The first blog that I wrote for this site back in 2008 was about a tasting of Fontanafredda Barolo at the Italian Wine Merchants in NYC. I also visited the winery, which is located in the Langhe region of Piedmont, with a group of journalists a few years ago. Now 130 blogs later, I am going to write about the Barolos of Fontanafredda that I tasted at Ai Fiori restaurant in NYC.
On each of these occasions, the speaker was Danilo Drocco, lead winemaker for the winery. He made his first vintage at Fontanafredda in 1999.
The history of the winery goes back to 1878. The 250-acre Fontanafredda Barolo cru property in Serralunga d’Alba is the single largest contiguous wine estate in the Langhe. In 2008 the estate was purchased by Oscar Farinette and his partner Luca Baffigo Filangieri, owners of Eataly. Mr. Firinetti was born in Alba and always wanted to own a winery.
Barolo Serralunga d’Alba DOCG 2007. Made from 100% Nebbiolo from the vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. They are 300-400 meters above sea level and the exposure is south/southwest. The vines are Guyot trained and there are 4,400 plants per hectare. After a traditional fermentation lasting 12-15 days in stainless steel, the wine remained on the skins for another 25-30 days. Mr. Drocco said that this was for optimal polyphenolic extraction. It is aged one year in barriques (50% new) and one year in medium oak casks, then one year in bottle before release. $45
Mr. Drocco feels that his most important Barolo comes from Serralunga. He said the soil is very ancient, it was the first to come from the sea. It is very poor soil and
the vines have to struggle so the grapes are more concentrated. Barolo from this soil has aromas and flavors truffles, leaves, tar and the earth. He also believes in a long maceration, not to extract more tannin, but to give complexity to the bouquet, and pushing down the cap often will add aromas to the wine.
Mr. Drocco does not like to taste too much oak in his wines, he likes to refer to the taste he likes as “soft oak”. He made it very clear that he does use new barriques for the wine but only 50% are new, the rest is 2nd and 3rd passage. Then the wine is aged in medium oak casks of 2,000 to 3,000 liters. He also puts some of the wine in concrete for extra aging. This is because there is no movement of the wine in concrete. In stainless steel there can be an electric charge. Some wine makers have grounded their tanks in order to keep this from happening. Over the last few years he has stopped racking the wine.
The weather in 2007 was unusual, with a particularly mild winter, a warm but not hot summer and little rainfall. Yields were 10 to 15% lower and all of this resulted in a vintage of excellent quality. The Nebbiolo ripened somewhat early, with a high concentration of sugar.
Next was a tasting of three crus from the 1996 vintage:
Barolo Vigna “ La Rosa” DOCG 1996. The vineyard is in the village of Serralunga, mid-hillside at 250-300 meters above sea level, facing south/southwest. The soil is calcareous marl, clay and quartz sand, with good permeability. The vines are Guyot-trained and there are 4,600 plants per hectares. The soil is white clay and sand. He described this as being the most feminine and elegant of the wines. $140
Barolo Vigna “La Villa” DOCG 1996. The vineyard is in the village of Barolo. Mid-hillside, at 320-370 meters facing east/southwest. The soil contains limestone, potassium oxide, phosphorous and copper, with good permeability. Guyot trained and plant density is 4,800 plants/ha. He said that the soil here is “younger” and there is more humidity and the tannins are softer and the wine has aromas of fresh black fruit. $165
Barolo Vigna “Lazzarito” DOCG 1996.The La Delizia vineyard is in the village of Serralunga, mid-hillside at 400 meters, facing south/southwest. The soil is of sedimentary marine origin with grayish white calcareous marl. Guyot trained and 4,500 plants/per ha. The vineyard is in a little valley where there is a lot of wind. He said that this wine had an extra ten days of maceration and has more body structure, elegance and complexity than the other wines. This was my favorite of the three wines from the 1996 vintage. $155
Mr. Drocco said that 1996 is very important to him for two reasons. It was the first vintage where he took part in the making of the wine. The second reason is because 1996 is one of the great vintages. It was a cold winter with below average temperatures. Cool and dry weather in the spring and a very cold summer delayed the maturation of the Nebbiolo fruit, with beginning of ripening occurring in late August rather than early August. He said the grapes were still green in early August. The final weeks of the month were warm and dry. The weather in September and October was perfect. The harvest took place in the end of October, beginning of November. He feels that the weather in September and October helped in the ripening of the Nebbiolo, and quality was very high at harvest time.
Beppe Colla, the winemaker at Prunotto where Mr. Drocco was working at the time said that 1996 was a very strange vintage, the same conditions as 1972, which was a terrible vintage and everyone was worried, but somehow, in 1996, everything turned out well. Good color, tannins and acidity.
Tasting the 1996 vintage over the last few years only confirms this, he added.
A Vertical of Barolo Riserva
Mr. Drocco said that only the best lots of Nebbiolo from the best vintages are used to make the Riserva. Our grapes for the Riserva come from the estate vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and La Mora and are between 300-450 meters. He said that in the past all producers of Barolo blended the wine from different vineyards on their estate.
For the Riserva there is a careful selection process that begins in the vineyards and continues in the winery. After a traditional fermentation lasting 12-15 days in stainless steel, the wine is in contact with the skins for another 25-30 days. Barolo Riserva must be aged for a minimum of 5 years before release. These wines spend 3 years in oak casks and at least 2 years in bottle before release.
Barolo Riserva DOCG 2000 Mr. Drocco said that this vintage had ideal weather conditions for the wines vegetative cycle. It was a cold dry winter but the spring was marked by mild temperatures and very rainy, increasing the early vegetation of the plants. Summer was very hot, with rain and storms throughout. The harvest was 10 days earlier the usual. The grapes showed high sugar levels, optimally ripe polyphenols, excellent color and high sweet tannin levels. He feels that 2000 is a very approachable vintage with a lot of fruit, and hints of flowers and spice. $135
Barolo Riserva DOCG 1997. A difficult vintage, the winter and summer were very dry. It was hot but not as hot as 2000. Because of this the vines germinated 20 days earlier than usual, the flowering was regular and produced an abundant crop. Ripening proceeded regularly, which benefited the accumulation of sugar and the breaking up of malic acid. $125
Barolo Riserva DOCG 1982. This vintage produced wines with very powerful tannins. A very dry summer and autumn resulted in highly contracted tannins that are still evident in the wine, even after all this time. He said that 1996 and 1982 were both great vintages and had similar structure and tannins. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. It showed no sign of age and had all the characteristics of a great Barolo. $265
In response to a question about the 2008 vintage, Mr. Drocco said that it was a great vintage like 2001 and 2004. In many ways it also reminded him of the 1996 vintage.