Scrolling through the 499 winery’s Facebook this morning, I was reminded of Carlo Petrini’s August 2016 article in the Turin edition of La Repubblica (the Italian national daily): “The hegemony of Barolo is putting other Langhe wines at risk” (translation mine).
The piece echoed something that I’ve been hearing Langhe growers say for a long time.
Over the last two decades, the lucrative nature of the Barolo trade has prompted many producers to plant Nebbiolo in vineyards where grapes of a lesser god were once traditionally grown.
“Nebbiolo used to be planted only [in parcels] where the snow melted first,” Maria Teresa Mascarello said to me some years ago when I visited with her at her family’s historic cellar.
It’s always a revelatory experience to drive around Langhe during the winter and see how the sun melts away the flakes in the top crus before it shifts its efforts to the surrounding blocks. And this tradition is reflected in the Piedmontese dialectal term sorì, used to denote the best hilltops for raising Nebbiolo. It comes from (and is akin to) sol or sole in Italian. It means well-exposed [to the sun] or sun-bathed.
When I finally had the opportunity to taste 499’s Freisa a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but think to myself: is this Freisa’s moment in the sun?
This delicious wine, grown at 499 meters a.s.l. in the township of Camo, is the brainchild of two Barolo veterans: Mario Andrion (Castello di Verduno) and Gabriele Saffirio (Brovia), who have both had a hand in producing some of my favorite expressions of Langhe viticulture. It was fresh and bright, with nuanced floral notes that really impressed and surprised me. But it still had that tannic character that you expect from Fresia. A really original and utterly delicious wine.
With Barolo setting records in release prices these days (thank you, 2010!) and Moscato d’Asti (which they also grow) becoming more and more alluring thanks to the growing interest in sparkling wines, it’s hard not to think of Mario and Gabriele as Don Quixotes.
It’s great to see the interest in Langhe growing among wine collectors across the world. But it’s also wonderful to see these young Langhe growers not allowing their viticultural heritage to be eclipsed by Barolo’s bright star.