What in the World is Nascetta?

Just after the New Year, I discovered via Twitter a blog post on the Rivetto web site. It centered on a white grape variety named Nascetta. Despite all my time working with and writing about Italian wine, I’d never heard of it. I set off straight away to remedy that. A few tweets later, I made contact with Enrico Rivetto, who runs the estate today. So began my acquaintance with Nascetta.

The producers I exchanged emails with estimate there are seven to ten producers currently making Nascetta. I’ve tasted four from the 2010 vintage, which is at least or almost half of the potentially existing bottlings. I tracked down and purchased the three currently available in the New York City market, and Enrico kindly shipped his bottling from Piemonte.

Before popping the corks, I sought out some background on this mysterious grape. I rustled up very close to nothing. I flipped through the Oxford Companion to WineBarolo to Valpolicella, Wines of Italy (Burton Anderson)Italian Wine for DummiesVino ItalianoLuca Maroni’s Guida dei Vini Italiani…nothing. Three or four recent blog posts turned up with mentions of Nascetta, but they focused mainly on the tasting experience. I was collecting bottles for my own tasting, so I was seeking different information. Enrico was very helpful with answers as was Valter Fissore, winemaker at Elvio Cogno.  Sergio Germano from Ettore Germano and Marco Capra from Marco Capra (formerly SanMarco) also chimed in. Here is what I learned from them.

  • From where did Nascetta originally come?

    • Nascetta is the only white vine native to Langhe. Arneis is indigenous to Roero and Cortese comes from Alessandria.

    • Nascetta was a premier Piemontese grape in the mid-1800s grown entirely within the confines of the Langhe Hills and more specifically in the commune of Novello. Most of the historical information available on the grape comes from the ampelographer Lorenzo Fantini. Fantini wrote an entire section entitled “Anascetta”, the name for the grape in the Piemontese dialect, in his 1879 Monograph on Wine Production and Oenology in the Province of Cuneo.

    • Nascetta was originally made as a sweet wine, and Fantini compared it to the great Rheingau whites from Schloss Johannisberg.

  • When was it “lost”? Was it not replanted after phylloxera?

    • Nascetta was replanted after phylloxera but only in a few parcels. It is a delicate and sensitive grape with low yields. Hence, it is very expensive to produce. During the two World Wars, it virtually disappeared.

  • Where did producers find new plant stock?

    • The University of Torino cultivates indigenous vines, and Rivetto and Cogno sourced their Nascetta rootstock there. Enrico believes the material came from old vineyards in Novello, where Sergio Germano sourced his plant material.

  • What are the growing season characteristics of Nascetta and what soils does it prefer?

    • The vines bud in mid-June and are harvested from the middle to end of September. The yields are incredibly low; Rivetto harvests only a cluster per branch!

    • Sand and limestone seem well-liked by Nascetta. All producers list one or both amongst their Nascetta soil types.

  • What is the most interesting way to vinify Nascetta: in stainless steel, cement or barrel?

    • Valter has the most years of experimentation under his belt having re-discovered the variety; he first tasted Nascetta in 1991 and has been vinifying Nascetta from his own plantings since 1994. Currently, about 30% of the wine is vinified in large, neutral barrels to enhance the wine’s structure and to increase complexity via autolysis by a long exposure to the lees. The rest of the wine is vinified and aged in stainless steel.

    • Sergio likes skin contact to enhance the varietal aromatics of his Nascetta. He destems the clusters then allows the skins and juice to sit at cool temperatures for 24 hours prior to fermentation in stainless steel. For the first four to five days of fermentation, the juice continues to macerate with the skins. The wine is matured six months in stainless steel and does not undergo malolactic fermentation.

    • Azienda Agricola SanMarco and Rivetto also use skin contact prior to gentle pressing and fermentation.

  • How long can a Nascetta from a good vintage age?

    • Enrico and his winemaking team have only made four vintages of Nascetta, so he is not yet certain how long his wines may age. However, he feels confident the wines should be able to age five to ten years.

With this information in mind, here are my notes in the order in which I tasted the wines.

Ettore Germano 2010 Nascetta Langhe Bianco 12.5%

The Ettore Germano proved an elegant – if serious - introduction to the Nascetta variety. The fragrance was so restrained that I perceived the wine as a bit stubborn. The color was straw yellow with golden reflections, and the flavors ranged from sage and rosemary to citrus fruits, pineapple and honey. By the time I poured a second glass, I wondered if a Burgundy-shaped bottle might be more reflective of the wine’s style than its Bordeaux-shaped vessel.

Elvio Cogno 2010 Nascetta Anas-cëtta Langhe Bianco 13% 

Interestingly, this wine was packaged in a Burgundy bottle. Despite the fact its lightly oily texture reminded me of Alsace Riesling, this variety certainly wouldn’t make sense in a fluted bottle. Its moderately forward aromas included dried sage, bay leaf, straw, petrol and shriveling yellow plum. Its unusual gauze-like texture was pleasantly distinctive. The finish was quite dry. In fact, it was so dry it produced a mildly tannic sensation. The very moderate alcohol kept the wine lean and seemed to boost its medium plus acidity. Nonetheless, the light oiliness gave the impression of broadness across the palate.

Rivetto 2010 Nascetta Langhe Matiré 13%

This wine exhibited what the two prior seemed to be trying to show. This Nascetta possessed a quiet grandeur that made me think of white Burgundy. (It is packaged in a Burgundy bottle.) The nose was open, floral and faintly reminiscent of an almond croissant. Lightly glossy in texture, the mid-palate is fairly dense and lightly leesy. The acidity was lively, and the finish was long. Quite long…and complex. It finished with a minerality chaser. I would love to taste this wine in 5 years, and I’d love to see how five years of additional vine age in this vineyard will show up in a young wine. Compelling.

Azienda Agricola SanMarco 2010 Nascetta Langhe Bianco 13%

This wine was straw in color and the most aromatic of the bunch. Dried apricot, golden apple, white flower appeared on the nose and followed to the palate. The light and pleasant viscosity softened the fresh acidity. The length was medium…no more. This should drink now to two years and is the most open of the four wines.

After conducting my tastings, I gathered opinions on the organoleptic aspects of this variety. Rivetto’s wine consultant Sergio Molino stated that the Rivetto Nascetta unites “the aromatic nature of Sauvignon, the evolved notes of Moscato and the herbaceous character of Riesling.” This makes Nascetta sound like an aromatic variety. However, I found it to be solidly semi-aromatic. All the wines showed floral top notes, but none were as ornate as Muscat or Gewurztraminer. Valter discussed the transformation of the wine’s aromatics during the first three to four years in bottle. He remarked via email, “…the wine transforms from Mediterranean scents with herbal notes to mineral scents more akin to Riesling and Viognier.” Valter has tasted ten-year-old Nascetta that were evolving to benefit and gaining layers of complexity.

Interestingly, Valter wrote to me that Nascetta “is pronounced in aromas but only moderate in acidity”.  I found these 2010s quite lively; hence, I presume the diversion is due to the cold, rainy 2010 vintage that retained the grapes’ acidity.

All of these producers expressed great pride in being part of the campaign to resuscitate Nascetta. Neither Sergio nor Valter wanted to produce Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, as some of their neighbors do. The road to recognition has been long. In 1994, Valter was fined for putting “Nascetta” on his label. Nascetta was not authorized and would not be so for another six years. In 2004, Nascetta wines were allowed to be labeled Langhe Bianco DOC. Finally, with the 2010 vintage, the authorities permitted the new designation Langhe Nascetta di Novello DOC.

I’ve certainly never encountered a variety like this. Priced between $22-$28, the wines deliver fair value. Considering the small quantities produced (for example: Cogno 14,000, Rivetto 4,000 and Germano 3,000), I’m surprised they were priced so gently. The 2010s I tasted are far too young though they are lovely. However, they are bursting with potential. I must seek out some older bottlings. Time to book a plane ticket to Piemonte!