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Beautiful Gems Of Fontanafredda

While visiting Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy a few months ago, I spent an afternoon at a walk-around tasting of the ASTI DOCG wines. One of the tables that I stopped by was Fontanafredda where I met the delightful Chiara Destefanis, Communications Director for the estate, who poured a variety of delicious sparkling wines for me to try.

Little did I know that just a short six weeks later I would be sitting across the table from Chiara at a winemaker’s luncheon in New York! Only this time the emphasis was on Fontanafredda Barolo wines. Giorgio Lavagna, Fontanafredda’s lead winemaker was there as well to guide us through an impressive tasting of current releases and a few library treats dating back over 20 years. 

  

Chiara Destefanis and Giorgio Lavagna  Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Fontanafredda estate is located in the Langhe region of Piedmont, Italy.

It all began with a love story.

In 1858 King Vittorio Emanuele II bought the Fontanafredda estate as a gift for his beloved and favorite mistress, Rosa Vercellana aka “La bela Rosin”. They had two children together, who eventually inherited the estate, Maria Vittoria and Emanuele Alberto, Count of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda. In 1866, the king bought the first vineyard of Barolo and by 1870 winemaking began in the cellars of Fontanafredda using the indigenous grapes Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. The king’s son Count Emanuele Alberto of Mirafiori turned the estate into a full commercial winery with over 741 acres of wine vineyards. Fontanafredda released their first Nebbiolo labeled as Barolo with the 1878 vintage, the same year that the king passed away. The count is credited with making Barolo legendary and turning Fontanafredda into a village, complete with a church and school. After the count’s passing in 1894, his second son, Gastone took over. Unfortunately, Phylloxera, several wars and the economic depression took a toll on the wine business.  A bank bought the estate and cellar, and the brand was sold to the Gancia family in 1931. It wasn’t until 2009 that Fontanafredda was sold to Piedmont native, Oscar Farinetti and Luca Baffigo Filangieri.

The 250-acre estate is in Serralunga d’Alba, which is a cru site of Barolo, and it is the largest contiguous wine estate in the Langhe. With the new ownership in 2009, sustainability became a special focus and today Fontanafredda is the largest certified organic company in Piedmont, beginning with the 2018 harvest.
 
The climate is typically continental in the Langhe with rain usually arriving in the spring and fall. Rainfall amounts vary and can be a large determinant in the diversity of the harvest from one year to the next. Soil here is mainly calcareous, but composition can change every 10 meters or so with more sand or higher content of loam and clay.

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Our tasting began with 2012 Alta Langa DOCG Contessa Rosa Rosé Sparkling wine with the addition of Barolo 1967! This wine is named after the king’s mistress, Countess Rosa Vercellana. It is an aromatic and fresh wine with berries, a hint of herbs, fine bubbles and balanced acidity.  Giorgio said, “The Barolo is added to the wine to give smoothness”.

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Barolo DOCG Del Comune Di Serralunga D’Alba 2015
This is the first single-village Barolo ever produced since 1988. Giorgio said, “the soil in Serralunga has a strong influence, helping to produce grapes with strong tannins and high acidity, making the wine more age-worthy. 2015 was a very good vintage.”  This wine is velvety even with the pronounced tannins. It has great structure and balance and the fruit is lush with cherry and spice. 

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Barolo DOCG Fontanafredda 2013
This wine is considered an “old-style” vintage with aging in oak casks for two years and then 12 months in the bottle (this is minimum aging allowed for the DOCG). It has lots of spice, red fruit, tart cherry and silky tannins. It is quite expressive and has a lengthy finish.


 Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Barolo DOCG Vigna La Rosa 2011 and 1996
No one really knows if this 20-acre vineyard is named after the king’s love for Countess Rosa or a tribute to the wild roses that grow on the top of the hills. I’d like to think that it is named after the countess. After all, it is one of the most prestigious vineyards on the estate. It is a perfect scenario for growing grapes with a landscape in the form of an amphitheater and rows of vines facing south and southwest, capturing the heat and helping the grapes to ripen. The soil also contributes with its rich mixture of sand, limestone and blue marl of Serralunga. All of this results in exquisite Barolos with floral aromas, fine tannins and balanced acidity. The 2011 vintage is complex with a rich palate of dark berries, spice, soft tannins and a long finish.  Sergio called the 1996 vintage, “old-style Barolo that is dark and brooding”. Although the aromas were leaning toward stewed fruit such as plum and cherry, along with sweet spice and forest, the palate was surprisingly rich with traces of dark cherry, plum and herbs. The finish was long and impressive.

 

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Barolo 2010 Riserva and 2000 Riserva
Barolo Riserva is only made in exceptional years and comes exclusively from Fontanafredda’s estate vineyards within the communes of Serralunga d’Alba and Barolo. To be considered a Riserva, the wine must age for five years, three years in the barrel and two years in the bottle before its release. Giorgio said, “A minimum aging of three years in barrel is required for Riserva wine, but sometimes even five years is not enough.  The wines need to express themselves, and only time can do that.”

Barolo Riserva 2010 has enticing aromas of red berries, cherry and spice. The palate is layered with dark berries, plum, sour cherry, spice and silky tannins.  Riserva 2000 aromas are softer with very ripe (almost overripe fruit) and spice. The palate shows softer fruit and less spice than the 2010 vintage. There are hints of sour cherry and anise with a silky mouthfeel and long finish. 

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Riserva 2010 and Riserva 2000  Photo credit: Penny Weiss

As we sipped and ate lunch, Giorgio reminisced about Barolo winemaking in the 1970s. “I didn’t produce wine in the 70s, I just tasted it. Everything was by chance and depended on the moon phase. No studies were being done. In the past, farmers and winemakers went on their own paths, each with their own role. There was no communication”. Thankfully, all of that has changed and communication is key between grower and winemaker. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes teamwork and the right climate and soil to produce these expressive and elegant wines!

Until next time...

Cheers!

Penny

 

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