Ferdinando Principiano

It’s admittedly odd in today’s age of ‘Barolo as King’ to introduce an historic Barolo estate in Monforte with its old school 10.5% Dolcetto called ‘Dosset.’ Yet, that wine informs Ferdinando Principiano’s style for Barolo and all his other wines: elegant natural wines with a watermark of traditional Barolo terroir. Ferdinando began his conversion to natural winemaking in 2003, and nowadays his vineyards teem with wild flowers in Spring. A wild and thick leaf canopy provides shade to the grape clusters; early-picking tightens the acidity, and lowers the alcohol. Whole-clusters are trammelled by foot,  and fermented without sulphur to give an ease and suppleness to the fruit. Here’s finally a traditional Barolista, taking on climate change, being thoughtful instead of dogmatic about making natural yet princely Dolcetto and Barolo (and a few other native Piemonte varieties) – to drink – instead of taste. 

The cellar is in Monforte zone of Barolo. Monforte is also a an old-world charming small town you should visit; it is much different than the shaking and moving of La Morra. A total of 21 hectares of vineyards are located in Monforte and Serralunga, with a smattering in Alta Langa. The far southeast part of Barolo is an area off the beaten path (for Barolo at least). Instead of dusty vine row after vine row, there are woods and birds between the vineyards, and Ferdinando has created what looks like an extra-large Koi pond for migratory birds. Walk the vineyards for an ad hoc botanical tour of fruit trees that Ferdinando has planted over the year. The smell of grapes amid apples, pears, apricots, peaches, cherries, persimmons, almonds, figs, prunes, and apple and pear quince hint at the complex biodiversity here. On one of my recent visits, a vineyard worker was taking a break in the shade, and plucked a plum to eat. All of which reminds me: Nebbiolo isn’t only tar and roses (though I love that rock band as much as you), it is about cool fruits, plums from the icebox, come to mind, and so does unapologetic deliciousness.

I have eaten 
the plums
that were in 
the icebox 

and which 
you were probably 
for breakfast 

Forgive me 
they were delicious 
so sweet 
and so cold

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Don’t let all this air of conviviality, nature, biodiversity, native yeasts, freshness, and dialed in deliciousness take away from the fact that Principiano bottles year in and year out an excellent ‘base’ Barolo: his Barolo Serralunga, that’s composed of mostly declassified Barolo fruit from ‘Boscareto,’ and a bit of ‘Lirano’ in Serralunga d’Alba. Two important single cru vineyards we will write more about in the fall: the Barolo ‘Boscareto’ in Serralunga d’Alba, and Barolo ‘Ravera’ in Monforte. ‘Boscareto’ is right next to the famous Cascina Francia vineyard of Roberto Conterno. 

There is a drop or two of a curious high altitude Timorasso form the Alta Langa at 750m. If you enjoy the more herbal and taut, acid-driven fruit side of Timorasso, you’re in for a treat. 

We are excited to have these wines in the PortoVino portfolio. We came to Barolo after being weaned on the wines of Alto Piemonte, so we don’t have the classic ‘Barolo Mouth’ of enjoying big (though mostly balanced) and glycerol-smooth wines. We feel Ferdinando Principiano is walking the line between tradition, natural wines, and a thoughtful aesthetic of elegance that we want to drink some now, and cellar some for later.