Ristorante da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba is one of my favorite restaurants, a place where I always feel at home (and maybe even better than at home) and I experience the flavors of a kitchen that I’d like to taste every single day, confident that I’d never get bored. The setting is magnificent, elegant but still warm. The hosts are splendid: my dear friends Silvia and Nino Rocca and his wonderful parents. The service is perfect. But the cellar… the cellar is a true Holy of the Holies.
Bottles jealously and painstakingly preserved, bottles that report vintages on their labels that date back to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Once uncorked, these bottles reveal an incredible, miraculous treasure of precious nuance and reward the guest with ineffable emotion. These bottles are hard to find elsewhere. They often sport names that the younger among us have forgotten or are entirely unaware of. Sometimes, the names are those of wineries that do not exist anymore, producers about whom very little is known, winemakers who will not appear in Google search engine results.
Nino reserved one of these names for me, a slam dunk that he surprised me with: the winery was Franco Fiorina (Alba), which enjoyed great notoriety and prestige in the 1970s and 80s, and the wine was its 1982 Barolo.
It was the 15th of May, Saturday evening, the last time I visited Nino and Silvia, who cast yet another spell on me by decanting this bottle and bringing it to me blind at my table.
I was able to find some information about this wine by asking one of the persons who contributed to the miracle contained in this bottle: Armando Cordero, now in his 80s, one of Langa’s most memorable figures and a man who was much more than just a simple enologist. He served as Franco Fiorina’s enologist and his indelible memories of the winery are invaluable.
Franco Fiorina 1982 Barolo
As told by Armando, the 1982 Barolo by Franco Fiorina was an obstinately old-school wine.
“As long as I worked there, all of Franco Fiorina’s bottlings of Barolo were made from a blend of Nebbiolo Michet grown in Serralunga — [vineyards] Baudana and Vigna Riunda [sic] — and Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, and Monforte d’Alba. A blend of grapes from different villages, in keeping with the teachings of my father, the old cellar master at Calissano until 1965.”
“The grapes were pressed with partial destemming and then fermented in glass-lined cement vats. Punching of the cap in the evenings using a pump but none of the modern contraptions used today.”
“Submerged-cap fermentation for about 15 days and aging of the new wine on its lees until Christmas, more or less… Aging for two years in cement and then in large Slavonian oak casks, very old but healthy, until we would decide to bottle the wine, after about 2 years. The wine was then bottled with out fining or filtration and the bottles were stacked on their sides until they were sold.”
“This is the story of great Barolo! What a pity that certain traditionalists have forgotten this story. But let’s not talk about that.”
So that’s the history of this wine. But what did it taste like?
A perfect, marvelous wine, with deep, seamless ruby red color, bright, full of energy, with a light, brilliant simmer of garnet, as if to quiet all those who say that Nebbiolo is colorless and needs “help” to achieve color using concentrators or “other” techniques. This wine was a shining example of how old-school Barolo, made from grapes sourced from different villages, can obtain astonishing balance, perhaps greater than that obtained from a single cru. A wine that — 28 years after its harvest — dazzles the drinker.
An intriguing, seductive nose, with continuous evolution in the wide-mouthed glassed, autumnal, with notes of chiaroscuro, half-shaded aromas, an essense of dried rose, earth, leaves and dried mushrooms. Candied hints of amaretto and cinnamon, tobacco and subtle, nuanced truffle, rhubarb, dried prune, with gamey and wild notes. Very fresh, alive, and savory.
The nose was magnificent. But on the palate… my goodness, the palate! A pure, earthy texture with seductive tannin, lively and profound acidity, but balanced and never aggressive. I was surprised by the wine’s juiciness and its sweet fruit, its indomitable energy, and its persistent, velvety flavor and minerality.
This wine was fresh, gorgeous, and aristocratic. It had an ability to speak to the drinker, as if it were expanding on your palate like a caress, like a kiss. It left me absolutely breathless, thankful and awestruck.
This, too, is part of what makes Barolo so fascinating, what makes it unique and inimitable. And it is how Langa bewitches us…