Nebbiolo is a fabulous grape that produces some of my favorite wines. Not just from the famous areas of Barolo and Barbaresco, but lesser known areas of the Alto Piemonte like Carema, Boca, Gattinara etc. They all have their own fabulous producers and can produce stunning wines. One of the things I enjoy the most about nebbiolo is it’s capacity to age effortlessly. Some of my most memorable older wines have been nebbiolo and it seems that they have been more consistently good for me than old cabernet, pinot noir, etc. One of the best sources for older nebbiolo that I have found is the Rare Wine Co. An importer and retailer, their initial focus was Italian gems and they have an excellent selection of older nebbiolo wines and they are very selective in what they buy so the provenance is usually quite good. So when I have the chance to pick up some older wines from them I don’t hesitate (assuming I have the funds!). Last year I picked up a 1958 Fontanfredda Barolo riserva especial for a pretty reasonable price and a couple friends and I decided to have a Barolo exploration tasting. What better time to pull out the oldest wine any of us have ever tasted!
1958 was reportedly a great vintage; to quote Antonio Galloni “a vintage of powerful, virile Barolo’s that have provided thrilling drinking for decades.” I stood the wine up for 2 days to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom and opened it. It had a surprisingly small cork, quite different from the corks used today, but it came out cleanly with my Durand tool. Despite standing for a couple days, the wine was a little cloudy with a pale brick red color with some browning and a totally clear rim. Initially the nose was closed and showed only some faint hints of damp leaf litter and mushroom. With about 45 minutes of air the wine absolutely came to life! The nose opened to reveal surprisingly fresh red berry fruits, classic nebbiolo tar, mint and fennel, forest floor, mushroom, and dried floral notes. The palate was fabulous as well; silky smooth with minimal tannin, but plenty of freshness and delicious fruit. Following the red berry fruits are spice, truffle, forest floor, and a hint of leather. A long and lingering finish leaves dried cherry and rose petal with a hint of anise for 45 seconds. The wine held up for the entire dinner of 2 hours and never really faded which is pretty incredible for a wine of 62 years old… It was really a remarkable showing that was better than I anticipated it could be. Always nice to have a surprise like that!
I don’t drink many Fontanafredda wines, but they have a rich history in Barolo and were reported to have made excellent wines in years past before struggling. It seems based on reading that they have righted the ship and are moving back into the premier tier of producers now. Based on this showing I’ll certainly roll the dice with some more of their older bottles if I can find them!