The Italian sparkling wine tradition first took root in Piedmont in Canelli around the mid-1800s, using in the years to come grapes brought in from other areas, first and foremost Oltrepò Pavese. Over the years “spumante” began to attract an ever-growing audience until it reached widespread popularity in the recent ’80s and ‘90s, endorsed by adverts portraying presidents, elegant wealthy women, parties “for many, but not for all” and those great moments accompanied by the inevitable gospel choir.
Is there still a match between party and bubbles today? Yes, but it isn’t the only one, and we’re talking about very different sparkling wines. Today sparkling wine is synonymous with all-around conviviality, from refreshing aperitifs and business lunches to eight course gourmet dinners.
In the ‘90s our producers wanted to take a new path, aimed at eliminating a weakness: the lack of local vineyards capable of producing the grapes used to make sparkling wines: Pinot noir and Chardonnay. This is how the first 18 experimental hectares were planted, under the supervision of the regional authorities, to trial sparkling wine production using locally-grown grapes.
This was the beginning of a process that has led, with lots of hard work over the years, to the present-day DOCG Alta Langa status, strictly regulated in order to achieve fine, persistent perlage and a bouquet of aromas ranging from dried fruit and pastries, to bread crust and even honey.
The grape production area includes municipalities in three provinces (Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria) which are part of a long range of hills, located almost all to the right of the River Tanaro.
The terroir of the great Nebbiolo wines production, where the grapes ripen too much to have the characteristics required for sparkling wine base wines, is excluded.
It is then when the climate factor becomes all-important, to such an extent that the regulations establish a minimum altitude for the vineyards of 250 metres, and in actual fact many of the grapes are grown as high as 500 metres above sea level and beyond. This helps avoiding any over-ripening, and postponing the harvest for up to two weeks.
Notwithstanding the origin of the grapes, Alta Langa DOCG can be produced in the entire Piedmont Region.
Every bottle is a vintage wine; a minimum of 30 months of ageing in the bottle is laid down for younger wines (36 months for Reserves), but there are sparkling wines, which have spent as long as 100 months on their lees, available today.
With the current 45 labels of Alta Langa and 155 cuvées produced today, there is a great variety of interpretations, ranging from easier, ready-to-drink wines to greatly complex and structured ones.
This richness allows an array of pairings of guaranteed success and pleasure: let’s try to suggest a few, remembering that the perfect serving temperature is generally between 6 and 8 degrees (even 10°C for more complex wines). We cannot but start with the White Truffle of Alba and the black summer truffle: the delicacy of hand-chopped tartare with truffle goes marvellously with a Chardonnay-based Alta Langa aged for 30/36 months, while a clean, well-balanced blend with Pinot Noir with more ageing may be a better match for dishes that envisage “fattiness”, with eggs, fondue and the typical tajarin pasta served with butter. The wine will not overwhelm the dish, and the truffle will be able to express its aromas undisturbed.
Finger food aperitifs find in Alta Langa an outstanding companion, each bite can be accompanied by the bubbles which, at the same time, prepare the mouth for the next one. A gastronomic journey through the typical local cuisine can evolve in crescendo, commencing from the starters accompanied by a “young” vintage, switching to a medium-structured sparkling wine with the pasta course and culminating in a 100-month Pinot Noir-based reserve that can be served even with the main meat dish. Another cornerstone of our cuisine – the mixed sweet and savoury fry-up known as “fritto misto” – is a perfect candidate for pairing with Alta Langa.
The Alta Langa DOCG Consortium, led by our fellow Knight Giulio Bava, has continued to grow over the years, getting enriched with more and more cellars. The most recent presentation held at the Italdesign museum was attended by 1200 trade professionals from Italy and abroad, and also saw the début of the Consortium’s new president, Mariacristina Castelletta.
by Ugo Venturino