Originally a subzone of Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Nizza was recognized with its own DOCG in 2014. Located in Piemonte, in the province of Asti, northeast of Alba, Nizza Monferrato is known as the historical heart of Barbera. The exceptional microclimate of cool nights, sunny days and moderate rain along with hillside vineyards of marine soils provide the ideal place for cultivating the heat loving Barbera.
What sets Nizza apart from Asti or Alba Barbera?
Although by volume, Barbera is the most widely grown grape in Piemonte, the focus of the area is predominately on Barolo and Barbaresco. The Nizza DOCG allows the winemakers to solely focus on Barbera production. Just around 50 in number, winemakers in Nizza have formed a close alliance, working together with the goal of allowing Barbera to express the elegance and terroir of Nizza. Nearly all of the wineries [90%] are family companies, and impressively, all of the producers meet DOCG standards, furthering the quality and individuality of the region.
Collectively, the winemakers decided on particular cultivation methods to allow Barbera’s personality to shine:
1. Green harvest; the process of removing certain grape bunches. The winemaking panel stated this “changed it all”, encouraging better concentration and ripeness.
2. Low yields and low production, quality, not quantity is the focus.
3. “Identity of terroir, not power”. Rather than obscuring the inherent traits of the grape, allow Barbera to express its character along with the place it’s from.
What’s in the bottle?
1. 100% Barbera [a notable difference from Barbera d’Asti DOCG which is 90% Barbera].
2. Vineyards must be southwest to southeast facing on hilly sites.
3. Minimum of 18 months ageing, with 6 months in wood. The ‘Riserva’ has a minimum of 30 months ageing, with 12 months in wood.
4. Minimum alcohol of 13%, 13.5% if a vigna [vineyard name] is included on the label.
During the Discover Nizza DOCG master class, held at Del Posto in NYC, the attending winemakers referred to Nizza Barbera as “exuberant and fun to drink”, either young or with age. To that end, we tasted the 2016 and 2011 vintages, a fantastic way to experience the individuality and expressions of Barbera. Below are my favorites of the tasting, with the 2 vintages from each producer paired to clearly see the development and multi-faceted characteristics of the grape.
1. The elevated alcohol content of the newer vintages [they tend to hover around 15%], yes climate change is responsible. With a heat loving grape such as Barbera, the hotter temperature will keep the alcohol soaring. Thankfully the natural high level of acidity can keep the wines balanced.
2. A long and consistent growing season, 2016 is considered as “spectacular”.
3. Hot and dry, 2011 saw an earlier harvest, with wines juicy and lush.
Michele Chiarlo ‘La Court’ Nizza Riserva DOCG 2016
As Stefano Chiarlo stated, “the balance of wine has to come naturally”. As I find with all Chiarlo wines, these are elegant, rich and well balanced.
Winemaking: Depending on the vintage; 50% is aged in casks, 50% in large barrels for 1 year, followed by 18 months in the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Blackberry, red currant, coriander, white pepper, earth and summer woods glide atop silky tannins and fresh acidity. Creamy chocolate accents the nutty finish.
Michele Chiarlo ‘La Court’ Nizza Superiore Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2011
Winemaking: 50% is aged in French barriques, 50% in large barrels for 1 year, followed by a minimum of 20 months in the bottle before release.
Tasting Notes: A silky synthesis of plum, blackberry and pepper, with supple tannins and fresh acidity. Smoky earth, espresso and eucalyptus linger on the spicy finish.
Bersano ‘S. Generala’ Nizza Riserva DOCG 2016
Sales Director for Bersano, Dr. Paolo Lovisolo observed that Nizza Barbara is a “wine of the soil and microclimate”.
Winemaking: 20% is aged in 56HL oak casks, 80% in 500L French tonneaux, followed by 12 months in the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Red and black fruits are accented by roasted chipotle pepper and velvety tannins. Chocolate, hazelnut, summer woods and a trace of licorice linger between each plush sip. Refined and approachable.
Bersano ‘S. Generala’ Nizza Superiore Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2011
Winemaking: 20% is aged in 56HL oak casks, 80% in French barriques for 12 months, followed by 6 months in the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Black currant, baked plum, baking spice, pie crust, licorice and tobacco are framed by firm tannins and bright acidity. Chocolate ganache and crushed black peppercorn accent the black cherry finish. Silky and well balanced.
Coppo ‘Pomorosso’ Nizza DOCG 2016
Winemaking: Aged for 14 months in oak barrels.
Tasting Notes: A selection of grapes from different vineyards, this is an accessible, fruit driven expression of Barbera. Vanilla, wildflowers, white pepper and silky tannins fuse with the juicy berry fruits, chocolate and cigar box spice linger on the supple finish.
Coppo ‘Pomorosso’ Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2011
Winemaking: Aged for 14 months in French oak barrels.
Tasting Notes: Concentrated layers of berries, spice, earth and vanilla glide over silky tannins, spice and earthy minerality linger on the plush finish. Intense and well balanced.
L’armangia ‘Titon’ Nizza DOCG 2016
Winemaking: Aged in large oak barrels.
Tasting Notes: Zippy red currant, pomegranate and wild berries fuse with solid tannins, smoky earth, dried flowers and bramble on the lengthy finish. Rustic and vivacious.
L’armangia ‘Vignali’ Nizza Superiore Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2011
Winemaking: Aged in small barrels for 11-13 months, then 10-12 months in large casks, followed by 18-36 months in the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Juicy cherry, strawberry and blackberry are complimented with licorice, white pepper and a trace of smoky earth. Silky tannins join red berries, vanilla and chocolate on the sleek finish. Fruity and friendly.
Tenuta Olim Bauda Nizza DOCG 2016
Winemaking: Aged for 30 months in 25HL French oak barrels.
Tasting Notes: Plump fruit is the star, complimented by crushed black peppercorn, fresh acidity and velvety tannins. Wild berries and chocolate linger on the silky finish. Voluptuous and refined.
Tenuta Olim Bauda Nizza Superiore Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2011
Winemaking: Aged for 30 months in French oak barrels.
Tasting Notes: Very fruity, with black cherry, pomegranate and cherry framed by silky, firm tannins and fresh acidity. Pie crust, mocha and a streak of toasty oak linger between each sip. Harmonious and cozy.
Media event presented by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti and Vini del Monferrato.