In some ways, wine is a universal language. Our palates may be as varied as our languages, but like a Rosetta stone, a glass of wine can give us a starting point for conversation. At the 2012 NYC Wine & Food Festival, we had a chance to participate in a tasting with Dottore Giovanni Minetti from Fontanafredda in Italy, presenting us with a vertical tasting of some of their Barolo Vigna la Rosa. His English was as heavily accented as his wine was full bodied, but since we shared common ground in discussing the same wines, we had a chance to learn quite a bit from him.
Founded in 1858 by the first King of Italy, Fontanafredda was originally intended as the court wine until it was introduced to the public in 1878. Situated in the temperate climate of the Piedmont region, the 240 acres of vineyards produces 100% varietal wines. We were tasting their Barolo Vigna la Rosa, made from Nebbiolo grapes from the 21 acres of the La Rosa vineyard in Serrelunga d'Alba.
The presentation was very technical. The winemaker had worked with others in the region to develop a custom tasting wheel specific to their Barolos, with a scale of common descriptors. Some, like cherry and mushroom were easy to identify, while others, like brushwood, were flavors that we were unfamiliar with and couldn't really discuss. The wines were amazing, a selection of good to great vintages starting in 2006 and going back as far as 1982. One downside of this type of tasting: Barolo is a huge wine, with big, bold, and aggressive flavors. Each wine was balanced with fruit, earth notes, and tannins, but it was hard to pick out some of the subtle differences between each. And the pace of the tasting, with 6 wines spread out over about 45 minutes, left our tongues feeling battered and bruised by the end. But it was amazing to track these wines through decades, with a wine almost as old as ourselves still big, bright, and fresh. It showed how much some wines benefit from age, as the oldest wine offered the biggest flavor while being the most balanced.