CHIAVARI, Italy – My father, like most Italians, was a wine expert. His expertise included a very simple, but accurate belief which many Italians hold which is: “it’s not the price of the wine that determines whether it’s good or not, but the grapes and the producer.” I’ve always lived by that principle and it has never let me down.
|San Martino Alfieri, Italy|
Recently, I discovered a small independent wine producer from Piedmont, Aldo Massano, owner of the Azienda Vitivinicola Massano. Signor Massano and his wife live in a borgo called San Martino Alfieri in the heart of the Barbera wine district high in the hills of Piedmont, between Asti and Alba. It is, without a doubt, one of the best wine producing locations in Italy.
The Massanos produce red wine, full bodied Barbera d’Asti, which is a DOCG wine, and if you go to their vitivinicola and bring your own bottles, you can buy a DOCG Barbera for as little as 1.25 euros or $2. Bottled, the $2 wine costs 3 euros ($4). Don’t let the price scare you. It is a DOCG or Denominazione di Origine Controllata, the highest quality assurance label given to Italian wines. It means the grapes used to make that wine are guaranteed to be grapes grown in Barbera d’Asti.
|The Alfieri Castle|
The Marchese Alfieri wine estate, with their historic cellars, is just down the road from Signor Massano. As you may have guessed there was a time when the Lords of Alfieri owned the entire territory. Today it’s only the estate and the vineyards that are owned by Alfieri relatives, Emanuela, Antonella, and Giovanna San Martino di San Germano, three sisters related to the first Marchese Alfieri.
There is a lot more razzmatazz around the Alfieri estate wines than around the wines Signor Massano produces. The estate is a much bigger and richer operation than Signor Massano’s vitivinicola, and has a full time enologist and estate director named Mario Olivero who oversees the 60+ acres of vineyards. I don’t know how much wine Signor Massano’s vitivinicola produces but the Alfieri fields yield about 100,000 bottles of wine each year.
|The Vineyards of Piedmont|
Grape cultivation has been the backbone of the local economy in Barbera district for centuries and a document in the Alfireri family archives dated 1337 that talks of the lands of San Martino Alfieri being ‘vineati a philari” with rows of grapevines, bears this out. There is no doubt the Alfieri Estate produces some wonderful wines, especially the wine from those 60 year old vines that grow on the hills with the best southern exposure.
Like the fields of the Alfieri estate, the fields of Signor Massano are planted with different varieties of grapes. Toward the end of August, the harvest begins with the early maturing pinot nero. From the middle of September through the middle of October the harvest continues for the barbera, grignolino and cabernet sauvignon grapes. It is labor intensive work as the grapes are picked and sorted by hand.
|Beautiful Barbera Grapes|
Because Barbera a registered DOCG wine, the Alfieri estate and Signor Massano are both subject to the same rules and regulations, one of them being that wine carrying a Barbera DOCG label must contain a minimum of 85% Barbera grapes. In addition, the balance of the mix must come from either Freisa, Grignolino or Dolcetto grapes, which also grow in the Barbera district. Another DOCG regulation is that all wine production must be completed before March 1st and the wine must reach a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 °.
In 2000 it became legal to produce a Barbera d'Asti Superiore, but in order to be classified as superiore it would have to have certain verifiable characteristics. First of all the wine must have an alcoholic strength of at least 12.5% by volume, and must be aged for at least one year. For six months of that year, the wine must be stored in oak or chestnut barriques (barrels), which further refines the taste of the wine. Superiore wine age well and can be aged for as many as ten to twenty years, and of course the longer it is ages the more expensive it becomes, and not necessarily better.
Signor Massano’s wines sell for 3 to 7 euros a bottle, ($5 to $10) the 7 euro bottle ($10) is his Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG. The Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG from the Alfieri estate retails for 52 euros a bottle or $70. Since I’m not a wine connoisseur and I am perfectly happy with Signor Massano’s wines, I’ll give you three guesses which wine I’m going to keep buying.
The Azienda Vitivinicola of Aldo Massano doesn’t have a web site.