Alta Langa DOCG from Piedmont, the traditional method sparkling wine with a brilliant future
Discover the origins, winemaking method and characteristics that make this brut vintage spumante unique.
An excursion among the vines and forests of the Langhe on a gorgeous September day calls for a pause in one of the many typical eateries that dot the little streets of Alba and its surrounding villages.
If you pause around aperitif time, you’ll notice the growing popularity of Alta Langa. Many wine lovers are happily getting to know this Piedmontese sparkling wine, sipping from a glass specially designed for it by Giugiaro.
A little Langa history
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the counts of Sambuy, inspired by France and its fabled wines, began to grow French grape varieties in Piedmont, and in particular, the Chardonnay and Pinot Nero varieties. Their aim was to produce sparkling wines similar to champagne.
The trailblazers in this experiment were winegrowers in the Canelli area, such as Carlo Gancia, who paved the way for many other winegrowers to follow suit in the new endeavour, armed with vast knowledge and their vineyards.
However, it was not until 5 March 1990 that the “Project for Sparkling Wine Made Via the Traditional Method in Piedmont” became official. On 23 November 2002, the Ministry for Agricultural Policy recognised the Alta Langa appellation and the area’s wines finally obtained their own DOCG.
Get to know DOCG brut vintage Alta Langa
Wines under the aegis of the Alta Langa appellation are sparkling wines made via the traditional method, in accordance with the appellation’s defining rules. Alta Langa has lofty ambitions, so production rules are strict to preserve its uniqueness and guarantee quality.
Thus, Alta Langa DOCG sparkling wines must contain between 90 and 100% Pino Nero and Chardonnay grapes. Up to 10% non-aromatic, white Piedmontese grapes may be added.
The vines must be grown on chalky clay hillsides at elevations of more than 250 metres above sea level.
These conditions are found in the hills on the right bank of the Tanaro river in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo.
Piedmontese winegrowers invest in the Alta Langa appellation
Over the last few years many winegrowers have gravitated towards the production of traditional method Piedmontese sparkling wines; one of these is Sara Vezza, of the Cantina Josetta Saffirio. “Our production of Alta Langa will begin very soon,” says the Langhe winegrower, encouraged by the great success of her Nebbiolo Noblesse wine (a sparkling brut rosé).
From the rolling hills of Monforte, the birthplace of her most successful wines, Sara has decided, in a pioneering spirit, to expand her vineyards towards the townships in the higher Langa hills in order to meet the new Alta Langa challenge.
Sara confides that the project began almost by chance. Looking to expand her holdings, she happened on the perfect soil conditions for dry spumante in Murazzano, a small village in the Langhe.
These rugged hills will be the site of new vineyards of Pinot Nero and Chardonnay and will be central to many of Sara’s new plans.
She says: “I love the sensation of wildness here, a quality that has been lost in the Barolo area of the Langhe”.
While waiting for these young vineyards to come online, Sara buys grapes at Clavesana to vinify in her cellar. In this way, she can continue to experiment with Alta Langa wine and test consumer reaction.
A uniquely handcrafted quality
This year’s harvest of Pino Nero and Chardonnay began several weeks ago. The Alta Langa rulebook requires that grape bunches be hand-picked and collected in ventilated crates.
Forecasts predict both good yields and good quality for 2019, though Sara Vezza prefers to keep mum until the 20th of October when production begins in the cellar. However, all producers are hoping that this year mimics 2018, where a record 1,300,000 bottles of quality, vintage DOCG resulted.
Alta Langa is a vintage wine–hence production is limited, but each year is unique. Because the wine is made in only excellent years, quality is guaranteed. Sara’s objective, as it is for all growers, is to interpret the singular character of each harvest: each bottle of Alta Langa will express the personality of that vintage. Clearly, these characteristics define a highly prestigious wine, artisan-made via a supply chain of winegrowers controlled by the Alta Langa consortium, itself established to guarantee quality and to promote the wines.
Alta Langa Spumante is crafted using the traditional method, which calls for re-fermentation in the bottle for at least 30 months. The Riserva version remains on the lees for at least 36 months.
Out of respect for artisan tradition as well as production regulations Cantina Josetta Saffirio starts the winemaking process by pressing whole grapes. The first 2-3% of the juice is then used to wash the grapes to remove pesticide and dust residues. Pinot Nero and Chardonnay are processed separately and assembled during fermentation.
White or rosé?
Both versions of classic-method Alta Langa sparkling wines have a fine and persistent bead. White Alta Langa spumante has straw-yellow to gold tones, with stone fruit and citrus aromas and a delicately tasty and harmonious palate.
Alta Langa rosé can be coloured from pale to intense, with a nose typical of Pino Nero and sensations of grapefruit and spices.
Both white and rosé wines have a Riserva version, with elevage of more than three years.
Josetta Saffirio plans to make white Alta Langa, ready to drink after three and a half years.
For this new endeavour, Sara Vezza’s goal is to continue her philosophy of technical and environmental sustainability that limits chemical use for an authentic and safe wine.
A great success
The growing popularity of Piedmontese sparkling wines is borne out by concrete results, drawing in both winegrowers and consumers. Piedmontese sparkling wines have indeed carved themselves a niche among classic-method Italian spumante wines.
After your voyage of discovery in the Alta Langa, all that’s left is to taste the wine! Be amazed by a unique palate that pairs so well with traditional Piedmontese cooking as well as fish dishes.