The third way

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A GROUP OF young rebels spark a revolution in a backwater town leading to violent clashes between the local Conservative and Liberal parties. The story in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude centres on a fictional town in Colombia in the early 1900s – but in the 1990s and 2000s, there was another ideological tussle occurring in Piedmont’s Langhe hills.

The so-called Barolo Wars pitched the modernists – interpreters of smooth, round wines – against traditionalists, faithful to a vision of the ‘king of wines’ as austere and firm. The former preached thinning of Nebbiolo bunches and brandished barriques to produce a rock-n-roll Barolo, while the diehards vigorously defended their lengthy macerations and refused to give up the blues of big barrels. As if in a kind of oenological parliament, producers were accused of either progressivism or conservatism.

Tensions have eased in recent years as prosperity and compromise have prevailed. ‘Now the climate is definitely more relaxed, but our bellies are also full,’ says Silvia Altare. Her father, Elio, was a visionary moderniser who brought Barolo to the world’s attention from a small hamlet prophetically called Annunziata (‘the one who received the Annunciation’). He introduced small oak barrels and encouraged young growers to estate-bottle their wines rather than sell fruit.

Three decades later, Silvia reflects the aspirations and anxieties of the next generation, one that owes much to the entrepreneurial spirit and charisma of its fathers, but at the same time is looking for its own way forward and identity. She is not interested in overturning the foundations of the family business, however. ‘It wouldn’t make sense – unlike our parents, young people are inheriting a successful winemaking model. I’ve kept the super-fast macerations that Elio introduced – just four or five days – but I tend to use a lower percentage of small new wood for ageing. Of course, when I present my wines, the first question I hear is, “What does your father think of them?”.’

Translated by ICY

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