06 January 2012

n.d.p. in piemonte: alessandro e gian natale fantino, monforte d'alba

On our last night in Monforte, my friends and I revisited Case della Saracca, with the aim of drinking something we hadn't had much of during our stay: mature Barolo.* A late-nineties vertical by Alessandro e Gian Natale Fantino stood out on the bar's list as unmissable bargains, and we recognised the name because every day for the past week we'd been walking by their cellars, which are located right next to the Da Felicin apartments in the old city of Monforte.

If we hadn't yet visited them, it was because the name Fantino is like the Smith of Monforte, making it difficult for first time visitors like ourselves to keep straight which Fantini produce quality wine, and which produce light fluff for cafe consumption. Alessandro e Gian Natale, we learned, fall into the former category.  Alessando Fantino worked ten years for the legendary Bartolo Mascarello, before founding his own organic estate with brother Gian Natale in the early 90's.

The 1999 Barolo "Vigne dei Dardi" we drank at Case della Saracca was in the end so vivid and racy that J and I were inspired to try for an inexcusably last-minute visit before we checked out the next morning. ("Are you free in ten minutes? Yes, ten!") To our delight, winemaker Alessandro Fantino was available to give us a tour. We assured J's wife C and the Native Companion it would be a quick tour, no tasting, since that is what Fantino offered us in Italian over the phone. We probably should have known better, as it happened. C and the NC fell asleep in their hammocks by the packed convertible, and J and I tasted the Fantino range straight through to the Barolo Chinato.

The Alessando e Gian Natale Fantino estate is comprised of roughly 8ha at present: mostly Nebbiolo, with some Barbera, though some Freisa and other village varieties make their way into the estate's basic steel-fermented "Rosso dei Dardi" cuvée. 70% Nebbiolo, 30% Barbera and others, the "Rosso dei Dardi" is useful in illustrating the fine peculiarities of the estate. It is for instance interesting that even the basic cuvée derives from the 10ha "Dardi" mini-cru within Bussia: in fact, all of the Fantino range hails from Dardi.

In practice this means there is perhaps one less variable to consider, that of terroir, while tasting the wines and comparing them to each other. From the "Rosso dei Dardi" on up to Alessando's Bussia Riserva, the wines all share a piercing trebly acidity that I can only assume is the nature of Dardi. Alessandro explained that the cru's typicity is also expressed in a certain similarity of color between the Barbera and Nebbiolo harvested there (ordinarily Nebbiolo is much lighter). In what is probably a technique to tame the cru's natural acid, Alessando ages all his Baroli a year longer than necessary before release. Fermentation is conducted with natural yeasts, and lasts 15-40 days for Nebbiolo, depending on the vintage.

With Alessandro J and I tasted the 2006 Barolo, already showing a fairly complex accord of dried fruit and nutmeg, with endless bell-ringing persistence.

Reflecting back on it now, the wine's structure when I tasted it reminds me of a song by engaging but slightly overrrated Brooklyn-based drone composer Oneohtrix Point Never, in the sense that it seems to verge perpetually on profound release, without ever attaining it:

(The difference being that the wine can be expected to evolve into something more visceral, where the song will remain a more or less intellectual exercise.)

A 2004 Barolo Riserva we tried had a more liquoroso / baking chocolate nose, belying its graceful cherry and licorice-toned palate.

I then made the mistake of confusing Alessando e Gian Natale Fantino's Barolo Chinato with Conterno Fantino's Barolo Chinato, which delicious and balanced latter digestivo we'd drunk the night before at Case della Saracca. Unfortunately the surname is all the two wines share: Alessando e Gian Natale Fantino's Chinato is done is a syrupy style, reminscent of Amaro Montenegro. It's better on the nose, smelling of a pastry involving figs.

It was around this time that J and I realised we had been gone quite a while, and that the womenfolk would probably be displeased, provided they had not already taken the car and decamped to Switzerland without us. But Alessandro, who despite linguistic obstacles was a wonderful and expressive host to us, had one more fascinating wine to present: his "Nepas," an unthinkably rare partial appassimento** Nebbiolo of which he produces just 800 bottles a year. I would have waited till doomsday to try such a inimitably geeky wine, but, sensing our hurry, or perhaps just not wanting to drink rich rare wines at 10am, Alessandro kindly gave us a bottle of the 2008 as a gift.

I'll have to post again whenever J and I get around to uncorking it.

* Embarrassing, isn't it? But when tasting with winemakers one usually tastes current releases. And throughout the various dinners thrift usually compelled us to explore less celebrated pleasures, e.g. Pelaverga, Grignolino, etc.

** The process by which grapes are dried on straw mats over a period of months, thus reducing their water content and concentrating their flavors and sugars, as in Amarone.

Alessandro e Gian Natale Fantino
Via G. Silvano 1
12065 Monforte d’Alba
Tel: +39 0173 78253

Related Links:

N.D.P. in Piemonte: Osteria dell'Unione, Treiso, then Bruno Giacosa, Neive
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Cascina delle Rose, Barbaresco
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Saint Peter's Country Chapel
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Stefano Bellotti & Cascina degli Ulivi, Novi Liguri
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Trattoria della Posta, Monforte d'Alba
N.D.P. in Piemonte: G.D. Vajra, Vergne
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Giorgio Barovero, Monforte d'Alba
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Case della Saracca, Monforte d'Alba
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Walter Porasso at Bovio, La Morra
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Vinoteca Centro Storica, Serralunga

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