The bitter cold of winter had crept into the depths of the Piemontese cellars by the time I visited Alessandro and Gian Natale Fantino in their Monforte d’Alba cantina last December. As Gian Natale splashed frigid tastes of perfumed, deep crimson liquid into my glass, I couldn’t help but to think ahead to the toasty supper that awaited me, certainly featuring a heaping portion of hearty pasta to warm the heart and soul. But first, we had business to attend to. After an impressive flight of Baroli that made my hankering for pasta all the more palpable, Gianni climbed down from another tank and released a final dark nectar into my outstretched glass. “Barbera,” he said softly, his voice echoing throughout the damp stone chamber. The juice swished around rhythmically as I swirled, releasing bold aromas of licorice and ripe black fruits. Upon taking a sip, I felt a satisfying, cushiony warmth, the wine’s broad texture coating my palate and warming my bones like a big poofy jacket. It was just the ticket for a chilly December day, and would come in quite handy when that ragù-covered pasta would finally be mine.
. . .
Fast-forward to present day. A balmy autumn evening in California has made the freezing northern Italian winter no more than a distant memory. Late-season tomatoes are still abundant, and other summer vegetables give this October day a decidedly estival feel. I uncork the Fantino brothers’ Barbera, freshly arrived from overseas. Today, it serves a different purpose than it did back in December, but it steps into that role seamlessly. The wine’s richness of flavor is offset by lively fruit and refreshing acidity. While full-bodied, its gentle tannins barely make an impact as it glides effortlessly over the palate. It could even benefit from a slight chill. Months after first tasting it, the Fantinos’ Barbera is as comforting, appetizing, and seasonally appropriate as ever.
Two brothers, Alessandro and Gian Natale Fantino, run this family estate in Monforte d’Alba. Alessandro managed the vineyards and served as the enologist at Cantina Bartolo Mascarello for 20 years, from 1978 to 1997. The brothers farm eight hectares in the heart of the historic Bussia cru, one of Barolo’s most famous areas for producing wines of great longevity and finesse. The Fantino holdings are concentrated exclusively in the “Dardi” section of Bussia. The brothers also produce a Barbera d’Alba from these ancient vines in Dardi, and a “Rosso dei Dardi” from younger vine Nebbiolo. They are also specialists with several traditional Piemontese wines that are mostly disappearing: Nebbiolo Passito and Barolo Chinato.
Kermit’s love affair with the great reds of Piemonte dates back to the early days of his career: the very first container he imported from Italy, in fact, featured legendary 1971 and 1974 Barolos from Vietti and Aldo Conterno. Regular visits since then have seen our portfolio grow to now twelve Piemontesi estates, with a strong focus on the rolling hills of the Langhe.
Nebbiolo rules these majestic, vine-covered marl slopes, giving Italy’s most mystifyingly complex, nuanced, and age-worthy reds. When crafted via traditional production methods—long macerations and extensive aging in enormous oak botti—the powerful, yet incredibly refined Barolos and Barbarescos provide haunting aromatics of tar, raspberry, incense, tea, roses, and more. At times austere in their youth but well worth the wait, they pair beautifully with the hearty local cuisine starring veal in many forms, braised beef, pastas like tajarin and agnolotti, and of course, Alba’s famous white truffles.
Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Piemonte’s climate is continental, with baking hot summers and cold winters. Nebbiolo is only part of the story here: juicy, fruity Barberas and Dolcettos represent the bread and butter throughout the region, and other native grapes like Freisa, Croatina, and the white Arneis are also noteworthy. Value abounds in the Monferrato, while Alto Piemonte also has its share of thrills to provide.
Every corner of Piemonte is rich with tradition, especially when wine is concerned. It’s no wonder we have been singing the region’s praises for over forty years.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
Drinking distilled spirits, beer, coolers, wine and other alcoholic beverages may increase cancer risk, and, during pregnancy, can cause birth defects. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/alcohol
Many food and beverage cans have linings containing bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical known to cause harm to the female reproductive system. Jar lids and bottle caps may also contain BPA. You can be exposed to BPA when you consume foods or beverages packaged in these containers. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/bpa