Today was our first foray into the Barolo region of Piemonte to explore two Barolo producers with very different approaches. Villadoria is a relatively small, family-owned and operated estate, while Fontannafredda is an old, established, massive facility with a very corporate feel. Despite the different approaches, the wines at each are outstanding.
Villadoria is owned and operated by the hard-working Lanzavecchia family. It was established in 1959 when Pietro Lanzavecchia, with his father Daniele, began purchasing land in the Serralunga hills and later building the winemaking facility and cellar with his son, also named Daniele. Today, Villadoria is managed by Daniele along with his daughter, Paola.
We had the opportunity to meet Paola a couple of years ago in Denver when she was on a trip promoting Villadoria’s wines. We talked about the possibility of visiting Piemonte, and Paola told us to let her know when we finalized our plans. we contacted Paola when we had a general outline of our trip, and we made an appointment to visit the winery.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by Martina, who let Paola know we had arrived. Paola came in from the vineyards where she was planting new vines to greet us. She then left to get back to work and left us in the very capable hands of Martina. It was a treat to be welcomed so graciously and made to feel special.
We began our tasting with Villadoria’s 2018 Gavi di Gavi, a wonderful white wine made from the Cortese grape grown around the commune of Gavi, near Alessandria on the eastern side of Piemonte. The wine is a brilliant, straw color with a fruity nose reminiscent of apples. This well balanced wine has refreshing acidity and would be perfect with a light fish dish.
Next, we moved on to the 2015 Bricco Magno, a Nebbiolo from various vineyards in the Langhe and Roero. Bricco Magno is modern style Nebbiolo aged for two years, primarily in small barrels. The wine is a clear, transparent ruby/garnet color with an orange tinge. The floral nose reveals its wood aging with hints of vanilla. The taste opens with red fruits with hints of pepper and spice coming later. The medium-bodied wine is surprisingly full in the mouth for such a transparent wine, as a result of the soft tannins. This is a quintessential pasta wine.
Next we moved on to one of Villadoria’s Barolos, the 2015 Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba. This gorgeous wine is a ruby with garnet edges, much more orange that the Bricco Magno, and is characteristicly brilliant. The nose is a wonderful combination of roses and maraschino cherries (not the red grocery store kind). This wine shows what sites in the Serralunga hills can offer. It was aged for about 18 months in Slavonian oak barrels and then moved to stainless steel to complete its total 38 months of ageing. On tasting, the wine is bold and delicate at the same time. The elegance comes from cherry and strawberry flavors combined with some spiciness, while the boldness comes from the dense mouthfeel from the tannins. Tasting the wine now shows what its potential can be. While it is drinkable today, it will shine in a few more years. This wine would be a perfect complement to big, flavorful beef dishes.
For our last tasting, Martina brought out a unique treat, the 2013 Langhe Rosso DOC Arpass. Villadoria describes the wine this way, “This wine is made from a traditional grape combination in the Langhe area: Barbera and Nebbiolo. The most important native grape varieties in Piedmont together breathe life into Arpass, which in Piedmontese means ‘to return’. It is, in fact, a wine which Villadoria has proposed as a return to the ancient traditions of the past, when grape varieties were rarely used alone, but mixed up in the vineyards themselves. The result is a substantial red wine, with all Barbera’s fruit and Nebbiolo’s structure melded together perfectly.”
The Barbera brings substantial fruit to the equation. The color is a deeper ruby without the orange tint characteristic of Nebbiolo. The nose is spicy with red fruits. It fills the palate with notes of plums and red fruits, backed by soft tannins. This one will be great with pasta and stews.
Our visit to Villadoria was the perfect way to spend a morning in Piemonte.
We asked about lunch recommendations and took Martina’s suggestion to visit Castiglione Falletto, the village on top of the hill across the valley., where we ate at Le Torri Ristorante. You would hardly expect to find such an elegant, great restaurant in a town of about 700 people, but that’s Italia.
Following lunch, we headed down the hill and stopped at Fontanafredda for a tasting. Fontanafredda is a massive estate/complex with a long and storied history. Everything at Fontanafredda is done big. The tasting area is extensive and situated in the middle of a very large sales area. Adjacent to the sales area is a sizeable classroom/auditorium with theater seating that opens to the sales area. The whole setting and experience are reminiscent of visiting a large Napa Valley winery.
Christina and Veronica, our hosts at Fontanafredda, guided us through a tasting of some of the wines they offer. We began with the 2012 Contessa Rosa, a rose spumante made in the classic manner from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir is fermented with brief skin contact to provide some of the pink color. The remainder of the color comes from the addition of a little Barolo prior to the secondary fermentation. The Barolo adds an orange hue to the sparkling wine. The floral, citrusy nose leads to a dry wine with some character and tastes of plums, spice and yeast. It has a pleasant balance of minerality and acidity. Great to use anytime you might want a sparkling wine.
Next up was the Vigna Gatinera, another sparkling wine, this time with 100 percent Pinot Noir. Half is fermented in stainless steel, while half is fermented in oak barriques. The wine fermented in oak is left on the lees until bottling for the secondary fermentation. The wine ages for 10 years before release. This wine is golden colored with hints of green and consistent bubbles. The aromas make you think of pears, spices and bread. The taste is crisp, minerally, spicy and yeasty. This is another solid spumante that will serve well when a sparkling wine is desired.
We movid on to a very nice Barbera d’Asti Superiore from Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, one of the wineries in the Fontanafredda corporate stable. The 2017 Cascina Valle Asinari Barbera d’Asti Superiore is a very nice example of what Barbera offers. The wine is purple to crimson at the edge. The nose is all red fruit and vanilla. It is full flavored with red raspberries and plums with spiciness. The tannins are bold, and the wine exhibits crisp acidity, making it a great complement to a bold, spicy dish.
Following the Barbera, we moved on to a couple of Barolos, beginning with the Fontanafredda 2013 Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba. This Barolo is from the same area as the Villadoria Barolo we tasted earlier in the day, but the Fontanafredda is two years older. The wines share many similarities, but the additional two years of ageing are noticeable. This wine is brick red in the glass and crystal clear. The spicy, floral aromas almost jump out of the glass. The flavors are well balanced with hints of strawberry and spice. The tannins are still dominant, but softer with the additional age. This is a wine that is very good right now and will continue to improve for a number of years.
We wrapped up our tasting with the 2010 Casa E. di Mirafiore Barolo Riserva. The Mirafiore brand is another of the Fontanafredda brands. The wine is beautifully clear and brick red. The aromas of complex spices, chocolate and mint explode from the glass. With nine years of ageing under its belt, this is a beautifully drinking Barola. The tannins are still prominent and bold, but have smoothed to the point of lushness. As with all Barolos, these two would be great complements to any hearty, complex beef dish.