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Visit to Fontanafredda in Barolo

IMG_0541Our last winery stop on our recent trip to the Langhe region of Piemonte was a departure from the first two, as we visited a huge cantina with production of seven million bottles annually, more than 35 times the volume of the largest of our other stops.  This place is big.  It is steeped in history, it preserves the old and tempers that with modern techniques and considerations, and it produces excellent wine.  This is Fontanafredda.

Originally purchased by the King of Italy in 1858 as a gift for the love of his life, his mistress Rosa, the land became a cantina officially under the king’s son by Rosa, Emanuele Alberto, who opened the E. di Mirafiore label.  Wine grapes were grown on the estate prior to this, and some production also occurred.  Emanuele Alberto took the estate to new heights and brought Barolo to the forefront.

The estate today comprises 130 hectares (one hectare is about 2.5 acres) of which 103 hectares are

Fontannafredda - a big cantina!

Fontannafredda – a big cantina!

vineyards.  The rest of the land contains the buildings, which are numerous and large, as well as beautiful grounds including a Swan Lake and the Wood of Thoughts.  Once upon a time the estate was home to over 400 people who worked the farm and the cantina.  Today there are still 12 families who call Fontanfredda home.  This was evident during our visit, as there was a summer camp going on and children were playing in the courtyards between the long cellars.  It’s still a farm, as well as two restaurants and a huge wine producer.   This is worth a visit, and you might want to work in a meal and some quiet time, wrapped around a visit to the cellars and tasting room.

The lunch restaurant

The lunch restaurant

Our guide was Chiara, who was knowledgable, personable and energetic.  We started in the lunch restaurant sampling various specials, including thin shaved veal over tuna salad, roasted chicken legs with veggies, lasagna and vanilla gelato.  Of course there was wine, and we started with the 2008 Contessa Rosa Alta Langa Riserva, a traditional method sparkler made from Chardonnay

The Brut

The Brut

and Pinot Noir, that also includes a touch of 1967 Barolo Fontanafredda in the liqueur d’expedition.  This brut was clean and crisp, with stone fruit and toast.  It had an “onion skin” color and overall was a pretty classic version of a quality champagne like wine.  Later we tried the Serralunga D’Alba 2009 Barolo, which was a beautiful deep ruby red.  It carried a cherry dominated nose, with some perfume elements and floral undertones.  On the palate there was tart cherry.  The wine is still tannic, with good acid and nice balance, although it could use some more time.  With dessert we had the 2012 Moscato d’Asti Moncucco.  This was semi-sweet but still clean and complex.  The best descriptor would be simply delicious.

Our guide - Chiara

Our guide – Chiara

After lunch the production tour began, and it was here that you get a true appreciation for the scale of Fontanafredda.  Long buildings house row after row of huge aging casks, predominantly Croatian oak, which are used up to 60 –

Concrete tanks

Concrete tanks

70 years.  Seeing so many 14,000 liter casks in one facility is pretty impressive.  Beneath this level are the concrete fermentation tanks, still used today.  In fact the first concrete tanks in Italy were here, and these still see use for blending and storage.   The cellars are kept at 13-14 degrees C year round, and at 75% humidity.  At one end of the barrel room you can still see the original 20,000+ liter cask made from chestnut which dates back to the days just after the land grant.
There were tunnels as well, some old, dank and dripping from the humidity.

In the tunnels of Fontanafredda

In the tunnels of Fontanafredda

Narrow brick channels in the floor were remnants of the old gravity racking method, an approach which is seeing a comeback.  There is much old here, yet there is also much that is new.  Upon leaving the tank area we proceeded to the tasting room, and here the new took center stage.

The tasting room is a very modern, superbly appointed room.  Stainless

In the tasting room

In the tasting room

spittoons wait next to gleaming glasses and note sheets.  Along one wall refrigerators hold countless bottles of Fontanafredda and Mirafiore wines.  Making this even better was that our tasting was conducted by Danilo Drocco, head winemaker at Fontanafredda.  Danilo had previously worked at Marchesi Antinori, and had an obvious passion for the land and the wine.

Danilo has led an effort to greatly reduce the amount of chemicals used in their

Danilo Drocco - winemaker

Danilo Drocco – winemaker

vineyards as well as the amount of sulfites in their wine.  There is a keen sense of sustainability here, and there are good reasons for that.  After more than 100 years of pesticides the soil near the vines has been altered, and it is a long process to bring it back.  Some of the elements, such as the copper, aren’t going anywhere, but they do what they can.  Now they use less than 10% of the legal limit of pesticides in the vineyards, and those that are used dissipate rapidly.

The drive toward lower sulfites  was best exemplified in the first wine we tried, a Chardonnay with no sulfites whatsoever.  We followed that with a series of whites and reds, which ran through only a small portion of the different wines the estate offers.  Here they are:

Zero Sulfite Chardonnay – this sees no oak, and is clean and fresh.  Aromas and flavors of pear and lemon come through.  It is meant to be drunk young, and without any sulfites the question of how long it will last is certainly in play.  Still, this was quite good.

2013 Nascetta – this was unusual, as Nascetta is a very old grape that was almost extinct but is being brought back.  They make a blend from it, but this was straight Nascetta right out of the barrel.   It was cloudy, yet there was striking minerality along with stone fruits, spice, and a stiff ridge of acid.  The grape is high in acid, and they blend it with their Riesling.  Interesting stuff.

2010 Marin Langhe Bianco (Riesling / Nascetta)- this is a 50/50 blend, blended right after fermentation, and is aged for three years in the bottle.  Pale straw in color it has a Riesling dominated aroma, with lots of minerality.  Carrying nice structure the wine seems like it is built to age a bit.  This is really quite nice and we liked it a lot.

2012  Dolcetto d’Alba Mirafiore – the wine is a vibrant purple red with a big nose of red fruit.  The palate is very fruit forward and the wine carries bright acid.  This is a very good food wine.

2011 Barbera d’Alba Superiore Mirafiore – dark red, the wine brings darker fruits, oak and spice.  It has good acid and restrained tannins.  This spent one year in oak and one year in bottle.

2011  Langhe Nebbiolo Mirafiore – bright red with just a tiny muted tinge, this wine brings red fruits, leather, spice and floral notes.  It is medium+ bodied with very high acid.  For me this one was not balanced, although a Swiss journalist who was tasting with us liked it.

2009 Barolo Paiagallo Single Vineyard – this was somewhat closed down out of the bottle, not surprising due to Danilo’s reductive approach to winemaking, where he limits the amount of oxygen which contacts the wine.  It needed a bit of time to open, and then displayed clear cherry aromas and flavors.  Very elegant, it had good balance.

2007  Barolo Lazzarito Mirafiore – again the wine was somewhat closed but opened IMG_0601quickly.  Most striking was the emergence of terroir in this wine, and it carried an earthiness which was unmistakable.  Danilo mentioned that Serralunga is a good choice whenever you smell and taste that earthiness, as the vines struggle a bit there and it makes robust and unique Barolos.  This was a classy wine and clearly the best of the bunch to this point.  Really good.

2005  Barolo Mirafiore Riserva – this is blended from different single vineyards.  For Fontanafredda to declare a Riserva the wine must show the qualities of the specific vintage.  This wine was darker red, with fruit, floral and spice notes.  It is still fresh, with balanced acid and tannin which are still going strong.  This has a very long life ahead of it.  The 2005 Riserva spent two years in wood and two years in concrete.  Danilo prefers using concrete versus stainless steel.

Love the big casks!

Love the big casks!

What an afternoon this was.  Impressive in scale, vision and quality Fontanafredda is worth a visit.  Chiara and Danilo were excellent hosts. We left sad that our visit to Barolo was over, as there are countless other cantinas to see, and who knows when we shall return.  Soon hopefully, but at least the memories will last.

If you are a wine lover, and especially a Nebbiolo lover, Barolo and Barbaresco are places you need to see.

A votre sante.

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