About this WINE
Fratelli Alessandria, Piedmont
Crowning the small hilltop village of Verduno, the elegant 18th century cantina Fratelli Alessandria produces approx 5,000 wine cases from 14 hectares; including the wine crus of Monvigliero in Verduno & Gramolere in Monforte d'Alba in Piedmont. Their Barolo wines were recognised by King Carlo Alberto in 1843, identifying a notable quality that continues to be enhanced by the arrival of 5th generation Vittore, aside his uncle Alessandro and father Gian Battista. They are also proud producers of the Pelaverga wine, a charming and elegant pepper-scented thing from grapes grown almost in exclusivity around Verduno.
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.
Located due south of Alba and the River Tanaro, Barolo is Piedmont's most famous wine DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), renowned for producing Italy's finest red wines from 100 percent Nebbiolo.
Its red wines were originally sweet, but in 1840 the then extant Italian monarchy, the House of Savoy, ordered them to be altered to a dry style. This project was realised by French oenologist Louis Oudart, whose experience with Pinot Noir had convinced him of Nebbiolo's potential. The Barolo appellation was formalised in 1966 at around 1,700 hectares – only a tenth of the size of Burgundy, but almost three times as big as neighbouring Barbaresco.
Upgraded to DOCG status in 1980, Barolo comprises two distinct soil types: the first is a Tortonian sandy marl that produces a more feminine style of wine and can be found in the villages of Barolo, La Morra, Cherasco, Verduno, Novello, Roddi and parts of Castiglione Falletto. The second is the older Helvetian sandstone clay that bestows the wines with a more muscular style. This can be found in Monforte d'Alba, Serralunga d'Alba, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour and the other parts of Castiglione Falletto. Made today from the Nebbiolo clones Lampia, Michet and Rosé, Barolo has an exceptional terroir with almost every village perched on its own hill. The climate is continental, with an extended summer and autumn enabling the fickle Nebbiolo to achieve perfect ripeness.
Inspired by the success of modernists such as Elio Altare, there has been pressure in recent years to reduce the ageing requirements for Barolo; this has mostly been driven by new producers to the region, often with no Piedmontese viticultural heritage and armed with their roto-fermenters and barriques, intent on making a fruitier, more modern style of wine.
This modern style arguably appeals more to the important American market and its scribes, but the traditionalists continue to argue in favour of making Barolo in the classic way. They make the wine in a mix of epoxy-lined cement or stainless-steel cuves, followed by extended ageing in 25-hectoliter Slavonian botte (barrels) to gently soften and integrate the tannins. However, even amongst the traditionalists there has been a move, since the mid-1990s, towards using physiologically (rather than polyphenolically) riper fruit, aided by global warming. Both modernist and traditional schools can produce exceptional or disappointing wines.
Nebbiolo is the grape behind the Barolo and Barbaresco wines and is hardly ever seen outside the confines of Piedmont. It takes its name from "nebbia" which is Italian for fog, a frequent phenomenon in the region.
A notoriously pernickety grape, it requires sheltered south-facing sites and performs best on the well-drained calcareous marls to the north and south of Alba in the DOCG zones of Barbaresco and Barolo.
Langhe Nebbiolo is effectively the ‘second wine’ of Piedmont’s great Barolo & Barbarescos. This DOC is the only way Langhe producers can declassify their Barolo or Barbaresco fruit or wines to make an early-drinking style. Unlike Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo can be cut with 15% other red indigenous varieties, such as Barbera or Dolcetto.
Nebbiolo flowers early and ripens late, so a long hang time, producing high levels of sugar, acidity and tannins; the challenge being to harvest the fruit with these three elements ripe and in balance. The best Barolos and Barbarescos are perfumed with aromas of tar, rose, mint, chocolate, liquorice and truffles. They age brilliantly and the very best need ten years to show at their best.