Before tasting Albarossa wine, it is good to know something about its story. It is the product of crossing Chatus (also known as Nebbiolo di Dronero) with Barbera in 1938. The aim was to confer some of the elegance and prestige of Nebbiolo onto an offspring of Barbera. Later it was discovered that one parent was not Nebbiolo at all but Chatus; and, indeed, that if properly grown Barbera really does not need improving. (The story is told in more detail on the Castello di Neive’s website.) But out of this set of misunderstandings, we have Albarossa. It remained a laboratory experiment until the beginning of this century. Stefano Chiarlo says that when his company, Michele Chiarlo, showed an interest in it at the turn of the millennium, there were only 50 vines in existence. Since then, it has become a minor hit in the lineup of fascinating Piemontese grape varieties with 40 estates growing it on more than 120 hectares of vineyard.
Before tasting Albarossa wine, what should we expect? In terms of its parents, it is like a big Barbera but with a substantial tannic structure. From Barbera, it appears to have inherited lashings of red to black plum fruit, high alcohol and high acidity. Or to put that as an international comparison, it marries the fruit and high alcohol of Barossa Shiraz with the huge acidic and tannic structure associated with many big Italian red wines.
From this small tasting, it is clear that Albarossa wine comes in at least two styles. First, there is the fresh and fruity style with ‘only’ 14% abv and sometimes high acidity. The first four wines in this lineup were basically in this style. Alternatively, you can leave the fruit on the vine longer for the super-rich, even blockbuster style, which tips the scales at 15.5% abv. Marco Bonfante also makes a wine in which 70 per cent of the fruit is picked early and dried. I am looking forward to tasting this at Vinitaly in April.
I have still to make my mind up about Albarossa. I struggle a bit with the smokiness of some wines and in some, there is a touch of bitterness to the tannins. On the other hand, the wines are expressive and aromatic. They have an imposing structure and clearly have everything necessary to age. I need to taste more Albarossa wine and drink it with food.
Tasting Albarossa wines
For the time being here are my rough notes on six examples:
Taranco, Cascina Bretta Rossa, Piemonte DOC Albarossa, 2018, 14%
Deep ruby with purple tint, rich and complex nose with red fruit compote, nut and acetic lift in a good way, freshness lingers; full body, real fruit depth, lively acidity more evident than medium tannins, a great combination of freshness and fruit, good length 16.5 (all scores out of 20)
Ray, Colle Manora, Piemonte DOC Albarossa, 2017, 14%
Deep ruby with purple tint, m+ red plum, touch of jamminess on the fruit, light floral/nutty lift, m+ body, fruit rather simpler on the palate than on the nose, lightly grainy tannin, very good length, 16
Piemonte DOC Albarossa, Michele Chiarlo, 2017, 14%
Deep ruby with purple tint, m+ aromatic strawberry, red plum to black plum fruit, some finesse, touch over medium body, tobacco note on the finale, medium mildly grainy tannins, slight bitterness lingers, 16 +?
Amartè, Cossetti Clemente, Piemonte DOC Albarossa, 2016, 14%
m++ ruby/purple with the slightest hint of garnet, ripe red fruit and an autumnal fire, touch over medium in body, tobacco on finale, slightly poky tannins, hint of bitterness, 16
Bricco dei Guazzi, Piemonte DOC Albarossa, 2018, 15.5%
Impenetrable ruby with purple tint only on the rim, rich, stewed black fruit, hint dried fruit too, full-bodied, good fruit depth, just has enough acidity to balance this blockbuster, tannins well covered by the density of the fruit, clean finish, warmth not obvious, 16.5
Castello di Neive, Piemonte DOC Albarossa, 2018, 15.5%
Impenetrable ruby with slightest purple tint only on rim, super dense and rich nose of cooked blackberry and black plum lifted by floral note and chocolate; voluminous on the palate, the fruit easily covers the ripe tannins, long, bravo, 17