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Fratelli Alessandria Barbera d'Alba 2002
Vittore's arrival in 2001, post commercial and oenological studies at Torino University, coincided with a period of positive change. 'More attention to detail' is how Vittore explains the improvements that have taken place over the past decade. No more so than in the vineyard, now a picture of health and source of bright fruit from appropriately low yields. 2001 was also the year that their single Monforte cru 'Gramolere' was released, echoing a regional trend. In the cantina: new static stainless steel tanks, better temperature control, the addition of a few French 500 litre tonneaux, while persevering with 15/20 day wild yeast fermentations & 30 hectolitre botte (slavonian & French oak) ageing have all combined to promote sales of bottled wine and thereby reduce their reliance upon sales to the bulk market; now down to approx 15% of production.
Monvigliero is Verduno's & Alessandria's standout wine site, first bottled as such by the family in 1967 and more recently recognised in the recent classification of Barolo vineyards that now awaits Rome's rubber stamp. The family own 1.3ha out of a total 13. Alessandria's wedge faces plum south, on a near vertical slope, at between 250 - 320 metres, blessed with gleaming white calcareous soils and 30 year old vines. Alessandria's annual average production is a eye-watering 600 cases; invecchiamento kicks off in 20% tonneaux, before spending a further 2 years in 30 hl botte.
Gramolere, their Monforte d'Alba vineyard, is a larger site at 4ha out of a total 20, alongside those of Sandrone and Pira. Its elevation is higher than that of Monvigliero at approx 425 metres above sea level, and it enjoys a particularly warm microclimate created by its altitude, tree sheltered location, a south-western aspect & by even steeper sandy clay soils. From 40 year old vines, the Barolo is stylistically very different to Monvigliero: a broader, denser wine, more mulberry than raspberry on the nose, the palate has a definite succulence, boasting velveteen tannins; so all in all a richer brew. But you may be wondering how a Monforte vineyard's came to be in the hands of a Verduno estate: it's all thanks to Vittore's mother Flavia, nee Manzone.
In a sense, “Alba” is a catch-all phrase, and includes the declassified Nebbiolo wines made in Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as the Nebbiolo grown just outside of these regions’ borders. In fact, Nebbiolo d’Alba is a softer, less tannic and more fruit-forward wine ready to drink within just a couple years of bottling. It is a great place to start if you want to begin to understand the grape. Likewise, the even broader category of Langhe Nebbiolo offers approachable and value-driven options as well.
Barbera, planted alongside Nebbiolo in the surrounding hills, and referred to as Barbera d’Alba, takes on a more powerful and concentrated personality compared to its counterparts in Asti.
Dolcetto is ubiquitous here and, known as Dolcetto d'Alba, can be found casually served alongside antipasti on the tables of Alba’s cafes and wine bars.
Not surprisingly, given its location, Alba is recognized as one of Italy’s premiere culinary destinations and is the home of the fall truffle fair, which attracts visitors from worldwide every year.
Friendly, approachable and full of juicy red fruit, Barbera produces wines in a wide range of styles, from youthful, fresh and fruity to serious, structured and age-worthy. Piedmont is the most famous source of Barbera, but it is also planted in a few nearby Italian provinces and remains one of the most widely planted varieties in the country. Barbera actually can adapt to many climates and enjoys success in California—particularly in the Sierra Foothills—and some southern hemisphere wine regions.
In the Glass
Barbera is typically marked by flavors of red cherry, raspberry or blackberry and backed by a signature zingy acidity. Warmer sites produce Barberas with intensely ripe fruit and complex notes of cocoa, savory spice, anise and nutmeg. Cooler sites will produce a lighter Barbera with more finesse and intriguing notes of cranberry, graphite, smoke, lavender and violet.
Barbera’s prominent acidity makes it a natural match with tomato-based dishes, making it an easy pairing with a wide array of Italian cuisine. It works just as well with lighter red meat dishes, hamburgers or barbecue.
In the past it wasn’t common or even accepted to age Barbera in oak but today both styles—oaked and unoaked—abound, at least in Piedmont. In fact, many Piemontese producers today still make a deliciously pure, fruity and unoaked version, intended for earlier consumption. The wine world didn't realize Barbera's potential until the work of Giacomo Bologna in Asti in the 1960s. His debut of the barrique-aged Barbera called Bricco dell’Uccellone revealed this grape's true potential. Many of the better bottlings of Piemontese Barbera can age gracefully for 10-15 years or more.