Yesterday, I attended a tasting of 10 vintages Fontanafredda Barolo Serralunga d’Alba, the oldest being a 1967 Barolo, which was not labelled as Serralunga d’Alba as it may have been a blend of more than one village. The tasting was led by Fontanafredda’s very passionate and entertaining winemaker, Danilo Drocco. With few exceptions, the wines were very complex with great structure and destined for a long life. Some of the younger wines need more time to soften their edges and mature a bit, but with time, they too will be very pleasurable.
Fontanafredda is located in Serralunga d’Alba on land that was previously the hunting preserve of the king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, and his royal mistress. Their first born son, Count Emanuele Alberto de Mirafiore turned the land into vineyards in 1878 and began making wine. Perhaps this association helped cultivate the saying that Barolo is the “wine of kings, and the king of wines.” In 1932, the bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena took control of the estate and renovated both the vineyards as well as the cellars. Fontanafredda, with its distinctive black and white, modern-style label, has since become one of the most important producers of Barolo and continues to promote Barolo throughout the world. In July 2008, Fontanafredda was purchased by a local man who has brought new energy and ideas to the winery. There is now a big focus on eco-friendly practices and even packaging. They do not use any chemicals in the vineyards and are using less sulphur during winemaking.
The commune of Serralunga d’Alba is located in the heart of Barolo and makes very intense, structured, and long-lived wines. The soils here are predominantly compressed sandstone making them poor soils with low fertility. This commune contains some of the areas highest vineyards, but enough warmth is built up to suitably ripen the Nebbiolo grapes in most years.
Barolo is 100% Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo buds early and ripens late requiring a very long growing season. Grapes typically aren’t picked until into October and harvest can last until the end of the month. It is a beautifully aromatic grape with aromas reminiscent of roses, violets, and an abundance of fresh fruit. Naturally high acidity and substantial tannins provide excellent structure and add to the longevity of the wines.
Tasting Notes of Fontanafredda Barolo Serralunga d’Alba DOCG:
2005: The wine is a medium ruby colour with slight garnet appearing on the rim. The nose is intense with aromas of red and black cherry, licorice, chocolate, spice, and rose petals. Flavours of red and dark fruit dominate the palate. The texture is smooth with ample acidity and firm tannins that appear balanced, but could use more time to mellow. This is a big wine with a good length. Definitely not ready to drink yet. Give it at least 5 years.
2004: The weather in 2004 was a bit cooler than 2005 so the grapes were picked much later. This wine is more delicate and refreshing than the 2005. There are aromas of licorice, herbal tea, and a distinctly balsamic note. The wine has a very silky texture up front, but the velvetty tannins are quite drying on the finish. The wine is refreshing with zippy acidity and plentiful fruit.
2003: The 2003 growing season was very hot requiring the grapes to be picked in mid-September, which is very early for Barolo. The wine is a typical medium garnet colour. Aromas of overripe and stewed fruit dominate with a slight animal or gamey character. The abundant tannins are still very drying and austere. There are flavours of dark overripe fruit and black cherry. This wine is definitely less elegant than the ’05 and ’04.
2000: This was another very hot vintage. The wine is starting to show some maturity with aromas of leather, dried fruit, tea leaves, tobacco, and dried flowers. Up front there is sweet fruit but it finishes dry and slightly bitter. The tannins are still quite aggressive. We were told that this is because during the summer the vines shut down and stopped growing for a long period due to the extreme heat, preventing the tannins from maturing as well. The tannins did not have enough time to catch up by the time the grapes were harvested leaving them aggressive and a touch austere.
1999: Considered an outstanding vintage and produced wine of great Barolo typicity. This wine had a complex nose of flowers (roses, violets), chocolate, dried red berries, black cherry, licorice, leather, and dried mushrooms. The tannins were much softer than the previous wines we tasted and were well integrated. The wine is still quite fresh with a distinct floral note on the long finish. Surprisingly, the finish also had a saltiness to it. A really beautiful wine that can age for another 20 to 25 years.
1998: This was not a great vintage according to Danilo Drocco, but it is one that gave hugely satisfying wines. Complex aromas of licorice, black cherry, dried rose petals, violets, dark berries, black olives, spice, and vanilla emerge from the glass. The texture is silky with soft, integrated tannins. There are flavours of red plum, mushroom, and tar on the long finish. This wine is ready to drink now. Very enjoyable.
1997: While this is hailed as an outstanding vintage by many, Danilo Drocco, winemaker at Fontanafredda, claims that this was another hot vintage that caused difficulty for producers. Grapes tended to be overripe when picked with aggressive tannins. As a result, Fontanafredda bottled only half their usual production in 1997. This wine has darker aromas than the ’98 and is not as elegant. Aromas of stewed fruit from the overripe grapes dominate the nose. The wine’s lower acidity is also an indication of a hot vintage. There are substantial, but integrated tannins and the wine has a shorter finish than most of the others in this tasting. Danilo Drocco suggests that this wine be drunk within 10 years.
1996: This was a nail-biter of a vintage. The weather was very cloudy, and by the end of August there was still no veraison. Fortunately, the sun came out in full force in September and October and this late abundance of sunlight saved the vintage. The wine has dusty aromas of dried leaves and pencil shavings, along with flowers, spice, leather, tar, and mushroom. There’s a firm structure here with high tannins and acid. It certainly shows its muscles. I liked it.
1990: This is a beautiful wine and still has many more years of life in it. Beautiful and complex aromas of mushroom, leather, tar, chocolate, black fruit, licorice, violet, tobacco, dried leaves, herbs – one could go on forever describing the scents in this wine. On the palate is it silky, beautifully balanced, and according to Drocco, “in perfect condition.” The fruit is still fresh and is supported by mushrooms, leather, and a floral character, and a very long length. Gorgeous!
1967: A light garnet colour with tints of orange and brown. It’s still very much alive with aromas of mushroom, damp soil, dried leaves, game, dried fruit, olives, spice, tar, leather, and cigar tobacco. Beautifully complex! Everytime I smelled the wine I got something different. There is a delicate texture, silky tannins, and a long finish. Flavours of dried fruit (almost like dried orange peel), dried leaves, leather, and mushrooms were evident on the palate. Really amazing for a 42 year old wine!