Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fill Up My Cava - Part II

There are few moments in life when you can confidently say that you are in the presence of greatness. Most of mine, of course, have involved a bottle of wine, molecular gastronomy, live music, a piece of art or a novel that render me speechless and teary-eyed, a fat boy before an overflowing chocolate fountain.

I recently had one of these encounters, an impressive wine tasting hosted by Nicosia's Vinocultura at Aelia Wellness Retreat in Tseri that confirmed Nebbiolo as one of the few chosen varieties to fill up my cava.

Kyprianou, Altare, Karakasis & Barolo
Elio Altare, the legendary Barolo winemaker and grizzled veteran of more than fifty vintages, schlepped his way to The Rock where he guided us through a tasting of eleven of his world-class wines. In his broken English, Elio, a grandfatherly figure with a warm voice and boundless dreams, narrated his story with Nebbiolo and wine-making in northern Italy, assisted by Vinocultura's Andreas Kyprianou and Greece's Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis.

Elio tells us that everything changed during a 1976 visit to Burgundy alongside Angelo Gaja, arguably the one man responsible for putting Piedmont on the wine map. Historically speaking, Barolos were born as sweet, oxidized wines that were difficult to drink and originally stored on the winery's roof. Precarious conditions didn't help either. Cellars were nary clean and tough to sanitize; Elio recalls potable water only arriving at his family winery in 1962. In Burgundy, after sampling wines that were that much more expensive and different to those being produced in his northern Italian home, Elio shifted gears and following Gaja's lead brought modern wine-making techniques into the region.

At first, everyone opposed him. His parents believed he was soiling Barolo's traditions. Elio, however, stood his ground. "If a son does the same job as the father, the economy takes a step back. The son must do better, that's progress," he tells us. "There's no success without mistakes, without experiments. If you're ambitious, you look for competition with the best."

The Big Boys of the Tasting
With Burgundy clearly on his mind, Elio introduced shorter maceration times and the use of rotary fermenters, which in turn churned out wines with more color, greater stability and nobler tannins. Nowadays, he uses no pesticides (out of respect for his clients), does not filter his wines, and adopts indigenous yeast to maintain the identity of the harvest,  winemaker and terroir.

Elio speaks about wine the same way you or I might speak of the love of our lives. It's that type of love where passion, compromise, disagreement, comfort and doubt come together to create something unique and endless. Elio tells us, "I don't drink a label, I don't drink a name. Wine is a great symphony, it is my job to give it harmony and balance. I make wines for me."

Ultimately, there is this comforting humility that shines through with each one of his words and actions. "I have not created anything, I have just added to the experience of vignerons in Burgundy and California," he affirms.

Here are my thoughts on these wines, which clearly depict what I refer to as the decay of wine tasting notes, i.e., the amount of wine consumed is inversely related to the volume and quality of notes taken.

Amount of Wine Consumed 1/Volume & Quality of Tasting Notes

This is a scientifically proven formula so don't @ me.

2017 Elio Altare Dolcetto d'Alba - Vibrant red fruit, cherries, licorice, mint and some meatiness in this fruit-forward wine. Tannins are really present but the red forest fruit shines through. Quite long and with an intact purity of fruit.

Dolcetto d'Alba & Friends
2017 Elio Altare Barbera d'Alba - Dark cherries, floral elements, notes of pepper. Silky, sweet tannins with cherries that sing. Not as bright as the Dolcetto d'Alba but a lot fuller. This is a wine I am convinced both The Wife Ph.D., and I could enjoy without argument considering her unhealthy obsession with full-bodied Shiraz.

2011 Elio Altare Larigi Langhe DOC - This was absolutely lovely. A remarkable nose with notes of chocolate, overripe yet bright fruit, potpourri and herbal components, spice, hints of oak. I found the big and heavy nose on this wine to be rather deceptive. Once tasted, it's sprightly, full of life, marked by the type of lightness that I fall head over heels for with a wonderful spicy finish and great length.

2011 Elio Altare La Villa Langhe DOC - Plenty of sweet spice, meaty, an appealing stink and rawness, some chocolate. Very smooth and clean and approachable after seven years.

2011 Elio Altare Gi├árborina Langhe Rosso DOC -  Funky, meaty, caramel and sweet spice. Tannins are very firm, very present. Plenty of structure to age but not quite approachable at the moment in my opinion.

2014 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG - I love these noses! Stinky, raw, peppery and meaty. Plenty of sour cherries and a great structure.

The Barolo Lineup
2012 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG - A lot more fruit, floral almost, tannins have softened and wine is now a lot rounder and chewier.

2013 Elio Altare Barolo Arborina DOCG - Soy sauce, meaty with a beautiful body marked by sweet cherries and firm tannins.

2008 Elio Altare Barolo Arborina DOCG - More tertiary aromas, plenty of leather, a lot cleaner and elegant. An all-around balanced wine.

2012 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta DOCG - Sweet spice, tobacco, meaty, smoky, loaded with cherries, a raspberry finish. Elegant as fuck (I actually wrote this on my notepad), clean, round, integrated tannins. Best wine of the night. By far.

2007 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta DOCG - Bright fruit, floral, meaty, leathery with a finish marked by tar. Quite mineral with a great structure and tannins that are still alive and kicking. A lot less concentrated than the 2012.

For Part I, click HERE.

For an old blog post on the third variety (region) in my Triumvirate of Taste, click HERE.