Fenocchio Don't Tell Lies (Aug. 7, 2018)

"Excuse me, sir, do you have a minute
to talk about Barolo, our Lord and Savior?"
Nebbiolo is an oddball of a grape. With its inclination towards high alcohol and acidity and gripping tannins - lots of everything, in fact, except for the fruit, which is classy, lithe and supple but never really very forward - it could easily have been a niche wine, like, say, Mourvedre or Baja. Instead, because of the renown of the big Piedmont DOCGs, Barolo and Barbaresco, it has become a household name.

If your household is comprised of substance abusers.

There are good reasons why Piedmont became so famous. In the dark ages of winemaking when growers couldn't consistently get ripe grapes every year, Barolo was probably the biggest boy around (Barbaresco? The biggest girl around?). The Italian market was shallow until the last couple of decades of the 20th century. If you wanted an Italian wine, you either got one of the two B's or went Tuscan (with less consistent results). Then modern-minded winemakers made the American writers prick their ears and suddenly everyone wanted Piedmont in their cellars and wine lists. It didn't hurt that the pastoral lifestyle photographs adorning wine magazine articles added allure.

I'm not quite as sarcastic about Piedmont as I may sound. I do love Nebbiolo and its genetic peers (Freisa). Barbera is a different matter, thank you. Surprisingly, I can actually enjoy Dolcetto. It took me a few years to love Nebbiolo, rather than simple appreciating it, which I always have. What I still haven't fully come to terms with is exactly how much Nebbiolo reflects terroir. To my mind and palate, the tannins and acidity have a tendency to obscure nuances.

Yiftach Lustig, who has been a winemaker at house Fennochio for quite a few years, hosted a tasting of (mostly) 2013 reds from the Giacomo Fencchio house in Barolo. Yiftach is crazy, good crazy, about the concept of terroir in Barolo and he did a great job highlighting the differences between the crus. I came away with a greater understanding of the working marriage of terrior and Nebbiolo. Deja vu: I thought the same thing about the tasting Yiftach gave in 2016

The 2013's are wonderful. I recommend getting one of each. If you need to pare your shopping list, then go for the Villero and the Bussia. Or the Villero and the Cannubi. Maybe the terroir thing does work in Piedmont if I have to struggle with the choices. Contact Eldad Levy for price quotes.

Arneis, 2016

This is a very drinkable white, made from a grape grown nowhere else, with a solid bedrock of minerals and a welcome bitterness. It's an interesting wine but I don't have a good explanation why I never buy any. Mostly because I suspect my family would prefer a different style of quaffers for home use.

Barolo, 2013

This is declassified Bussia (from a lesser section, I'm not sure Barolo has village vineyards per se). Even regular Barolo usually has such complex aromatics and length of palate that my first impression of any given Barolo that it's an overachiever. Until you taste it alongside the crus. My verdict here is that it has a very good price point and will sate any Nebbiolo cravings in the near term while your crus age in the fridge. But it doesn't have the same balance that the crus have.

Cannubi, 2012

The regular Barolo had dusty/tarry aromas with a touch of tea. This is more of the same, more expressive, more complex, and very enticing, with an additional overlay of floral, exotic notes. 

Cannubi, 2013

Similar aromatics but a touch more mute. The palate has much better, fresher structure, deep and packed. 

Castellero, 2013

Compared to the Cannubi, 2013, this has more forest floor, a leaner body (not austere, perhaps I should say lither). I don’t usually buy into stylistic comparisons with Bourgogne, but it’s appropriate here. Marginally shorter than the Cannubi.

Villero, 2013

The aromas are very dusty at the start but clear up to show, as did the Castellero, a Bourgogne like character. Very linear and focused on the palate, but, at the same time, there is a peacock effect as it opens up on the finish.

Bussia, 2013

The most savory and succulent, with less tar and dust. Also, the most obtuse, except for the Riserva, which is almost a study in monolithic opaqueness. 

Bussia, Riserva, 2011

The grapes went through 90 days of maceration.  Still primary, this is the kind of flagship wine where, as you go up the food chain, the wine becomes bigger and not necessarily finer. Time will tell, I suppose.