3.1.10. We start the day at the Altare farm in Annunziata, Silvia greets us and takes us on an impromptu tasting of the 2007 wines from tank. They had just been assembled from their constituent barrels a few weeks before and are resting, integrating and settling before being bottled later in the spring/summer.
Funny, at Altare, Silvia always gives a tour that goes backwards ...
When I was working at their winery for harvest, I would always follow the same progression the wines made when I led tourists on a walk through the cellars: crush pad, fermentation, tank room, barrel rooms (side detour to the Library), the bottle warehouse and bottling area, labeling and finally the shipping warehouse. These rooms describe a sort-of circular path; the labeling/bottling room and the warehouse adjoin the fermentation and tank rooms. Silvia starts at the end (labeling) and works her way back to the crush pad. This method, she claims, is a result of the light switches being wired at the wrong sides of the rooms. If you follow the path of the wine, you have to cross dark rooms to turn on the switches. If you go Silvia’s way, the switches are in the right place. Admittedly, last fall, I did walk into a dark room while guiding a tour, trip over a pallet someone had carelessly left in the middle of the room, and broke my nose. The Dutch group I was leading through was really helpful and luckily had an EMT in the group, who pronounced my nose “fine.” But once the swelling went down and my nose was revealed in all its massive glory … it has a bump now, and leans slightly to the right.
2007 has rightly gotten a lot of press as an “outstanding” vintage by many wine journalists, and growers and producers generally agree. It was a perfect growing season, with rain, sun, heat, cool and wind exactly when needed. The unusual aspect was that bud break occurred a month early due to a very warm spring. In March 2007, I was in the Piedmont with a group of clients and friends. Sunday March 12, the day we arrived, was so warm that we could enjoy lunch outside with just a shirt or light sweater on. Fruit trees were a few days from blooming. The buds had formed on the vines and in really warm spots the first leaves had emerged. Monday was gorgeous and warm, but by nightfall clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and it began to rain – everyone was freaked out that it would snow, kill the buds and tender first shoots, and destroy the whole vintage.
A few hundred feet of elevation higher in the Alta Langha about 3-5 inches of snow fell (this is dairy country, too high for vines), but the Barolo and Barbaresco were spared. The season proceeded along without incident or problem – many growers described it as their easiest year ever, with the healthiest and ripest grapes coming into the winery. It was neither too hot nor too cool, and in many vineyard sites the even ripening of the fruit was astounding. For those that did the work of keeping the vines under control and not overproducing, the 2007 wines practically made themselves.
(If there was a problem with the vintage, it was the tendency of the vines to produce too much fruit. The vignerons who did the hard work with the vines brought in superb and fully ripe fruit.) Because of the early start to the season, the harvest was also a month early. Many growers pointed out that this vintage should not be considered “precocious” because of the early harvest; the number of growing days between flowering and harvest was essentially ideal and correct (unlike 2003, where the intense heat of the summer pushed up harvest by a month after a normal flowering; that was a compressed vintage and it showed in the underripe, astringent tannins and underdeveloped acid), just shoved up by a month at the beginning and end.
So 2007 is getting a lot of attention – it is a beautifully balanced vintage and the wines are already showing beautiful fruit, extract and acidity. Tannins (as with Barolo, always) are still solid and tight, but taste ripe. It is a vintage whose drinking window should start at about a decade old.
But is it a vintage to rival recent greats like ‘89, ’90, ’96, ‘01 and ‘04? My guess is not, because this is a softer, more giving year in comparison to those vintages at the same stage in their development. The vintage that reminds me most of 2007? It’s 1998 – the same delicious and ripe fruit, smooth tannins and moderate acidity. Right now, 1998 is just starting to peak – they are wines that I seek out on wine lists in the Langhe, and they are drinking beautifully now.
But back to Altare. The 2007 wines are delicious, complete and show the hallmarks of great wine I the lovely balance and harmony of the elements. The 2007 IGT Langhes are stunning – though it needs at least a few more years of bottle age to integrate better. Most interesting is a new vineyard project which has not yet seen commercial release: the Carretta bottling, from the vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba. More on this in a later post.
2008 Dolcetto d’Alba. Bright red cherries and stewed sweet plum. Berries galore. Nice structure, good acidity, good length, some tannins but nicely integrated and long. Delicious. 2.5+
2007 Larigi, IGT Langhe. Vanilla, plums, milk chocolate. Deep modern layers of fruit and wood, with good spiciness, great acidity. This seems to have less prominent oak than usual. Very nice, needs 3-4 years and should drink well for a decade thereafter. Good finish, very sweet fruit on the end, incredible mineral and stone flavors. Lots of plums and licorice on the palate. Lovely. 4.0+
2007 Arborina IGT Langhe. Really deep black cherries, licorice, red fruits and vanilla/coffee bean. Lots of depth and layers, still very young, tight and tannic, licorice and roses, vanilla. Dark chocolate. Bright acid. Lovely. 3.5+
2007 La Villa, IGT Langhe. Lovely red berries, cranberries and cacao, with sweet oak & vanilla that is really well integrated. Great length and depth, some ripe tannins and sweet fruit on the finish, great balance between the fruit and wood tannins – this will be long-lived; there’s plenty of acid to keep it fresh and the fruit extraction is amazing. Give it 3-5 years and drink practically forever. 4.0+
2006 Barolo. Beautiful black cherry, delightful balance in the mouth for such a young wine. This is much less tannic than my memory of the 2005 – it is loaded with black fruits, some tar and licorice. Good cappuccino and vanilla, hints of spice, not too much wood at all – this is well integrated. The base Barolo only sees used wood, this has good minerals and the finish is very ripe. Needs 5 years, I think. The tannins are very ripe but quite tight though balanced with the fruit and the freshness is very nice. Slightly closed but still drinking well right now. 4.0
Lunch at the Osteria Veglio with Silvia – this is a great spot for a meal in the Langhe, and one of my “Top-Five” restaurant picks for the region. The old, barrel-vaulted room is pleasant, and when the sun streams in, it possesses an incredibly warm old-world atmosphere. The cooking is resolutely traditional but executed at a very high level. The Carne Cruda and Vitello Tonnato are spectacular and reference points for these two Piedmontese dishes. A personal favorite of the Primi offered here is a “Ravioli in Lavastoviglie” – ravioli cooked in broth, then served with just a hint of butter in a folded napkin to keep them warm. Dee-lish.