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The Italian Job part 1: a labour of love in Piemonte

In the first of a series of articles from Northern Italy, we take a trip to the luscious vineyards of the Barbera disciplinary. Here we encounter wine producer Fontanafredda, home to some of the world’s most famous Barolos and the producer of Britannia’s own-branded wine, Barbera d’Alba Britannia.

Article · 5 min read
Speilsalen Assistant Head Chef, Håvard Werkland, looks out across the gently-undulating landscape of Fontafredda, in the heart of Piemonte's wine country.

As society slowly gets back to normal, and borders start to reopen, Britannia’s chefs have been out exploring the world again, gathering inspiration and products for their menus. Three of the hotel’s head chefs recently travelled to Piemonte, the food mecca of Northern Italy, to sample and purchase some of the world’s best ingredients.

It’s a warm afternoon in late October as the chefs stroll around the historic vineyards of Fontanafredda, in the beautiful valleys south of Alba. While marvelling at the expansive landscape, they help themselves to the fresh, plump, fruit, which hangs low on the vines, almost black in colour, ready to be harvested. 

Fontafredda vines and grapes inspected during Britannia trip to Italy
The Barbera grapes which make up 100% of Britannia's wine are harvested in September. The Nebbiolo grapes pictured here were ready for harvesting during the chefs' visit in October.

These are the Nebbiolo grapes, the variety used in the winemaker’s famous Barolo wines. Fontanafredda has a long and illustrious history with the wine; they were the first to export internationally (in 1886) and in 1964, Barolo Vigna La Rosabecame the first Barolo to indicate the vineyard on the label. Their interpretation of the wine has been named among the Spectator’s top 100 wines in the world and, in 2012, the Wine Enthusiast named Fontanafredda “European Winery of the Year”.  

Barolo and Barbaresco have always been synonymous with top quality wines. Produced in the heart of Piemonte’s wine country, the terroir and grapes are the equivalent in quality to Pinot Noir based Grand Cru regions of Burgundy, France. These are the fine wines of the region which are brought out for special occasions, bottles which have pride of place in many a collector’s wine cellar the world over. However, it is not just the Barolo wines the Britannia experts have come here to inspect. Fontanfredda also produces Barbera wines, including Barbera d’Alba Britannia, bottled exclusively for the hotel.

Britannia Executive Head Chef Espen Aunaas (left), Speilsalen Assistant Head Chef, Håvard Werkland (centre) and Brasserie Britannia / Jonathan Executive Head chef Odd-Ivar Jørgensen (right) examine the harvest.

The Barbera Grape

Barbera is one of the more traditional grape varieties in the Piemonte region. In medieval times it was considered "the people's wine" due to the wide area of cultivation. It creates laid-back, great-value wines, often characterised by exuberant fruits, juiciness and drinkability. Wine historians, however, have discovered that medieval wine lovers from the region always instinctively felt there was something special about the Barbera grape. 

In the 1980’s, Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti and Nizza wines started to gain a global reputation for quality and sophistication, and in 2014 the areas were given the status of  Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC – ‘designated areas of controlled origin’). Many of the leading producers of Barolo and Barebera wines now also bottle Barbera wines, which are very highly regarded.

Barbera vineyards are located in the best exposures: mid hillsides between 200-300 meters above sea level, with exposure to south South-East and West.

Today, the Barbera d’Alba DOC appellation has grown consistently in terms of quality due to a different approach in the vineyards and in the winemaking. The permitted harvest has been drastically reduced, so producers only select the best grapes, use accurate pruning techniques and extract hidden layers of flavour through oak ageing. Barbera is now cultivated only on the best sites; hillsides which guarantee its correct ripening, producing higher quality wines. 

Britannia Executive Head Chef Espen Aunaas and Alberto Free, Export Manager at Fontanafredda: a fantastic opportunity to meet our suppliers and taste the product as it was intended.

The Winemaker’s Philosophy

Like all beautiful things, Fontanafredda is the product of a love story, between the first King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, and Rosa Vercellana. Rosa, known as "La Bela Rusin", was a woman of humble origins, daughter of the drum major of the army of the Royal House of Savoy. Despite society's reluctance, the future monarch married Rosa, appointed her Countess of Miafiori and Fontanafredda and gifted her the land where the winery stands today. Their two children, Maria Vittoria and Emanuele Alberto, founded the winegrowing estate, helping to make the name of Barolo internationally famous.

Fontanafredda’s property covers over 122 hectares spanning across the municipalities of Serralunga d’Alba, Diano d’Alba, Farigliano, Alba, Rodello and Murisengo, at elevations that vary from 200 to 400 meters above sea level. Aerial photo courtesy of Fontanafredda.

Fontanafredda’s property now covers over 122 hectares and they export the majority of their wines. However, love and passion for what they do are still the most telling interpretations of their labour. According to Fontanafredda, Barbera d’Alba Britannia is the winemaker’s “most authentic interpretation of the Barbera grape variety”. 

The result is a Barbera d'Alba which represent the typical fresh and fruity style, with a dense ruby red colour. The nose shows fruity tones, including blackberries, cherries, strawberries and fruit jams. There are also notes of spices such as cinnamon, vanilla and green pepper. With both freshness, fruit and a delicate structure, it is a versatile wine, which pairs well with food any time of day.

Britannia carefully selected and approved the cuvee in collaboration with Fontanafredda. Guests can now enjoy the wine in all of Britannia’s restaurants and bars, as well as in the comfort of the hotel’s rooms and suites, where the wine is now available in the minibar offering. The wine proudly joins Britannia Selection Brut Majeur, the hotel’s signature Champagne created exclusively with Maison Ayala to celebrate Britannia’s reopening in 2019, and Britannia Selection Rosé in 2020, also created by Ayala to mark the hotel’s our 150th anniversary in 2020.

Read more about the remarkable history of Fontafredda and the creation of Barbera d'Alba Britannia in the document below.

Barbera’s natural high acidity is controlled with an accurate pruning of the vines in order to guarantee lower yields and, as a result, a more concentrated wine. The harvest normally happens by the third decade of September.

Enjoy Barbera d'Alba Britannia in Vinbaren

Barbera d’Alba Britannia is a house favourite in the hotel’s palm court, Palmehaven, where it accompanies many a banquet and Artist-In-Residence experience.

It can also be enjoyed in Britannia’s wine bar, Vinbaren; the favoured destination for wine enthusiasts, drawn by the impressive collection of quality wines built up by the hotel’s own wine experts. With wine from all corners of the world, Vinbaren is the natural meeting place for hotel guests who are passionate about what they are drinking, and the story behind it. Visitors can immerse themselves in a bar and four separate tasting rooms, lined from floor to ceiling by cooling cabinets, housing 10,000 of the world’s best bottles. 

There are thousands of wines available in Vinbaren, many of which are also available by the glass. Photo Lars Peter Pettersen.

Wine is expertly served by the glass or the bottle, accompanied by delicious cured meats, freshly baked sourdough bread, cheeses and unique items such as the house's homemade Rooftop honey. Knowledgeable sommeliers are on hand to ensure guests find wines which are tailored to their tastes.

Vinbaren is the perfect location for wine aficionados to enjoy their favourite vintages, accompanied by great snacks, expert advice and a warm environment. Photo Lars Peter Pettersen.

Thank you to Fontanafredda for collaboration and additional information. All photos by Wil Lee-Wright | Britannia Hotel, unless otherwise specified.