(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Talk about the wines of Piemonte and no doubt, great reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco come to mind. Perhaps you might think about other well-known reds such as Dolcetto or Barbera. Or maybe you’re a fan of the white wines of Piemonte, such as Arneis, Gavi or Timorasso. There are plenty of beautiful wines from this great region, but chances are you don’t think about the sparkling wines. That’s understandable, but if not, you’re missing some beautiful bubblies.
There are numerous producers that make metodo classico sparkling wines in the region and there are several types. Arguably the finest examples are the Alta Langa; currently there are about a dozen firms that make one or more of these wines. Some of these producers are quite small, while others are rather large, but all of them have taken the high road and are producing premium quality sparkling wines.
The name Alta Langa, means “high Langa” (Langa, a.k.a. Langhe is a district in southern Piemonte where these wines- as well as Barolo and Barbaresco – are produced). This particular territory is called the Alta Langa because of the elevation of the vineyards that receive cool breezes from the nearby Liguria sea; while much of the Langa is quite warm – a necessary condition to ripen the red grapes – the Alta Langa is much cooler, making it an ideal location for the production of sparkling wines.
Quality is high if for no other reason than only Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay grapes are allowed in these wines. The production method, as mentioned, is the classic approach, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. Minimum aging on the yeasts is 24 months for a classic bottling, 36 months for a Riserva (Alta Langa is a D.O.C.G. classified wine.)
In my upcoming book The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, I will have a thorough section on Alta Langa and its best wines. For now, I want to tell you about my favorite examples from Enrico Serafino. This is a relatively large winery, located in Canale, and is a member of the Campari group, which also includes wine estates from Tuscany and Sardegna. The range of wines at Serafino include very good to excellent examples of Roero Arneis, Gavi, Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barolo among others, but it is with the Alta Langa wines that this producer has recently gained a lofty reputation.
There is an entry level Alta Langa that ages for 36 months in the bottle before disgorgement. I tasted the new release from the 2008 vintage at the winery with winemaker Paolo Giacosa at the winery in May. This is very fresh with beautiful aromas of magnolias and melon and has very good acidity and a clean, satisfying finish with impressive length. This is an excellent introduction to the wines of Alta Langa, as this is a sparkling wine with lovely varietal purity as well as finesse. This is not a powerful wine, but it is perfectly balanced and is quite tasty.
Paolo Giacosa, winemaker, Enrico Serafino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
As good as that wine is, Serafino and winemaker Giacosa have hit the jackpot with their Alta Langa Brut Millesimato “Zero”, a blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay. The wine is called “zero” as there is no dosage, making this an extremely dry sparkling wine. While many sparkling wines of this type are a bit sharp or slightly bitter in the finish, this is a delight, with ideal balance and excellent length and complexity. This is a late disgorged sparkling wine, one that has spent a remarkable 60 months (that’s five years!) aging on its own lees. There are many vintage Champagnes that aren’t aged on the lees for that long of a period. Needless to say, this is also much more reasonably priced than Champagne, as this cost of this at an enoteca in Piemonte averages around 24 Euro a bottle.
The 2007 Enrico Serafino “Zero” was named as the Italian sparkling wine of the year by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s leading wine publications. That meant the wine sold out quickly, so I tasted the brand new 2008 release with Giacosa. Che un vino! My notes go on about the beautiful Bosc Pear and elderflower aromas, the very good acidity, the remarkable balance and purity as well as the excellent complexity. This is a delicious sparkling wine with a very satisfying finish, as it cleans the palate and gets you ready for another sip. This is so wonderful on its own, but it is a marvelous accompaniment to most seafood, especially river fish. I rated this wine as outstanding and estimate it will drink well for another four or five years, though I’m not sure I can wait that long as far as the other bottles I have!
Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Giacosa has now followed up the great success of the Brut “Zero” with a new product, the Alta Langa Brut Rosé. This wine spent thirty months on the lees; I tasted the second release, the 2011 vintage. I love rosé sparkling wines and this one certainly did not disappoint. The color is a very appealing bright pink/strawberry and the perfumes are of cherry, currant and orange roses. The perlage, as with the “Zero” is quite fine, while there is a long, elegant, dry finish. This too is ultra delicious and simply a great sensual pleasure! I’m thrilled that Serafino is now producing this wine, as it is a great addition to their lineup as well as the roster of Alta Langa wines.
You’ll probably have to go to Piemonte to purchase or enjoy these wines, but believe me, the trip will be worth it!
P.S. Please note the glass in the photos. This is the special Alta Langa glass, designed by Sir Giorgetto Giugiaro. It is one of the most beautiful sparkling wine glasses I have encountered and it is as distinctive and as elegant as the wines themselves!