It is that time of the year when the Italians come to the United States to showcase their newest releases of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. This is usually to the great delight of those who are able to taste them. And this year is no exception, as 2016 is reputed to be one of the best vintages in decades.
But the issue is that when you taste a 2016 Barolo or Barbaresco in 2020, the wines are still babies. They are high in tannins and not ready to fully enjoy. What we want to drink are Barolo and Barbaresco wines with 10, 20 or more years of age. And that is what I got to do when Giorgio Lavagna from Fontanafredda in Piemonte came to Los Angeles for a wine lunch.
Fontanafredda is a 250-acre property in Serralunga d’Alba, in the heart of the Langhe region. It is actually the single largest contiguous wine estate in the Langhe region. In addition, Fontanafredda works with 400 local grower partners with whom they have worked with for four generations.
Fontanafredda’s history is sort of a love story. The estate was purchased in 1858 by Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy, as a gift to his mistress, a local girl named Rosa Vercellana, known as “La Bela Rusin.” The property was handed to their children, Maria Vittoria and Emanuele Alberto, Count of Mirafiore and Fontanafredda. It was Emanuele Alberto of Mirafiore who made Barolo legendary and turned Fontanafredda into a village.
The estate remained in the family until 1931 when, following phylloxera in 1928 and the Great Economic Depression in 1929, a Tuscan bank purchased the property in 1931.
In 2009, after 70 years, Fontanafredda returned to Piemontese natives when Oscar Farinetti, owner of Eataly, purchased the property, changing the face of the winery and rediscovering its tradition. In 2013, winemaker Giorgio Lavagna joined Fontanafredda after working at Batasiola Winery for 23 years and Bruno Giacoso for seven years. And in 2018, Fontanafredda became the largest certified organic company in Piemonte. Today, the Fontanafredda village includes two hotels, a bistro, an osteria and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Fontanafredda is located in the eastern tip of the Barolo zone, in the municipality of Serralunga d’Alba, one of 11 municipalities of the Barolo Appellation. Within the municipalities there are subzones, similar to Crus in France. On a bottle of wine, this will be designated as a “MGA” which stands for Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva (Additional Geographic Mention).
The Fontanafredda MGA covers 58 hectares and due to its historical prestige of being the largest and oldest monopole of Barolo, it is the only MGA named after a winery. Within each MGA, differed vineyards are defined with the term “Vigna” followed by the name of the single vineyard. Within the Fontanafredda MGA, Vigna La Rosa is one of the most famous single vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. Vigna La Rosa is five hectares planted exclusive to Nebbiolo. The south- and south-west facing vineyards are composed of calcareous marl and clay with quartz sand.
Serralunga d’Alba is known for its arid soils of limestone, marl and sand that produce structured wines with higher acidity and ageability.
Alta Langa DOCG Contessa Rosa Rosé 2012 ($57.99) – Named after Countess Rosa Vercellana, this classic method sparkling wine is made from Pinot Noir grapes grown at high altitudes. This wine is unique in that the 1967 Barolo is used as the liqueur d’expedition to instigate the secondary fermentation in the bottle. A soft pale pink sparkling wine, it has aromas of pomegranate, orange blossom and plum with citrus on the finish.
Barolo Del Commune di Serralunga d’Alba DOCG 2015 ($53.99) – This wine was the first single-village Barolo ever produced. The first year was 1988 and it has been produced by Fontanafredda ever since. While the garnet color of the wine was not deep, the nose has aromas of spices, vanilla, shrubs and balsamic notes. On the palate, the wine is powerful with dry tannins but a velvety texture.
Barolo MGA Fontanafredda DOCG 2013 ($107.99) – The fruit is sourced from the 58-hectare Fontanafredda MGA. After fermentation the wine stays in contact with the skins for one moth and then is aged in medium and large oak casks for two years. The 2013 has notes of red berry fruits and violets. On the palate, the wine is intense with high acidity, mineral notes and silky tannins. At seven years of age, this still has a long time to mature.
Barolo Vigna La Rosa DOCG 2011 ($124.99) – La Rosa is the 20-acre single vineyard within the Fontanafredda MGA. The 2011 vintage was hot. The resulting dark garnet wine has notes of ripe fruit, and spicy aromas. The wine is lower in acidity. but the tannins are dense and velvety.
Barolo Vigna La Rosa DOCG 1996 ($n/a) – 1996 was an underrated vintage because of a cold growing season, yet this wine is exceptional now. A ruby-red color, it has a beautifully perfumed nose of underbrush, licorice, plums, tobacco, mushrooms and menthol. On the palate, the tannins are grippy, but the wine is smooth and lingers on the mid-palate.
Barolo 2010 Riserva ($164.99) – Made only in exceptional years, the Barolo Riserva comes from Fontanafredda’s estate vineyards and the wine is aged for five years, three in barrel and two in bottle, before release. The 1964 Barolo Riserva was the first single-vineyard Barolo ever produced. The 2010 has notes of black cherry, tobacco, pepper, balsamic and mint. On the palate, the wine has good concentration with bright acidity and silky tannins.
Barolo 2000 Riserva ($n/a) – With 20 years of age, the 2000 Riserva is still an intense garnet color. The wine has notes of ripe fruit, spices and leather. The 2000 is less concentrated than the 2010. On the palate, the wine is smooth with sandy tannins and a long fruit finish.
Any chance to taste Barolo wines with a bit of age on them is a special treat and these Fontanafredda wines were no exception.
Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.