats in which pigeage is done by means of a propeller that rotates inside the vat; in some cases, the entire tank itself slowly revolves] owe it to themselves to taste and follow Altare's superb wines, which provide significant early appeal and have proven to offer at least medium-term aging potential. Altare clearly would prefer to do as little extraction as possible to avoid getting wines whose tannins stand in the way of their early accessibility. As he describes it:"Why carry out longer fermentations, get tougher tannins, and then have to fine the wines to get them back into balance?Is it better to make a wine that will be better after 20 years than one that will be better for its first 20 years?"Altare noted that it's the wine media, through its consistent praise for his wines, that has enabled him to do short fermentations, and he maintains that his wines have aged just fine. He typically does just three days or so of maceration for his Arborina and five or six for Brunate, which he says requires more extraction. The wines are racked for the second time after they finish their malolactic fermentations in stainless steel in March, and then go into barriques, 20% of which are new, for 18 to 20 months of what he describes as "a Burgundian elevage. "During this period, the wines normally are not racked. Instead, Altare uses micro-oxidation if the wines become reduced; on the whole, he prefers "a natural reduction" so that he doesn't have to use SO2. His wines then spend their final several months back in cuve before being bottled. Altare describes the 2000s as elegant wines that are more ready to drink than the '99s. The 2001s, he adds, are sturdier wines that are midway between the fleshier 2000s and more serious, tannic 1999s. (Marc de Grazia; numerous importers, including Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY; Vin Divino, Chicago, IL; and Estate Wines Ltd. , San Rafael, CA)

2003 Elio Altare Dolcetto d'Alba

($19) Good deep red. Aromas of crushed dark berries, red licorice and leather. Sweet, juicy and penetrating, with flavors of dark berries, licorice and bitter chocolate. Offers good texture but doesn't quite have the fruit or verve of the best vintages. Finishes with a leathery note and a slight dryness.


2003 Elio Altare Barbera d'Alba

($21) Bright ruby-red. Superripe aromas of crystallized cassis, leather and licorice; an intriguing peppery nuance emerged with aeration. Very rich and sweet, with stronger fruit flavors than the dolcetto, along with notes of licorice and mint. Still a bit backward but already impressively complex for the vintage. Finishes juicy and long, with lovely fresh fruit. "May be my best barbera normale yet," says Altare.


2001 Elio Altare Vigna Larigi Langhe Rosso

($85; all barbera) Full red-ruby. Bright aromas of roasted dark berries, violet, licorice and nutty oak. Very rich, sweet and dense, with lovely depth of texture. Brilliantly precise flavors of minerals, violet, licorice and graphite, with minty and floral elements emerging as the wine opened in the glass. Juicy and still rather unevolved. Finishes very long and firm, with rather sweet tannins.


2001 Elio Altare La Villa Langhe Rosso

($85; a blend of nebbiolo and barbera) Medium ruby-red. Deeply pitched aromas of currant, coffee, licorice and oak, with a slight liqueur-like quality. Then lush and sweet in the mouth but still a bit youthfully closed, even disjointed. ("This blend is neither fish nor meat," says Altare. "Its elements need time to harmonize.") Hints of licorice and leather. Finishes with more obvious tannic backbone than the Larigi.

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2001 Elio Altare Vigna Arborina Langhe Rosso

($85; nebbiolo) Deep red. Exotic cherry liqueur on the nose, with subtle flowers and spices. Lush, mellow and rich; a step beyond the Larigi and La Villa in thickness and breadth on the palate. Finishes with noble, fine-grained tannins and superb sappy persistence. Utterly seamless nebbiolo.


2000 Elio Altare Barolo

($70) Medium red. Expressive, woodsy aromas of mocha, brown spices, dried flowers, marzipan and underbrush. Sweet, supple and impressively concentrated for a Barolo normale, with rather forward red berry and tobacco flavors. No lack of balancing acidity. Resounding finish features very good length and smooth tannins.

2000 Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina

($98; 14.8% alcohol) Good medium red. Higher-pitched aromas of plum, menthol, mocha and spices; less forthcoming than the normale Then layered and sweet in the mouth, with glossy red fruit and mocha flavors and a texture like liquid velvet. Wonderfully long and fine on the back end, with big but rich tannins and great finesse. One of the Barolo stars of the vintage.


2000 Elio Altare Barolo Brunate

($98) Full medium red. Musky aromas of espresso, tobacco, brown spices and nuts. More powerful and muscular today than the Arborina, and still tight despite its complete ripeness. Bright red berry flavors emerged as the wine opened in the glass. Finishes with firm tannins and a perfumed character that's rare for the vintage. Needs a good four or five years of patience to approach maturity.


2001 Elio Altare Barolo

Good deep red. Liqueur-like redcurrant and sour cherry candy on the nose, with woodsy and peppery nuances. Sweet, concentrated and powerful, with a more obvious tannic spine than the 2000. Finishes firm and impressively long.


2001 Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina

Full, deep red. Nose like a berry cocktail, with a distinctly liqueur-like ripeness. Then hugely rich in the mouth; perhaps larger-scaled than the 2000 but without quite the same silkiness of texture. Finishes with substantial tannic spine and superb persistence. Not quite as lush or suave as the 2000 but built to age. This may well be the superior wine in the long run.


2001 Elio Altare Barolo Brunate

Deep, bright red. Very subtle, highly aromatic nose combines kirsch, mocha, tobacco, dried flowers and a minty coolness. Then wonderfully sweet and elegant, with mint and mineral notes contributing to the impression of definition and lift. Very lush, slow-mounting finish features big but fine-grained tannins and superb length. Altare has always modestly described his Arborina (he has now worked this vineyard for 38 years, including the years he helped his father) as the equivalent of a Burgundy premier cru, but this Brunate has grand cru texture and class.

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