Cooking to the Wine: Fontanafredda Barolo and Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms

Fontanafredda Barolo and Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms

There are certain wines that start to call to me once the weather outside turns chilly. Barolo definitely falls into this camp for me.

I think my association with Barolo (or Barbaresco, or any Nebbiolo-based wine) as a sweater weather wine has only been strengthened after having visited the region in the early fall last year. Greg and I spent a few days touring the little mountain villages of Piemonte in September, and the region’s rustic beauty was absolutely enchanting. However, even in early September, when most of the rest of northern Italy was still quite warm, I found myself reaching for a sweater in the evenings more often here than in the other regions we visited. 

View from Tenuta Montanello B&B in Castiglione Falletto.
The view from our room at Tenuta Montanello, our B&B in Castiglione Falletto.

The food here reflects the climate with lots of rich and savory dishes. Partially thanks to the proximity to the French border, you find more butter in use in the cooking here, but it likewise suits the hearty, comforting fare. The region’s truffles are also famous, which play into the warm, earthy palette of flavors. Umami galore!

Nebbiolo, the grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco (i.e. Piedmont’s most celebrated wines, named for the communes they come from), fits in perfectly against this backdrop. It suits the weather and the food perfectly. Nebbiolo tends to produce wines that are high in both tannin and acid, which ideally complements the rich, meaty dishes that are so common here; cutting through the richness with its acidity, tannins smoothing out against the meat.

Moreover, the flavors in the wine tend to mirror the savory qualities of the food. The quintessential description for Nebbiolo is “tar and roses.” Add to this cherries, leather, anise or licorice, earth, mushroom, and herbs. Personally, I also tend to get slightly bitter notes that range from orange peel to quinine. All of these elements smooth out and integrate when you enjoy it as part of a hearty Piemontese meal. In fact, I’d say Nebbiolo feels incomplete without food. It kind of doesn’t taste right unless you have something a little bit rich or fatty to nibble on alongside it.

The grape does have a few drawbacks . . . depending on how you look at it. All that tannin and acidity take a long time to unwind and relax, so many Nebbiolo based wines can be really tight, wound up, and harsh when they’re young. The flipside to this is that many of these wines can age for a lllllllloooooooooooonnnnnnngggggggg ass time. Ten+ years is no problem at all for a good Barolo or Barbaresco, and many can keep on going for decades on top of that. Wines from more modernist producers that age in their wines in new oak barriques will tend to be more supple earlier on. There are also producers playing with techniques or making earlier-drinking Barolos/Barbarescos using non-oak techniques as well.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva 2003 & Lleiroso Rbera del Duero 2009.
We had this Borgogno Barolo Riserva 2003 for a combined birthday celebration last year and it was showing beautifully. It coulda kept on going.

Nebbiolo is also kind of a fussy grape to grow, which contributes to the hefty price tag that accompany Barolo/Barbaresco. It’s also kind of a homebody. It does not like to travel. When it’s grown elsewhere, most of the time, it just doesn’t taste like itself.

So why bother with any of it? Because when Nebbiolo is good, it’s F-ing awesome! When everything comes together, the wines can be sooooooo spectacular; complex wines of contemplation that are also amazing at the table. The tannins and acid smooth out and give way to structured, sculpted wines that can have finishes that go on an on. The wines can broadcast their terroir, along with layer upon layer of flavor.

Also, did I mention truffles? They go so well with truffles.



Fontanafredda Barolo
Note: This wine was sent to me as sample. However, no other monetary compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Greg and I opened the Fontanafredda Barolo 2013 shortly before leaving on our trip to Italy as a “let’s get excited!” treat. It certainly did the trick! We didn’t get to actually visit this winery on our trip, but we did drive by the vineyards several times. The letters F-O-N-T-A-N-A-F-R-E-D-D-A dot the hillside, so there’s no mistaking it. (We did visit several other wineries in Barolo and brought back several bottles, so we can look forward to seeing those in 10 years or so. 😉)

Fontanafredda had a rather romantic beginning. The land was purchased in 1858 purchased by Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy, to produce wine for his personal use. He later registered the entire land parcel under the name of Rosa Vercellana, the king’s mistress with whom the king was madly in love. Rosa later became the king’s wife and was assigned the title of “Countess of Mirafiore and Fontanafredda.”

The property today covers over 122 hectares (301 acres), with 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards. It is quite large, making it all the more impressive that all of the winery’s vineyards will be certified organic starting with the 2019 vintage. Owners Oscar Farinetti and Luca Baffigo Filangieri together with chief winemaker Danilo Drocco have long been committed to sustainability, and they began the process of converting all estate-owned land to organic farming in 2016. As of 2019, they will be the largest certified organic producer (CCPB certified) in Piedmont.

On the day we opened the bottle Greg and I picked up notes of strawberry leather, kirsch, orange skin, pink and red flowers on the nose, along with savory elements of tomato leaves and stems. Anise and clove spice joined in on the palate, along with some dried pomegranate, muted potpuri, and a smattering of herbs and underbrush.

One of the interesting things about Barolo, for me at least, is that while the wines tend to be full in body with a lot of flavor, there is also a sleek element to them that blends delicacy with the rusticity. The “tar and roses” description captures this idea for me. They’re gripping, but perhaps not as heavy in the mouth as one might expect. This one felt even a little lighter in body than most, despite the medium+ alcohol. The wine had medium+ to high acidity, and medium+ tannins that were integrated but grippy. Opening the bottle in advance and letting the wine get some air definitely made a difference. The wine kind of plumped up and rounded out allowing more of the fruit to come forward.

Braised meats and ragùs are pretty classic pairings for Barolo, and that’s pretty much what we were in the mood for. I ultimately decided to braise some short ribs in a mushroom sauce. This is fairly straightforward, but I decided to add a few spices, etc., to try to mirror some of the flavors in the wine: a pinch of clove to play up the light spice in the wine; a smattering of herbs; porcini powder to deepen the earthy flavors; and a pinch of orange peel to reflect that note in the wine. I also decided to experiment with adding a splash of Angostura Bitters, since I found something in the wine reminiscent of this flavor. Typically, you don’t want to mesh a bitter wine with a bitter food as they’ll intensify each other, but the tiny splash used here isn’t really enough to make the sauce actually taste bitter. I figured it was an easy way to add deeper complexity to the sauce, and it does completely blend in, just hanging out in the background. If you don’t have some of these things around, don’t sweat it at all. It’s really not a big deal and the sauce will still be absolutely delicious without them.

I decided to put my slow cooker to work on this while I went about my day. You can absolutely make this in a braising pan or a Dutch oven in your oven as well, or even on your stove top – you’ll just need to add more liquid in the pan with the short ribs. Try doubling the amount of liquid. Alternatively, adding enough liquid so that it comes up about ½ to ¾ the way up the short ribs, is a good starting point. Put in the oven at 350°F for about 2 to 2 ½ hours or until the meat is fall off the bone tender.

Risotto seemed like a good accompaniment, but I was in the mood for a grain with a heartier flavor than rice. Barley came to mind and I happened to find a recipe on Smitten Kitchen that fit what I had in mind; I just swapped out a few ingredients for items I had on hand.

Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms and Barley and Bean Risotto.

This was about as soul satisfying a meal as one could hope for! The combination definitely brought out mushroom and meaty notes in the wine. Greg noted that the aftertaste in the food matched the flavors in the wine seamlessly. He then oh-so eloquently added that the flavor “ascends as acidity [in the wine] carries it through and refreshes the palate.”


If you don’t have the patience or shelf space to wait a decade to drink your bottle, you do have several options.

    •    Get some air in there: Decant – I’ll decant a Barolo/Barbaresco a few hours before I intend to drink it. As oxygen mixes with the wine, the wine will start to open up. The air will take some of the edges off the tannins and acid making the wine feel more supple, and the flavors will begin to integrate. If I’m planning on serving the wine for a nice dinner, I’ll open it up and decant it at lunch. Many wine reps have even told me that they’ll open a bottle a day in advance to have it show at it’s best for sales calls the next day.

    As with everything though, not everyone agrees on decanting. I’ve been told by more than one  wine professional or winemaker that they prefer not to decant, usually because they like to see how the wine evolves. Do as you like! Personally, I’ve had too many bottles that I tore into too quickly, only to have the last sip be leaps and bounds above the rest.

    •    Double it up – Need to speed things up further? (Oh no! You forgot to open the bottle at lunch and your guests are about to arrive!) Try double-decanting the bottle. This is just what it sounds like. Pour the bottle out into one container, then pour it out a second time. If you clean out the first bottle of sediment, you can just pour the wine back into its original bottle.

    •    Meh! Who needs this?! –  Don’t  want to bother waiting or decanting? Look for a Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba. These are more regional appellation, so it’s not as location specific as the wines from a specific commune like Barolo or Barbaresco. However, the wines also don’t need to stick to same long aging requirements as Barolo or Barbaresco (38 and 26 months respectively for the basic versions, 62 and 50 months for the Riservas). Often they’ll be made from the same grapes that go into higher end bottlings, but they’re being made for earlier release. They tend to be fruitier and are ready for drinking much sooner. Roero is another good area to look for. Bonus: These wines are a lot cheaper too!


The winery recommends this wine with big red meat dishes and medium or mature cheeses. Barolo with a simple steak is also pretty freak’n delicious. 

Pietro Rinaldi Monvigliero Barolo 2008 with steak and roasted mushrooms and cauliflower.
Pietro Rinaldi Monvigliero Barolo 2008 with steak and roasted mushrooms and cauliflower.

Wine Folly has a substantial list of pairing suggestions for Nebbiolo, but amongst the most interesting to me is a suggestion to have it with the brown sauces found in Asian cuisine. Noted and will try!

Looking for other wines to pair with this that won’t break the bank? (Believe me, I don’t blame you.) We’ve enjoyed some our leftovers with Dolcetto, another Piedmontese option. Searching out more inexpensive Nebbiolo (see description above in pro tips) options is a good way to go. I think an Etna Rosso from Sicily would also show many of the qualities I was trying to bring out here.

Brunello would be another baller alternative. You should generally have good results with earthy wines from other parts of Italy and Europe. Here are few other recipes paired with Italian reds for inspo: 

Cooking to the Wine: Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile and Spicy Salami Tomato Pasta
Cooking to the Wine: Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico with Italian Meatloaf and Pasta Pomodoro
Cooking to the Wine: Vigneti del Vulture Aglianico del Vulture with Braised Oxtails
Cooking to the Wine: Fontanafredda Barolo and Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms
8 & $20: Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce

8 & $20: Chicken and Spinach Lasagna Rolls



Taken from the tech sheet.

Grape variety: Nebbiolo
Ageing: 2 years in barrel – 12 months in bottle
Vineyard: Fontanafredda Vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba
Aspect: South and southwest.
Soils: Calcareous marl and clay. This plot of land constitutes a border between soils of Helvetian and Tortonian origin. The result is a soil with transitional characteristics, with clayey marls and layers of clayey sand.
Vinification: The vinification process occurs in stainless steel vats at controlled temperatures. At the end of the fermentation, the new wine stays in contact with the grape marcs for about one month. The entire aging process occurs in medium and large oak casks for two years, followed by twelve months in bottles.
Recommended serving temperature: 16–18°C ( approximately 61–64°F)
Alcohol content: 14% vol.



Wine Searcher has the average price for this bottle at $39. While this may seem pricey, it’s pretty standard for an entry level Barolo. (*Sigh.*  The price tags on these wines are lamentable, but it makes sense when you factor in that that finickiness of the grapes and the aging time required.) It’s still a Solid Buy.

Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms and Barley and Bean Risotto.

Slow Cooker Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms and Barley and Cannellini Bean “Risotto"

This is such a cozy dinner, but also perfect for a dinner party. One of the beauties of this dish is that you can prep it in advance, cooking while you go about your day, and it will be waiting for your guests when they arrive.

Short Ribs, Braise, Slow Cooker
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Slow Cooker Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms

I find that the mushrooms really bulk up this dish so that you don’t need quite as much meat per portion. I served one to 2 short ribs per serving, depending on the size of the ribs. In this case, it amounted to a little over 2 pounds, however, you really can add as many will fit in your slow cooker. After our initial dinner, I shredded the meat and mixed it back in with the sauce so that it became more of a ragù. In this form it yielded many more servings than the 6 to 8 listed here. I portioned it into containers to stash away in the freezer.


2 to 2 ½ lbs beef short ribs
2 Tbsp flour, divided, plus an extra as needed to thicken sauce.  (Note: You can also use cornstarch.)
20 oz sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, diced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
⅔ cup carrots, cut into approximately 1 inch chunks
⅓ cup celery, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Splash of balsamic vinegar (approximately 2 Tbsp)
½ cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
6 sprigs of thyme
6 sprigs of parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
2 to 3 bay leaves
Pinch of clove
1 tsp porcini mushroom powder (optional)
1 tsp Angostura bitters (optional)
¼ tsp orange peel (optional)
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed
Cooking oil
1 Tbsp butter, if needed


1. Sprinkle the short ribs liberally with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of flour.

2. Heat a small amount of cooking oil in a large pan or Dutch oven. Once the the oil is hot and shimmering add the short ribs in batches, making sure not crowd the pan. Sear the short ribs well on all sides until a brown crust forms. Transfer the short ribs to a slow cooker (6-quart or larger).

3. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook them until lightly browned. Transfer to the slow cooker.

4. Deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits. Add the onions to the pan, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Add the tomato paste and the remaining tablespoon of flour to the pan, toss, and cook for a couple of minutes to allow the tomato paste to begin to brown. Add the rest of the vegetables and the garlic to the pan, season again with salt and pepper as needed, then continue to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker. As best as possible, try to arrange the vegetables around and beneath the short ribs.

5. Deglaze the pan with more balsamic vinegar or stock, then add the liquid to the slow cooker as well. Add the rest of the stock and the wine to the slow cooker, followed by the rest of the herbs, spices, Angostura bitters, and orange peel. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the short ribs are very tender.

6. Once the shorts ribs are tender, check on the consistency of the liquid. If you’d like to thicken the sauce further, ladle the cooking liquid into a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced to your desired consistency.

Note: You can thicken the sauce more quickly by mixing together a tablespoon of each butter and flour, OR about a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed in cold water (or according to package instructions), and then slowly adding this to the boiling cooking liquid. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the sauce as needed. Add the thickened liquid back into the rest of the short ribs and vegetables.

7. Remove the bay leaves, thyme, and parsley sprigs from the sauce. Serve the short ribs with the the vegetables and sauce spooned on top on a bed of the Barley and White Bean Risotto below, polenta, pasta, or potatoes.


Prep time: 25 minutes
Total cooking time: 9 to 11 hours
Active cooking time: 30 to 40 minutes

You can also make this dish in your oven or on your stove top, you’ll just need to add more liquid in the pan with the short ribs;  try doubling the quantity. Alternatively, adding enough liquid so that it comes up about ½ to ¾ the way up the short ribs is a good rule of thumb. Put it in the oven at 350°F for about 2 to 2 ½ hours or until the meat is fall off the bone tender. If you’re cooking it on a stove top, keep is on gentle heat after bringing it to an initial boil.
Created using The Recipes Generator

Barley, risotto, sides
Yield: 6 to 8

Barley and Cannellini Bean “Risotto”

prep time: 5 minscook time: 50 minstotal time: 55 mins
I adapted this from a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, making adjustments to use ingredients I had on hand and increasing the portions.


10 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or as needed (you can extend a strong stock with water as well)
3- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, butter, or a combination of the two (I like to split it half and half)
2 shallots, finely diced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
½ Tbsp picked thyme
2 cups pearled barley
½ cup white wine (optional)
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
3 to 5  cups chopped kale
1/2 to ⅔ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving. (If you save cheese rinds, this is a great place to use a couple.)
Freshly ground pepper


1. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

2. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil/butter.  Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the shallots begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the barley, thyme, and season with more salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine if using and cook, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Add in the Parmesan cheese rinds if using. Continue adding the stock ½ -1 cup at a time, stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions. Repeat until the barley is al dente and the sauce is thick and creamy sauce, about 35 minutes. (Feel free to add more stock and cook further if you prefer a looser texture.)

4. Stir in the beans with another bit of stock or water. Add the kale and let it wilt, then cook for another until the liquid is absorbed and the kale is tender. Stir in the Parmesan and 2 tablespoons of butter. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If you used cheese rinds, remove them from the pot. Serve at once, with more cheese for topping on the side.

Created using The Recipes Generator

Braised Short Ribs with Mushrooms and Barley and Bean Risotto.
Photo credit on all the Braised Short Rib Pictures to Greg Hudson.


The Italian Food Wine Travel (#ItalianFWT) bloggers are exploring Italian Wines for Cold Winter Nights.  Here's the line-up:

Additional resources used for this post and articles for suggested reading:
The Oxford Companion to Wine, via

Oz Clarke: Grapes & Wines: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours
The Charms of Lesser Nebbiolo Wines,
The Washington Posts
Fontanafredda named “European Winery of the Year,”
Palm Bay Imports



  1. Wonderful article. I don't think I have ever had a bottle of wine for 10 yrs. I can never hold out that long.

  2. What a great cold weather pairing! Not that I'd turn down a good Barolo in the summer, but it definitely seems like it's meant for the winter / fall weather.

    1. Completely agreed! But yes, I can't really turn it down in warmer weather either!

  3. Those short ribs look fabulous. Was just thinking its about that time to make these. And I LOVE nebbiolo as well ; )

    1. Thanks Jennifer! Let me know how if you make them and how they turn out.

  4. Nicole I always enjoy your food and wine pairings. I feel like I am in the kitchen with you and at your table enjoying the dinner and wine.

    1. Thanks Jane! That's about as perfect a compliment as I can imagine.


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!