Borgo Maragliano – Bubbles that Touch the Sky
The Galliano family own Borgo Maragliano, a wine estate in Piemonte. It sits 450 metres above sea level (asl) on a natural terrace of the southern Langhe, surrounded by hills reaching over 600 metres. Their glass and steel tasting room seems suspended mid-air and offers breathtaking panoramic countryside views, while the roads here are narrow and twisty. This is at Loazzolo, a village of some 380 souls, about 30 km south of Asti, in an area known as the Alta Langa.
The Alta Langa is near the border with Liguria, where the hills rise towards the Ligurian Apennines. The word Langhe means “strips of land”, referring to elongated hills, often with very steep sides, running parallel to each other to form many deep and narrow valleys.
Borgo Maragliano benefits from its high elevation. It’s cooler (there is thick snow in winter) and has a remarkable diurnal variation (in this year’s summer heat, 39°C by day fell to 22°C at night). Another influence is the Marin, a wind blowing onshore from the Mediterranean Sea.
These steep hills around Loazzolo are typically sandstone, giving permeable sandy soils with calcareous tufa. Borgo Maragliano cultivates 44 hectares of vineyards in the 84 hectares of their property. This comprises eleven sites in four local villages, including Loazzolo. Woods with hazelnut groves occupy much of the remaining land, harbouring a high level of biodiversity, including truffles. Vineyard aspects are generally south-easterly, so maximising sunlight. This terroir is ideal for cool climate grape varieties; hence, Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Riesling make Metodo Classico sparkling wines.
Today, Silvia and Carlo Galliano run Borgo Maragliano. In addition, the whole family is deeply involved. They’ve been here for five generations since the founder, Giovanni Galliano, bought land at Loazzolo in 1850. The vineyards were destroyed by Phylloxera in 1909 and were not replanted until 1935.
Fast-forward many years, and Carlo’s mother and father, Germana and Giuseppe Galliano grew grapes but sold them to Cinzano. Demand was high in 1982, but the following year, the market bubble burst.
Consequently, having studied Oenology and with his Father’s encouragement, Carlo started vinifying the grapes into wine under the Borgo Maragliano label. The first was a Moscato d’Asti made by the Martinotti (Charmat) method that is traditional to the area and is still part of the wine range today.
Carlo and Silvia’s three sons, Giovanni, Francesco and Federico, represent the next generation. I mention these family members in detail because, with one exception, each different cuvée is named after a family member.
At the same time as Carlo’s winemaking started, Dottore Corino, Head of the Experimental Institute for Viticulture of Asti, suggested the planting of experimental vineyards with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Loazzolo to produce classic method sparkling wine for the first time. ( I’d like to know why Pinot Meunier wasn’t suggested, perhaps because it prefers clay soils, which are absent here). The first plantings were in 1983, so Borgo Maragliano was the first to produce classic bubbles in the area.
Since then, there has been investment in new vineyards, cellar equipment, a bottling line, and even carving out a deep underground gallery for bottle-aging the Metodo Classico wines. This culminated with the vertiginous Tasting Room in 2018. Today, Borgo Maragliano is a leading producer of Piemontese sparkling wines, with 350,000 bottles annually.
A word about Alta Langa DOCG
Langa is the singular of Langhe, and the Alta is the highest part. Indeed, in the Langhe, the area around Asti is world-famous for large volumes of sparking wines, including the Muscat-based Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti. Those wines are usually made by the Charmat (Martinotti) method of bubble creation, so the style is generally light, fizzy and sweet. Recently, rule changes encourage Metodo Classico and drier styles, though those remain very much in the minority.
However, the Alta Langa DOCG is an entirely different animal. Covering just 182 ha, this highest terroir is ideal for top-quality white and rosé sparkling wine production. Only the Metodo Classico technique bequeathed to the world by Champagne can be used. While such production can be traced back to 1865, there was little traction before the 1990s. Indeed, it became a DOC only in 2002 and was rapidly elevated to DOCG in 2011. And just like Champagne, the Alta Langa DOCG is based on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Unlike Champagne, where the style is predominantly NV, Alta Langa is always a vintage wine. The minimum elevation is 250 m asl, with a minimum bottle maturation of 30 months (36 months for Riserva). Styles allowed range from Brut Nature (zero dosage) through Brut to Extra Dry.
Borgo Maragliano’s metodo fizz predates the creation of Alta Langa DOC/DOCG. It will become clear that continuing experimentation at the estate goes beyond the DOCG rules. In addition, though there are more wines in their range, this article focuses on the six Metodo Classico wines on which their reputation rests.
The Six Metodo Classico wines
The six wines featured here are different expressions of the local terroir and are gastronomic in that they can be served alone but come fully alive with food.
They share some common elements: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Vineyards at 410-450 asl, a mix of tufa and sandstone soil, vines trained to guyot system, and a green harvest to reduce yields.
In addition, the first fermentations are in stainless steel tanks, with long ageing in the bottles to pick up complexity. The Disgorgement dates (sboccatura) are given on the back labels.
There are UK stockists and prices. Food matches, including local Piemontese cheeses, are also suggested, with some from the legendary Beppino Occelli.
Blanc de Blancs Brut, Francesco Galliano, Alta Langa DOCG, 2019. 13%
Technical: 100% Chardonnay from the first vineyard planted in 1985. Fermented in stainless steel. Bottled April 2020, 32 months on the lees in the bottle. Disgorgement February 2023. 3 g/l Residual sugar (so close to Extra Brut), 7 g/l total acidity, 5.8 Atm pressure. It’s named after the second son.
Note: This was the first cuvée and reflects the House Style. On opening, the extra pressure produces delightful streams of tiny bubbles and a good mousse (the Italians call it Perlage) with a silverish hue. The nose shows acacia and broom flowers with a garden herb edge, maybe sage. The palate is super-fresh and super-elegant, with apple and citrus fruit, a stony mineral note and only a hint of yeasty autolysis. There is some ginger on the long finish.
Food: Lightly smoked salmon. Sushi/Sashimi. Cheeses: Robiola di Roccaverano.
Brut Nature, Federico Galliano, Vino Spumante di Qualità, 2018. 13%
Technical: 100% Riesling Renano (Rhine Riesling, with clones from the Mosel in Germany), from a very high vineyard planted at 540-620 m asl, soils have more tufa and less sandstone, Guyot training. Fermentation at very low temperatures to retain aromatics. Bottled March 2019, with 24 months on the lees in the bottle. Disgorgement June 2022. Total acidity 7.7 g/l, 4.8 Atm pressure. It can’t be Alta Langa because it’s Riesling and has a shorter maturation. It is named after the third son.
Note: Riesling makes this cuvée the “odd one out.” It offers a different but equally excellent experience and shows the potential for this grape variety in Alta Langa. Water-white colour, less pressure, slow bubbles. Incredibly fresh and no autolysis showing. Blossom-like nose. This is all about precision acidity balancing delicate white-fleshed fruits like peach and apple, the merest hint of kerosene, before a sherbet-like finish. Real finesse. It’s a terrific wine, but do not over-chill it; a sweet spot seems to be 10-12°C.
Food: Coquilles Saint-Jacques. Cheese: Paglierina.
Brut Nature S.A. IV Editione, Cuvée Germana Beltrame, Vino Spumante di Qualità, NV. 12.5%
Technical: 100% Chardonnay. An assemblage of several different vintages blended in 2019, then given 36 months on the lees in the bottle and disgorgement in June 2022. 6.5 g/l total acidity, 5.0 Atm pressure. It can’t be Alta Langa because it’s an NV. It was named after Carlo’s Mother. Bibenda awarded this wine Cinque Grappoli.
Note: It aims to be the estate’s finest expression of Chardonnay “without compromise”. Succeeds in every way. There is less pressure, so lazier bubble streams. Pale, with a greenish fleck. Baked bread notes, sage. Some Maillard reaction, too – hints of caramel and honey, some ginger spice. Weightless balance, extraordinary persistence. Memorable.
Food: Lobster. Cheese: Castelmagno.
Brut Nature, Giuseppe Galliano, Vino Spumante di Qualità, 2018. 12.5%
Technical: 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. It was bottled in April 2019, with 48 months on the lees in the bottle and disgorgement in June 2022. 6.5 g/l total acidity, 5.5 Atm pressure. Named after Carlo’s Father, it was first made in 1988.
Note: A classic blend, where the Pinot Noir brings power with savoury notes, and the Chardonnay brings elegance and a honeyed tone. There is a delightful, yeasty, autolytic complexity—crusty bread with almonds.
Food: Risotto Primavera (peas, asparagus), Moules Marinières. Cheese: Tuma dla Paja.
Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature, Dogma, Vino Spumante di Qualità, 2018. 12.5%
Technical: 100% Pinot Noir. Bottled April 2019 with 36 months on the lees in the bottle. Disgorgement in February 2023. 7.3 g/l total acidity, 5.5 Atm pressure.
Note: Extraordinary complexity, red fruit flavours, tobacco, white pepper, a little brioche, rose petals, and a slightly savoury “forest floor” finish. Yet completely refreshing, finishing long and clean. Power and structure, a hint of tannin. Precision, acidity and balance.
Food: Has the structure for game birds. Pasta with truffles or truffle oil. Cheese: Bianco di Langa al Tartufo (truffle cheese).
Brut Rosé, Giovanni Galliano, Vino Spumante di Qualità, 2019. 12.5%
Technical: 100% Pinot Noir from a vineyard planted in 2000. Initial cold maceration of 5-8 hours for colour before fermentation. After fermenting, it rests in the tank for eight months before racking off the lees and bottling in April 2020, with 36 months on the lees in the bottle. Disgorgement in November 2022. 6.4 g/l total acidity, 5.0 Atm pressure. It’s named after the eldest son. Awarded Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso. Green bottle – that may impede the colour but protects the wine from lightstrike.
Note: An attractive pale pink, beads of tiny bubbles, and highly aromatic. Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and rose petals on the nose and palate, and some white pepper on the finish. Elegant, with a fresh yet pillowed texture.
Food: Salumi. Cheese: Occelli al Barolo (drunk cheese using Barolo pomace).
Unusually, I’ve referred to Pinot Nero as Pinot Noir throughout this article, which is something Borgo Maragliano do themselves. Is that because the Pinot Noir vines are clones taken from Champagne? If so, it seems a more accurate descriptor.
These bubbles don’t imitate Champagne but rival it for quality. They express their terroir, including those views – they touch the sky. Though sparkling wines are legion in Italy, world-class Italian rivals to the Champagne style are few, for example, the great estates of Trento, Oltrepò Pavese and Franciacorta. Now, add Borgo Maragliano to that shortlist.
Visit Borgo Maragliano if you can, and console yourself with one of these bottles if you can’t. Do I have a preference? That depends on the context and the food. Maybe Germana Beltrame by a whisker today, but that could change tomorrow!
Borgo Maragliano S.A.
Regione San Sebastiano, 2
14051 Loazzolo (AT)