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Springtime in Piedmont
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 3, 2012
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Fontanafredda, Roero DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Arneis “Pradalupo” 2010
(Palm Bay International, $20):  The handsome, sprawling Fontanafredda winery, perched scenically atop a hill in the heart of the Barolo production zone, was a highlight of my first visit to Piedmont in the 1970s.  Already 100 years old, it was an historic winery, founded by Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s first king.  Although the king’s heirs, the Mirafiori family, no longer owned the property, its ownership was still prestigious -- the Monte di Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank. 

Now after 76 years the ownership of Fontanafredda is in the entrepreneurial hands of Oscar Farinetti, a native of the Langhe Hills of Piedmont, and his partner Luca Baffigo Filangieri, who together founded the multinational Eataly concept of Italian gourmet megashops.  Winemaker Danilo Drocco bridges the ownership change, having joined Fontanafredda in 1999, nine years before the new era began in 2008.

Like any winery situated in the Langhe Hills, which is the heart of Piedmont’s elite red wine production zone, Fontanafredda produces mainly red wines, particularly Barolo -- including three single-vineyard cru Barolos -- along with Dolcetto, Barbera and varietally-labelled Nebbiolo.  This Arneis, a white varietal wine, is the outlier.

Arneis is a native grape variety from an area close to the Langhe Hills called the Roero.  It was on its way to extinction when the late Alfredo Currado of Vietti winery persuaded some growers in the Roero to sell him some grapes in 1967; he made 1000 bottles of Arneis and sparked revived interest in the forgotten variety.  Now Arneis is the signature white wine for many Barolo producers.  The variety makes wines with complex, enticing aromas and flavors.

The 2010 Fontanafredda Arneis is a thoroughly delightful and engaging dry, unoaked white wine that’s extremely easy to enjoy.  When I tasted it on an unseasonably warm day in February, it seemed to embody springtime itself in its fresh, youthful, vibrant aromas and flavors.  When you swirl the wine, you might notice scents of flower blossoms and white fruits, along with minerality and a suggestion of sweet, freshly-turned soil (especially if you are in the throes of Spring fever!).  In the mouth, the wine is fully dry and medium-bodied. Some dissolved CO2 brings a gentle prickle to the texture, while a slight bit of tannin from the grape skins keeps the wine grounded on the tongue.  The flavors suggest white fruits and honeysuckle, and they carry long across the palate.

Half of the grapes for this wine receive 24 hours of skin contact, which increases the aromas and flavors and is also probably responsible for that slight grip on the tongue that grounds the wine’s taste.  The lack of malolactic fermentation keeps the aromas and flavors vibrant and also maintains acidity, which can be low in Arneis; the retained CO2 heightens the impression of acidity.

Arneis wines typically are most enjoyable when they are young, and this wine s no exception.  Pair it with springtime vegetables (yes, even asparagus), goat cheese, grilled fish, or other light, fresh-tasting foods.

89 Points