Fine Italian Wines for the New Year 2013
Wine for January - Under $25
Fontanafredda, “Briccotondo” Barbera Piemonte 2010 (about $14)
Fontanafredda is a storied winery with a long history and a deep-rooted commitment to reinvention and renewal. Originally established in the mid-1800’s as a hunting and country retreat by Italy’s first king, Victor Emmanuel II, the property was gradually expanded and set up as a wine estate by heirs of the royal family. In 1932 Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, bought the Fontanafredda estate from the Italian royal family. The infusion of capital enabled the estate to modernize its operations, expand its reach, and enhance its reputation as one of the Piedmont’s premier wineries.
Fast forward to 2008 when Oscar Farinetti and his business partner Luca Filangieri - owners of Eataly, the international Italian food, restaurant and wine bar emporium - bought control of the Fontanafredda estate and winery. Under their guidance and with the assistance of winemaker Danil Drocco the Fontanafredda estate has continued to evolve and improve with production of some of the Piedmont’s best native varietal wines.
The Fontanafredda estate is located in Serralunga d’Alba but it also owns prized vineyard properties in the Barolo and Diane d’Alba communes. In a region dominated by relatively small to medium-sized wineries, Fontanafredda, with over 200 acres of vineyards, is one of the largest - if not the largest winery - in the Piedmont region.
Fontanafredda produces a wide range of red wines from the Piedmont’s traditional Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Grignolino varieties as well as several whites made from Chardonnay, Arneis and Cortese. All estate vineyards are managed on an eco-friendly basis so as to minimize their impact on the environment. They eschew artificial fertilizers or pesticides and use only natural methods for fertilization and pest control. Fontanafredda has also established a program to lower the sulfite content of their wines. The sulfite content has been reduced by at least 50 percent for most of their wines with a goal of reducing the sulfite content to zero over time.
The 2010 Briccotondo is made entirely of Barbera. After fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged in a combination of new and used oak casks. After five months the wine is bottled and available for sale.
It is a delightfully acidic and food-friendly wine. It has an aromatic medley of ripe purple fruits and flavors backed up by soft tannins and ever-present acidity. It has good fruit appeal and is distinctly Italian in terms of its structure and balance.
The 2010 Briccotondo is an enjoyable, quality Barbera wine at a bargain price. Those not familiar with the Barbera variety should try it and you may become a passionate fan of the variety, a Barberista if you will.
Like other Barbera wines with good acidity, the 2010 Briccotondo is extremely food friendly and goes well with a wide array of foods from soups and pasta to red meats and aged cheeses. In the Piedmont region it is the wine to order whenever Bagna Cauda is on the menu.
Antonelli, “Contrario” Umbria IGT 2008 (about $26)
The Antonelli estate is centrally located in the heart of the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG appellation in Italy’s Umbria region. The winery has a long and rich winemaking tradition that dates back to the late 1800’s. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980's when the current head of the Antonelli family estate, Filippo Antonelli, became responsible for day-to-day management of the winery that Antonelli wines began to garner critical international acclaim.
Although he is not as well-known as some other producers from Umbria with boldface names, Filippo has nonetheless developed a well-earned reputation for producing quality Sagrantino wines that are more approachable and less expensive than many others.
Antonelli focuses on traditional native varieties such as Sagrantino and Trebbiano and uses a natural approach to winemaking that he considers critical to improving the quality of the grapes. The farm’s operations have recently achieved official organic certification.
Antonelli’s “Contrario” is made entirely of Sagrantino grapes that flourish in the hills around the town of Montefalco. Sagrantino is a hardy, tannic grape that produces big, intense and full-bodied red wines chock-full of tannins and acidity. This presents winemakers with a delicate balancing act of taming the wine’s inherent tannins and acidity without sacrificing Sagrantino’s inherent complexity and robustness in the process.
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG regulations require long ageing in wooden barrels or casks and bottles in order to soften the tannins and reduce the acidity. However, Antonelli’s “Contrario” takes a different approach, apropos of its name which translates as “contrary”, and carries an IGT designation. The backward-facing “R” in the wine’s name on the label is another sign of the producer’s interpretive independence.
The Contrario is vinified in such a way as to make it available when younger and fresher. Rather than spending years ageing in wooden barrels or casks, Contrario is aged in stainless steel tanks and spends less time ageing than do traditional Sagrantino wines. The Contrario is generally available for sale within 18 months of harvest.
The result is a wine that exhibits Sagrantino’s benchmark intensity and flavor profile but is a little more reserved in terms of tannins and rustic overtones that dominate most Sagrantino wines. The Contrario is rich, structured and intense but also graceful, supple and, well, earnestly charming.
With muted tannins but good acidity and well-developed red fruit aromas and flavors, this wine will be a flavorful companion to a wide range of food dishes - from soups and salads to chicken and red meat dishes.
January 9, 2013