Here is another entry in my Top 100 Italian wine producers.
Fontanafredda Estate, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Fontanafredda is a remakable story of a very good producer that has become a great one in just over a decade. Owning choice vineyards may help, but it’s the people behind the scene that have elevated Fontanafredda to such heights.
Located in Serralunga d’Alba, one of the most typical of all communes in the Barolo zone, Fontanafredda is one of the area’s most beautiful wine estates, as the La Rosa vineyard (planted to Nebbiolo) is set in a beautiful ampitheater that is a focal point for lovely grounds that were once home to Emmanuele Vittorio ll, the King of Italy.
Fontanafredda owns the largest number of acreage of Nebbiolo reserved for production of Barolo, but quantity of course, does not always insure quality. For decades, the Barolos (and other wines) of Fontanafredda were always good and sometimes very good, but rarely special.
Then a few individuals saw to it that this estate would change. Giovanni Minetti, a former journalist, took over as general manager during the late 1990s and with the help of the Bank of Siena (Monte del Paschi) that owned the company, decided to upgrade equipment in the cellars as well as planting regimes in the vineyards. He then hired Danilo Drocco as winemaker in 1998, after a long stint at Prunotto, where he produced lovely examples of Barolo and Barbera for years. Drocco finished the 1998 Barolos, which received praise from wine writers throoughout Italy, with the 1998 La Rosa Barolo, receiving the coveted Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso, a first for the winery.
Today, Drocco produces several cru Barolos as well as a Serralunga bottling, from vineyards owned by the winery as well as from fruit purchased from local growers. The two cru bottlings from Serralunga offer great insight into Drocco’s winemaking skills. For both the La Rosa and the Lazzarito, Drocco ages the wine in barriques for approximately one year and then swtiches the wine to large oak casks (grandi botti) after that. This blending of modern and traditional winemaking methods has its purpose, as Drocco believes the color of Barolo is preserved in the small barrels, while the large caks insure that the wines do not have too high a level of tannins or wood influence from the small barrels. “A little oak is fine for Barolo, but not too much,” Drocco explains.
Both wines are first-rate and are fine examples of local Serralunga terroir. The La Rosa is a more approachable bottling upon release and offers more floral aromatics, while the Lazzarito (La Delizia) bottling is more tannic and is released almost one year later than the La Rosa. Danilo explains this; “As Lazzarito is located at a higher elevation than La Rosa (1300 feet versus 820), the temperatures at night are cooler, which means Lazzarito needs another 7-10 days for proper grape maturity as compared with La Rosa. This extra hangtime also builds up a greater degree of tannins.” While both wines have been exceptional since Drocco took over with the 1998 vintage, the Lazzarito has definitely been the more deeply concentrated wine and the one offers the promise of longer aging potential. The 1998 is drinking beautifully now, while the 1999, 2001 and 2004 are wines that should peak in another 15-25 years.
In 2008, Oscar Farinetti, head of the cutting edge retail store Eataly, located in Torino, became majority share holder of Fontanafredda (the Bank of Siena has maintained a significant percentage of ownership), leading to a new era for the winery. New value-oriented wines, such as Briccotondo (Barbera Piemonte) and Terremora, a Langhe Dolcetto have been introduced. Improvements continue in many aspects of the company and today, the full potential of this estate is being fulfilled.
Drocco, always looking to improve his wines, has become one of Barolo’s most dedicated winemakers and stresses that his wines need to emerge in the bottle instead of being too obvious and forward upon release. “They should be like the great Burgundies that give to you sensations little by little.”
The best wines of Fontanafredda include:
- Roero Arneis “Pradalupo”
- Moscato d’Asti “Montecucco”
- Asti “Galarej”
- Contesa Rosa Brut
- Barolo “La Villa”
- Barolo “La Rosa”
- Barolo “Lazzarito La Delizia”
- Barbaresco “Coste Rubin”
- Nebbiolo d’Alba “Marne Brune”
- Diano d’Alba “La Lepre”
- Barbera d’Alba “Papagena”