Several years in the making, this side-by-side retrospective of Elio Altare’s Barolo Arborina and Langhe Arborina provided the backdrop for an exploration of the career of one of Piedmont’s most ambitious growers. Known for taking a chainsaw to his father’s old casks in a fit of desperation, Elio Altare is one of the architects of what is often referred to as the “modern” school in Barolo, a movement created by a group of young growers in the 1980s who wanted to shake up Piedmont’s sleepy establishment. Although Altare has made dazzling wines for decades, when all is said and done his most enduring legacy may prove to be inspiring the numerous young growers who were emboldened to start estate bottling their production rather than selling fruit based on Altare’s success.
Elio Altare told me this tasting was critical for the future of the estate because it would either confirm or deny the validity of his ideology. I don’t see it quite as black and white as that. My distinct impression is that Altare views any change or even evolution of the estate’s philosophy as a repudiation of his ideas and the many battles Altare waged to champion them. But that is simply not so. No one can ever deny the beauty of the 1986 Larigi, the 1994 Langhe Arborina, or the results Altare was able to achieve in vintages like 1991 and 1992, when virtually all of the top estates of the time did not bottle any Barolo at all. That legacy will remain intact no matter what.