“Lean, elegant, with a solid built that seems effortless and natural. Shyly restrained at first, but little by little opens up and charms the socks off of me.” What I am referring to here?The description turned out to be equally correct for both the 2004 Barolo Reserva from Alessandro et Gian Natal Fantino, and for the winemaker himself. At the restaurant of the Albergo de’ll Agenzia Slow Food I was served this beautiful Barolo with veal cutlets (see tasting note), and felt I just had to meet the person who made the wine. Which is how I got the pleasure of meeting Alessandro, and noticing that he is just like his wine.
I drove to Monforte d’Alba, cursing my GPS, “oohing” and “aahing” over the beautiful Bussia hillsides, but finally found the cantina (cellar) where the hotel had helped me book a tasting. Meeting Alessandro (and later his sweet, smiling banker wife) was one of the highlights of the trip. The A&GN Fantino Barolo retained the understated power and elegance in the glass, never became pushy, but became more and more friendly, open, and layered over the span of an hour. Which, again, is exactly like its maker, Alessandro. In my “creative” Italian, we soon left the basic tasting protocol and discussed philosophy of winemaking, while his dog begged for tasting crackers. Alessandro had worked a few years at Latour and Chateau d’Yquem when younger.
When he was ready to start up on his own, he had the option to build a bigger brand, a bigger vineyard, elsewhere, but he decided to go back to Monforte d’Alba and go small for very specific reasons. “I have seen the large format, and I prefer this way” he said. “I can make the wine I want to make, not the wine I have to make simply in order to pay for my business,” he continued. With their current size he gets to both work in the vineyard and in the cellar, he has the flexibility of not having employees, and can adapt the wine making methods to the vintage. I loved our discussions on fermentation and wood use. “How do you know when is the right time to stop, or the right size barrel for the vintage?” I wondered, and he just smiled “You know.” Would like to see that strategy implemented at Turning Leaf… Either way, he seems to know. There is a brilliance, an elegance, in his wines that made me re-evaluate the entire region. Next time I come I’m hoping to meed the other brother, Gian Natal, too. I wonder what he is like, considering I “see” so much of Alessandro in the wine.
I walked away from the Cantina with more wines than I can rightly fit in my suitcase, but fewer than I would have liked to have aging in my cellar. I promised to bring smoked salmon in return next time. These precious bottles are going to be shared with friends who need to discover another style of Barolo. I’m hoping I can find someone to import them to Sweden (or Utah) – I’d like to have them a bit more easily accessible. So, if you are a really, really good, quality importer and would like to have dinner with me, call me and let’s share some of the most elegant, good value Barolo!
(Note: The 2004 should keep another 20-30 years. A&GN Fantino produce approx. 60 000 bottles of Barolo and Barbaresco per year. The very reasonable price is between 20-25€ for the Barolo and Barolo Reserva if bought directly from him – and only 5€ for the Barbera. The main markets are Switzerland and Germany; only 5% stay in Italy!)