Nascetta, the biggest little grape of Piemonte
- Written by Erika Mantovan
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Once upon a time, there was a small village not far from Alba called Novello. Its fame and fortune came from a red wine made from a grape called Nebbiolo…
Today, this small township is the cradle of another wine, a DOC that may be on its way of becoming the future King of Whites in the Langhe. Not long ago, Novello was known principally for being located in one of the ten Barolo-producing wine zones of the region. Now, thanks to the foundation of the Producers’ Association of Nas-cetta of the Township of Novello (Associazione Produttori di Nas-cetta del Comune di Novello), little else is talked about amongst its eight producer members with such excitement as the rebirth of this historical cultivar with deep roots.
For the producers of Novello, July 4 is an important date for other reasons. On this Friday in 2014, the newly minted Producers’ Association held one of the first conferences focused on the history, characteristics, and prospects of the Nascetta variety for the future. On July 4, they brought this 100% Piemontese semi-aromatic grape back to life.
ANASCETTA, NASCETTA OR NAS-CETTA? – THE ORIGINS OF ITS NAME
The story of this variety began in the 1800s, recorded in town documents that refer to its cultivation in Alba and Mondovì in several parcels of land, called menzioni in Piemontese dialect. It was already well noted for its quality, and was largely sold as grapes in bulk. Later, in 1877, the first findings of the origins of its name appear from the studious Giuseppe of the Counts of Rovasendalo, who defined so-called “Anascetta” as “a very delicate grape and exquisite wine” in his Saga of a Universal Viticulture (Saggio di un’ampelografia universale). The old tome is still conserved today in the libraries of the Department of Arboreal Culture at the University of Turin.
The viticulturist Lorenzo Fantini also mentioned “Anascetta” in 1895, saying that the grape can boast of a “fineness equal to that of Moscato.” His colleague Giovanni Gagna coined today’s name “Nascetta,” saying “it should to be used together with Moscato bianco and Favorita.”
The merit of the grape’s rediscovery goes not to scholars or researchers, but to producers. Elvio Cogno and Savio Daniele of the Winery Le Strette tasted a farmer’s wine made of Nascetta in the 1990s. They immediately understood its quality and fine structure, and began the first timid attempts at vinifying Nascetta in purity. Successive studies by Dr. Anna Scheider confirmed the native origins of the grape as a cultivar related to Grò blanc, native of the Susa Valley.
From the many-layered history of Nascetta and its story of rediscovery, it is clear how this variety warrants thorough study to best determine its unique characteristics and take advantage of its great potential. In addition, it requires a precise legislative framework so that subzones can be readily defined (thinking along the lines of a future DOCG certification), and a specific production discipline. In 2002, Nascetta entered the list of Langhe DOC wines; in 2010, it obtained the recognition of DOC Langhe “Nas-cetta” from the Township of Novello (note the dash is the only difference in the name), whose production is authorized only in the town and using 100% Nascetta grapes.
NOVELLO: ONE TOWN FOR ONE VARIETY
At the beginning of last century in France, there was already talk about the excellent quality of Nascetta. Its prices were actually level with Barolo at the time: two and a half lire. The uniqueness of the variety and of the soil in Novello help to distinguish its technical profile, as well, as can be seen in the research collected by Professor Arnulfo (who seems to be destined for this grape; he was the teacher of many of today’s producers and ambassadors of Nascetta, back when they attended school).
Arnulfo’s analyses demonstrate Novello’s advantageous position for Nascetta. With the variety’s late budding and tendency to be very leafy, the town’s southwestern and southeastern exposure is ideal for the vineyards. A high alcohol content registered over five years is one of the elements that defines Nascetta as a long-lived wine with the capacity to age well. Its malic and tartaric acid are very stable, both further proofs of the wine’s capacity to conserve for a long period of time. Passito versions, or sweet wines made with dried grapes, also age well.
From the geological point of view, studies from Oreste Cavallo show a terrain rich in Sant’Agata marl, a soil type that formed after the tectonic collision of Africa and Europe. This soil is found today to the east of Alba and throughout the Langhe. Novello’s land conformation gives the grape a complex structure and richness of salts. The calcareous-clayey soil, on the other hand, gives a savory and persistent taste with a zing of acidity that is never overpowering.
On the nose, Nascetta grapes are classified as semi-aromatic, according to the research contributions by Dr. Maria Carla Cravero of the Experimental Institute of Enology of Asti. From a comparison done on the wines from Novello and Trezzo Tinello, a higher level of free terpenes and glycosylated norisoprenoids (a compound also found in the Moscato grape) were found from the Nascetta samples. Linalool terpenes were particularly high, a compound in the grape skin that is responsible for the aromatic profile of the Moscato grape.
A final point in favor of this native white variety is its adaptability to diverse styles of vinification. In steel or in wood, Nascetta maintains its unique characteristics, never allowing itself to be overpowered by other grapes. Its flexibility to get along with other grapes well is apparent: 80% of Nascetta wine today is often made with a blend of international grapes Chardonnay or Riesling. And it must be said that the bottles of Nascetta-based wines on international shelves has certainly helped the development and diffusion of it in the world.
The production disciplines allow for cultivation of this variety in other zones when producing Langhe Nascetta DOC. A minimum of 85% Nascetta must be used, together with up to 15% of other authorized white grapes.
Yields are at max 100 quintals per hectare, as opposed to 90 quintals for Langhe Nas-cetta DOC of Novello.
These are irrefutable proofs that this variety deserves a distinguished outlook undertaken with careful attention on the part of wine tasters, many of whom will be faced with this wine for the first time on the international scale. Nas-cetta is most definitely a wine to appreciate, both in its aromatic, robust profile and in Novello itself, where it grows and ages well in its natural habitat.
NAS-CETTA – ITS SUCCESS IS WRITTEN IN THE TERROIR
The future of Nascetta is as bright as its shining, golden reflections in the glass. In Italy, over 1000 different grape varieties exist, yet only about 60% are used for wine; clearly, Nas-cetta has all the right attributes to be classified as its own cru or, even better, as a lieux-dit (a cru subzone). It is ready to be included with the big players of the Langhe.
The secret of this wine’s success lies in the concept of terroirs and monocultivars and the limited perimeter in which it is allowed to be produced, which already classifies the prestigious and exclusive Nas-cetta. This could help it in the future if it ever wants to become a DOCG, whose regulations for this highest of Italian wine certifications are the most narrowly defined in terms of zone of production, bottling, and grapes used.
LANGHE NAS-CETTA OF NOVELLO – TASTING NOTES
Azienda Vinicola Marenco - Langhe Nasc-cetta del Comune di Novello 2013
This family-run, historical winery located in the Langhe produces 1800 bottles of Nas-cetta annually. The color is light straw yellow with spring-green reflections. On the nose, it has aromas of flowers, honey, and chamomile, and after it has a brief moment to breathe, unveils metallic and rocky scents. Its savory freshness is immediately noticeable on the palate, and it has a slightly bitter aftertaste of lime and grapefruit.
Cantine San Silvestro - Langhe Nasc-cetta del Comune di Novello 2013
The Sartirano family has owned this winery since 1871, and today produces 3000 bottles of Nas-cetta a year with grapes cultivated in the zone adjacent the Ghercina Lake. It is a lively straw yellow with light green reflections, and on the nose its profile is marked with juicy, mature, white peach and toasted notes. In the mouth, its acidity and savoriness create a balanced, slow harmony that lingers.
Azienda Agricola Stra - Langhe Nasc-cetta del Comune di Novello 2013
In just six hectares of the Stra winery’s land, the main denominations of Langhe-native wines are produced. For five generations, the winery has sold its authenticity and tradition in its wines, without eschewing modern and technological advances. The Nas-cetta wine’s color is bright straw yellow with light green reflections. A remarkable minerality pervades the nose, with notes of elderberry and mint, and the herbaceous aromas of sage. In the mouth, it is immediately fresh and has an important acidic structure that helps support its great minerality.
Azienda Agricola Vietto - Langhe Nasc-cetta del Comune di Novello 2013
This family-managed and comfortable, homey winery has cultivated Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Nascetta grapes on their 17 hectares since their renovation in 2000. Its bright straw yellow color anticipates its freshness. On the nose, it recalls tropical locations with intense scents of mango and papaya. In the mouth, it is soft and velvety with subtly bitter flavors on the finish.
Azienda Agricola Le Strette - Langhe Nasc-cetta del Comune di Novello 2013
The Strette winery takes its name from its place of origins, amidst a tuff-rich earth. Mauro and Savio Daniele have managed the winery since 1997 and had a hand in the rebirth of this variety in Novello. The wine is a straw yellow with golden reflections. On the nose, it has intense aromas of quince, peach, and banana with scents of white flowers. In the mouth, a minerality whets the palate, and its savoriness gives it a long finish with toasted almond flavor.
Azienda Agricola Cogno - Langhe Nasc-cetta del Comune di Novello 2013
The Cogno family has been a flag bearer for the red Langhe wines Barolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto for four generations. In the 1980s, they turned their attention to the white Nascetta grape, and decided to make a pure Nascetta wine. This Langhe Nas-cetta is aged in steel and has a straw yellow color with golden reflections. The nose is inundated with citrus and grapefruit notes. In the mouth, it is persistent and has a pleasantly bitter aftertaste.
Translated by Diana Zahuranec