Why Giacomo Fenocchio is Essential
Looking at a map of Barolo's cru vineyards, it is hard to ignore the biggest puzzle piece of all: Bussia (pronounced BOO-see-uh). This sprawling swath of vines drapes over several slopes through the heart of the appellation — residing officially in the Monforte d'Alba village, but looming large over Barolo and Castiglione Falleto as well. Read a little further and it is easy to get in over your head: Bussia has unofficial subzones and vineyards within vineyards to parse. It has often been said that Bussia is too big for its own good. But for lovers of single-vineyard Barolo, Bussia makes perfect sense with one producer: Giacomo Fenocchio.
This dedicated traditionalist producer has 14 hectares planted to vines, with a significant portion of that located within Bussia, which is basically the winery's backyard. Within sight of the winery are the legendary cru of Cannubi and Villero, as well as Castellero — all of which the Fenocchio family has a presence in. It can be said that Giacomo Fenocchio's specialty is the geographic heart of Barolo, and with that in mind, the wines translate supreme balance of the elements. The Cannubi requires patience, the Villero packs a punch and the Castellero artfully sings. But it is the winery's Riserva called "90 di" from Bussia that could easily be called an emblem of the whole DOCG. Want a sense for Barolo in one single sip? It will willingly apply for the job.
Claudio Fenocchio has shepherded this wonderful winery since 1989, when his father, Giacomo, passed away. He resisted the avant-garde of the time and his long embraced a minimal intervention, "low and slow" approach to maturing his Barolo wines, long before it was fashionable. But the estate is not without new ideas — just check out the "Anima Arancio," a macerated Arneis wine from the heart of Roero. Taken on the whole, Fenocchio's wines are not only some of the best representatives of Italy's most celebrated appellation, they are also sensibly priced. Only the "90 di" tips over the $100 price point.
Monforte d'Alba, Piedmont
Grapes: Nebbiolo, Freisa, Arneis
Appellations/Cru: Barolo DOCG (Bussia, Cannubi, Villero, Castellero), Langhe DOC
American Importer: Skurnik Wines, Vinity
Originally listed: November 2022
Wines to Seek Out
A total of 12 wines are made by Giacomo Fenocchio, with half of the labels falling under the Barolo DOCG: five single-vineyard cru with two of them from Bussia (one being the Riserva) and one blend of plots (a superb value, by the way). Highlights include:
Giacomo Fenocchio Langhe Freisa
Sourced from the upper portion of the Bussia cru, this Freisa clearly illustrates the grape's close kinship with Nebbiolo, while registering something a smidge different: a fuller body. Earthy, savory and smokey aromas lead the fruit on this nose, giving anyone who is familiar with Piedmont and its wines a bullseye signature of where this wine comes from.
Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo
It is so interesting how the normale Barolo is often my favorite. For all the thrills we get teasing out the details of single-vineyard cru expressions, the balance achieved by blending varied plots together is — for me, at least — where it is at. The fact that they are often better priced is an added bonus.
Giacomo Fenocchio's normale is a prime example of this phenomenon. "I have no critique," I wrote in my notes on my latest encounter with these wines, the 2018. Fresh, generous yet deeply complex, it presented a commitment to balance that Barolo increasingly needs as alcohol levels tick upward thanks to climate change. Already the tannins were cotton-like and well integrated, but I imagine this wine could go the distance in the cellar, too.
Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo Castellero
Fenoccio's easiest drinking single-vineyard Barolo comes from Castellero. While this vineyard resides on the Castiglione Falleto-Monforte d'Alba side of the divide, it seems to regularly offer wines more indicative of La Morra and Verduno's grace. This wine bolsters that case, with an elegant palate expression and plenty of lovely aromas to carry the night.
Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo Cannubi
Bussia may be the greatest Barolo cru in terms of size, but Cannubi is often regarded as the greatest in terms of balance, and Fenocchio is among a rare cadre of producers with enough vine rows to make a single-vineyard expression of the great hill. A recent tasting of the 2018 gave me the feeling that this powerhouse wine is meant for the long haul. Let it age!
I will say this: we are likely looking at a future where no Barolo wine from Cannubi will be priced under $100. For now, this wine regularly comes in the $70 ballpark, so snatch up a few while you can.
Giacomo Fenocchio "90 di" Barolo Bussia Riserva
Barolo Riserva wines ought to have grandeur, and Fenocchio's "90 di" from the Bussia cru certainly delivers on that promise. The normale may be my favorite in the portfolio, but this is unquestionably the greatest wine: a scintillating display of not only Barolo's muscle, but its agility and endurance, too. Much of this prowess comes down to process. The name refers to the 90 days in which the cap is submerged, allowing all the rich and earthy detail in the skins of the Nebbiolo to permeate the juice, making it one of the most traditional Barolo wines on the market.
However, it is worth noting how the hallmarks of all of Fenocchio's Barolo wines show up in heightened, beautiful ways in "90 di." If you like your Barolo wines to bear recollections of white truffle and roses, this is the producer (and the wine) for you.