Back in November 2021 (!), I attended a media tasting with producers and wines of Piedmont’s Langhe DOC Nas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello. These are basically the coolest Italian white wines that you (almost certainly) aren’t (yet) drinking.
This is yet another unsung grape that appears to be native to Italy’s Piedmont. The first written testimonies of Nas-Cëtta (or “Anascetta”) date back to 1877, when scholar Giuseppe dei Conti di Rovasenda in his Essay on universal ampelography, called it “a very delicate grape and exquisite wine.” A bit later, In 1879, Lorenzo Fantini in the Monograph on Viticulture and Oenology in the Province of Cuneo, linked it to the small comune of Novello, definig it as “almost exclusively produced in the Novello area” and whose “goodness is due solely to nature that provides exquisite grapes.”
So, of course, it almost disappeared into obscure oblivion within a century. First, Phylloxera all but wiped it out, then production tanked with the poverty that followed WWII. Then, Nebbiolo took off as the guaranteed cash-cow wine grape (which also happened to be a lot hardier than the relatively fragile and pain-in-the-ass Nascetta, which no one was particularly interested in farming). By the 1990s, the situation was dire enough to inspire a revitalization effort, first by Professor Armando Gambera and then by Elvio Cogno (who acquired grapes from the two oldest vineyards in Novello, dating back to 1948 – one of which still exists in Pasinot, now owned by Le Strette). As Valter Fissore (of Elvio Cogno & the Association President) put it, “It’s quite challenging to start producing a white wine from an unknown grape variety” in the very heart of Barolo’s production area.
Thankfully, however, that’s exactly what the intrepid producers of Nascetta are attempting to do. It’s a labor of love for a grape that is disease-prone, and characterized by limited vigor, low productivity, and even lower fertility. As Savio Deniele (of Le Strette) put it, “Nascetta is something particular” (which is what Italians use to say it’s unique/special, but the more Americanized connotation of it being eccentric/odd applies just as fittingly).
This winery is most known for its Barolo, and Nacetta is the only white wine that they make. “We strive to find the purity… of this variety,” noted Rivera’s Gabriele Oderda. The first vintage was in 2016. This white sees extended time on the lees. It’s immediately lovable on the nose, with perfume, white flowers, brioche, and citrus action. The flavor profile is more citrus than apricot, and comes off quite Riesling-esque. Deep, mineral, and fresh, it was affection-at-first-sniff for me.
As per Cogno’s Valter Fissore: “I have a lot of harvests [of Nascetta], behind me. I spent a great effort to save this grape. I have seen the beautiful evolution of this wine.” These guys have experimented on the best production methods for Nacetta more than just about anyone else. With spice and mineral notes, a heady nose, delicate herbal tinges, and pepper hints, there’s much here to keep the intellectual stimulation going. Flavors of just-ripe exotic fruits and tropical fruits abound. The palate is alive/electric/exciting. If you love N. Italian whites, you need to find this one.
Savio Deniele co-founded Le Strette with his brother, and his mother-in-law is one of their grape suppliers. They began selling Nascetta in 1999, and now produce two labels (including a single vineyard cru from the region’s oldest vineyard). With all of the peach and apricot this one throws around, it feels almost like a (really good) Chardonnay. Wonderful concentration awaits on the palate, which is broad but still lively. It has deep structural appeal as well (Nascetta being relatively high in tannin). Probably the Nascetta to use to convert the weary.
Stra has a mere 1 hectare of Nascetta plantings, but are betting on the increased passion behind the variety. Smoky mineral notes kick things off, followed by exotic stone and tropical fruit aromas. There is gorgeous transparency to the palate freshness, and the spiciness lingers on a long finish with ginger hints dutifully picking up the rear.
This family producer started making Nascetta in 2018, and uses only stainless steel in its production. Owner Luca initially felt that he “did not have the patience” to make a good Nascetta. He was wrong. Along with the cutest label maybe ever, this steely, fresh white exudes apricot and wet stone notes, feels alive in the mouth, and flaunts its citrus and apple skin flavors on a structured palate that’s long and very well put-together.
This rendition of Nascetta spend 4 months in barrique, possibly explaining its almost effortlessly smooth palate feel. A gorgeously heady, lifted nose brings toast, citrus pith, and spiced apricot. All the while, the Nascetta fingerprints of freshness and classy structure are evident.
Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
This is another heavily Piedmont-driven week, as I share notes on a boatload of Piedmont wines that showed up recently thanks to a consortium of wineries interested in showing off some of the lesser-known wines of the region. I spent some time last week talking a bit about the white wines from Piedmont and telling the stories of some of the more obscure varieties that are making a comeback thanks to the concerted efforts of dedicated winegrowers. Interestingly, some of these winemakers believe that these rarified native varieties may be less susceptible to the stresses and volatility of climate change.
I’ve got a few more examples of these wines to share this week, including an Arneis from Agricola Morrone, a lovely example of the rare Nascetta grape from Daniele Conterno, and two very interesting and very different renditions of Cortese from producer La Mesma. Their “Indi” bottling is a single-vineyard parcel that is literally right outside the window of Paola Rosina’s window. Its nutrient-poor, limestone-rich soils give a different character to the wine (what I might characterize as a tension). It is made using the pied-de-cuve method of fermentation, in which a bucket of grapes is crushed in the vineyard and allowed to start fermenting spontaneously with ambient yeasts, and then this bucket of frothing ferment is added to a larger vat in the winery.
Light-bodied red wines are having something of a “moment” in the wine world today. Easily mistaken for darker-than-usual rosés, these wines tend to feature high acidity and can sometimes benefit from a slight chilling before drinking.
Words like crunchy, smashable, and glou-glou all get applied to such wines these days, and all three would describe a well-made Grignolino, such as the one I’ve got notes on below from Gaudio Bricco Mondalino. The Gaudio family has been farming in the Monferrato region for many generations, with 45 prime, hilltop acres that give the winery its name (bricco meaning hilltop in the local Piemontese dialect). Dedicated to native grape varieties as well as working almost exclusively by hand, the family eschews the use of mechanized farm equipment, an environmentally-focused philosophy that has developed since the winery formally incorporated in 1973. Their top-tier Grignolino from the crest of their hill is among the very best interpretations of the variety I’ve had.
A couple of months ago, I got my first taste of the grape Ruché, an extremely aromatic red variety from the Monferrato region of Piedmont thanks to some rather random samples. I received a couple more bottles as part of this big tranche of Piedmont wines, including this week’s bottle from Scarpa winery. In order to label a wine as Ruché di Monferrato the wine must be grown within the specific appellation boundaries surrounding the town of Castagnole Monferrato. If the grapes are grown outside those boundaries, the wine cannot carry the Ruché name (even though that is the name of the grape) and must instead be labeled Monferrato Rosso, as is the case with this wine. But rest assured, this wine still has the soaring floral aromatics that the grape delivers while also having admirably restrained alcohol levels (Ruché can easily get into the high 15% range when it gets fully ripe).
A bunch of samples from Piedmont wouldn’t be complete, of course, without a few Barolos* thrown into the mix, and I’ve got two to offer you this week, one from Marrone, with somewhat typical tarry notes, and the other from Daniele Conterno, which needs a couple more years of bottle age before it will truly show its stuff. (*As an aside, I think the Piedmontese would say the plural of Barolo is “Barolo,” not unlike Bordeaux).
Lastly, I’ve got three more wines from field-blend specialist Acorn Winery to recommend. Their Zinfandel is a wonderfully honest and jubilant interpretation of the form, and their Cab Franc and Syrah both satisfy as well.
Notes on all these below.
2019 Agricola Gianpiero Marrone “Tre Fie” Arneis, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of wet pavement, white flowers, and star fruit. In the mouth, flavors of star fruit, green apple, and white flowers have a silky texture and decent, but not particularly brisk acidity. Pleasurable, but missing some zing. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2020 Daniele Conterno Nascetta, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, cut green grass, and a touch of green melon. In the mouth, finger lime and star fruit flavors mix with white flowers and a faint saline quality that helps with the mouthwatering quality to the wine. Very distinctive and quite interesting. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.
2017 La Mesma “Riserva” Cortese, Gavi, Piedmont, Italy Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lime zest, chopped herbs, and a hint of pine resin. In the mouth, brisk lime and herb flavors mix with a lightly bitter lime pith and dusty earth quality. With two more years in the bottle, this wine is much more savory than the standard bottling, with more of a mineral undertone. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19.
2019 La Mesma “Indi” Cortese, Gavi del Comune di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy Palest gold in the glass, nearly colorless, this wine smells of green apples and dried herbs. In the mouth, electrically bright green apple and dried sage flavors have a wonderful salinity to them that makes the mouth positively water. Quite juicy and fresh. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Gaudio Bricco Mondalino Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese, Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy Pale ruby in color with orange highlights, this wine smells of strawberry jam and fresh flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously bright strawberry and herbal notes are boisterous and zippy thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderful chopped herbs and berry notes linger for a long time in the finish with the barest wisp of tannins. Fantastically refreshing. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2017 Scarpa “Rouchet” Monferrato Rosso, Piedmont, Italy A brilliant light garnet in color, this wine smells of grape soda, roses, and other flowers. In the mouth, the wine is bright and juicy with a sour cherry and grape SweetTart brightness, all suffused with floral notes. Excellent, even a little sharp, acidity. Faintest of tannins. Made from the Ruché grape, but since this vineyard lies outside the Ruche di Monferrato region, it must simply be labeled as a Monferrato Rosso. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $44.
2015 Agricola Gianpiero Marrone Barolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of road tar and salted licorice. In the mouth, dried cherry and dried strawberry fruit is wrapped in a thick fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity with notes of herbs and dusty earth lingering in the finish as the tannins gain heft and strength. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $59. click to buy.
2016 Daniele Conterno “Panerole” Barolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and potting soil and a touch of smoke. In the mouth, muscular tannins grasp a core of strawberry and smoke, earth and dried herbs quite tightly, gripping the palate for a long while as notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Needs 5 years easily. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Heritage Vines” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley Sonoma, California Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and freshly ground black pepper. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and licorice flavors have excellent bounce thanks to great acidity. Licorice and berry pie linger in the finish along with barely perceptible tannins. 14.4% alcohol. 224 cases made Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Alegria Vineyards” Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley Sonoma, California Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, plum, and a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully savory flavors of black plum and sour cherry have a hint of leather, black olive, and licorice to them. Faint dusty tannins wrap around the core of the wine which has a mouthwatering tang, thanks to excellent acidity. A deep wet-earth quality lingers in the finish. Despite being labeled Cabernet Franc, this is actually a field blend of 92% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. Ages for 18 months in old oak barrels. The Cabernet Franc was planted in 1991, back when few were producing the grape in California. 13.3% alcohol. 219 cases made Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Axiom – Alegria Vineyards” Syrah, Russian River Valley Sonoma, California Dark garnet with bright purple highlights, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors are smooth and stony, with a gauzy tannic texture to them. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh, while dark, earthy savory notes blend perfectly with the blackberry fruit and a hint of wet chalkboard. Contains 2% co-fermented Viognier. Ages for 15 months in a combination of French and Hungarian oak. 14.2% alcohol. 229 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
Let’s start this week with what wine writer Matt Kramer has called the most reliable wine in the world: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I agree with him. If you pay $15 to $25 for a New Zealand “Savvy,” 99% of the time you are going to get a delicious wine that tastes the way you expect it to. It’s hard to say that about any other single “type” of wine in the world. The stuff ain’t profound, but it’s damn tasty. This week I’ve got a pitch-perfect rendition of the form from Allan Scott. At $12 a bottle, what’s not to love?
And now we can move into the slightly more unexpected realm of white wines with the 4 pale crown jewels in Piedmont’s ruby-studded reputation. Yes, there are white wines made in Piedmont, and some of them are damn special. Piedmont has been going through something of a white wine renaissance in recent years, as producers work hard to revive traditions that very nearly were lost forever.
Our first wine serves as the prime example. At one point there were a mere dozen or so rows of Nascetta in a single vineyard, but winegrower Elvio Cogno rediscovered the variety 20 years ago and began to expand plantings with the goal of finding out the potential of this all-but-unknown variety. Now 12 producers in Piedmont make it, including Gregorio Gitti, who has decided to try planting the grape at higher elevations in order to retain a bit more acidity, which apparently can disappear fast under the wrong conditions. While Gitti and his Castello di Perno bottling may not have yet reached the apogee of what Nascetta has to offer, the wine is very good, and the opportunity to drink a bit of forgotten history should not be missed.
In some ways, Nascetta is about 10 years behind Timorasso, which has a similar tale of rediscovery, but now is a somewhat poorly kept secret in Piedmont. The best examples of this semi-aromatic variety can be truly delicious and distinctive, and two of the best examples come from La Colombera, often called the “Queen of Timorasso” thanks to Elisa Semino who has spent 20 years dedicated to the grape along with her father Piercarlo. The one I have for you today is their single-vineyard “Il Montino” Timorasso, which grows at about 900 feet of elevation and is full of tropical fruits and brisk with bright acidity and salinity.
The two better-known white grapes of Piedmont are Cortese (made famous by the town of Gavi whose name has become almost shorthand for the wine), and Arneis, which has been made for a long time by a lot of Barbaresco producers in Roero. La Colombera also makes a really lovely Cortese and producer Malvirá has one of the better interpretations of Roero Arneis I have had in some time. Arneis can sometimes be an austere grape, so it’s fantastic when someone makes it as wonderfully balanced as this one is.
So while we’re in Piedmont let’s dally a bit with some reds as well, shall we? I’ve got four extremely different incarnations of Nebbiolo to share with you, all of which are distinctive and worthy of attention.
Let’s start with some northerly interpretations of Nebbiolo from Travaglini, which is the most prominent name in the northern parts of Piedmont. The family has been farming wine grapes in this region for four generations, and have been landholders since the 9th century. They farm 149 acres of vineyards in the foothills of the rocky Monte Rosa mountains. Their bottling of Gattinara is famous for both its quality and its distinctive curvy, asymmetrical glass bottle, which is molded from a 1958 design created by third-generation proprietor Giancarlo Travaglini.
Travaglini also makes some wine from one of the newer sub-regions of Piedmont, the Costa della Sesia, which is in the northwest of the region and shares some of the crunchy, more mineral qualities that can be found in the Gattinara bottling.
In addition to these two worthies, I have notes on a Barolo from Gregorio Gitti and a reserve Nebbiolo from Malvirá, both of which will please anyone looking for the classical complexities of the grape.
After spending a while dallying in Piedmont, I couldn’t think of a better transition back to California than the wonderfully brisk interpretation of Dolcetto from Acorn Winery just south of Healdsburg in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. This tiny producer run by husband-and-wife team Bill and Betsy Nachbauer has long focused on heritage field blends that resemble the wines that were made in California more than a century ago by the immigrants who first planted grapes in California. Their Dolcetto is brisk and crunchy and offers a lovely balance between savory notes and bright fresh fruit.
The real stars of the Acorn portfolio, however, are its old-vine heritage bottlings, of which the Medley and Acorn Hill are both excellent examples. The Medley is a full-on “Mixed Blacks” field blend with several dozen grape varieties all planted together and fermented together. The Acorn Hill is a bottling from a specific hillside right behind the winery, and while it has fewer grape varieties than the Medley, has a poise and balance that is just remarkable. These are unique wines of a type that few make any longer, and are very worthy of your attention. Bill and Betsy are also the kind of tiny family-run operation that, too, has become scarce in Sonoma County.
2020 Allan Scott Family Winemakers Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand Pale gold with a hint of green, this wine smells of cut grass, gooseberries and green apple. In the mouth, zippy green apple and gooseberry flavors have a nice electric green acidity to them, with margarita lime and passionfruit flavors lingering in a mouthwatering finish. Classic New Zealand “Savvy” profile. Crisp, delicious, and what you expect. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2018 Gregorio Gitti Castello di Perno Nascetta, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of struck match and candied lime. In the mouth, slightly sappy green apple and star fruit flavors mix with lime zest and a touch of pomelo. There’s a slightly oxidative quality to this wine. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.
2018 La Colombera “Il Montino” Timorasso, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmont, Italy Pale gold in color, this wine smells of struck match, unripe mango, and a sort of resinous floral note that is hard to pin down. In the mouth, bright lemony papaya and saffron and a hint of melon flavors are juicy with fantastic acidity, especially for this variety. A silky texture gives way to a lightly mineral dustiness in the finish. Quite compelling. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2019 La Colombera “Bricco Bartolomeo” Cortese, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmont, Italy Pale gold in color, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and lemonade. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon curd and grapefruit have a bright freshness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of toasty nuttiness to this wine and a wonderfully saline finish. Quite tasty. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2019 Malivirà “Renesio” Roero Arneis, Roero, Alba, Piedmont, Italy Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cream, white flowers, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, wonderfully bright lemon pith mixes with white flowers and a deep stony minerality. Gorgeous acidity makes the mouth water as a faint saline and green apple note lingers with the margarita lime in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2017 Travaglini Gattinara, Northern Piedmont, Italy Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of smoky dried flowers and strawberries. In the mouth, bright strawberry, rhubarb, and earth flavors have a wonderfully bright juiciness. Powdery tannins flex their muscles as the wine moves across the palate, but there’s a really nice suppleness to this wine and a freshness thanks to excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2018 Travaglini Nebbiolo, Coste Della Sesia, Northern Piedmont, Italy Light ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries, wet pavement, and citrus peel. In the mouth, fresh and bright strawberry fruit mixes with chopped herbs and a touch of licorice. Faint tacky tannins back up the very fresh juicy acidity. Easy to drink and quite delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2016 Gregorio Gitti Castello di Perno “Castelletto” Barolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Light to medium ruby in the glass with orange highlights, this wine smells of strawberry and cherry fruit, a touch of woodsmoke, and crushed dried sage and other herbs. In the mouth, bright raspberry and sour cherry flavors are juicy and mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. Burnt orange peel and dried herbs emerge towards the finish, as lightly muscular tannins flex and squeeze. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2009 Malivirà “Riserva Trinità” Nebbiolo, Roero, Alba, Piedmont, Italy Light ruby with significant brick color encroaching from the edges, this wine smells of strawberry jam and bacon fat. In the mouth, strawberry fruit still has some primary character, but notes of dried strawberry, as well as mixed dried herbs, are the dominant quality on the palate. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh as thyme and oregano linger in the finish. Fleecy tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Alegria Vineyards” Dolcetto, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberries and leather with a hint of citrus peel. In the mouth, smooth, fresh flavors of boysenberry, black cherry, cola and citrus peel are wrapped in a very soft suede blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps this wine quite brisk and delicious, adding an herbal tinge to the dark fruit. Contains 3% Barbera and 3% Freisa. Ages for 18 months in a combination of French and Hungarian barrels, mostly used. 13.5% alcohol. 153 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Medley – Alegria Vineyards” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberries, woodsmoke, cherries, and cedar. In the mouth, juicy blackberry, cherry, and strawberry flavors swirl under a fleecy blanket of tannins. There’s a hint of cedar and incense that lingers in the finish along with a touch of oak. Excellent acidity and wonderful balance. Very compelling. A dizzying field blend of more than 60 varieties including 18% Syrah, 14% Zinfandel, 4% Dolcetto, 20% Cinsault, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Sangiovese, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Petite Sirah, 1% Mourvedre, 20% various Muscats, and the remaining 12% includes dozens of other grape varieties including Einset, Blue Portuguese, Viognier and more. Ages for 15 months in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, mostly used. 14.4% alcohol. 119 cases made Score: around 9. Cost: $50 . click to buy.
2015 Acorn Winery “Acorn Hill – Alegria Vineyards” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberries, black cherry, and exotic flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous bright fruit flavors of boysenberry, cherry, and black currant are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. There’s a cedar note that creeps into the fruit, along with some grace notes of flowers, while a citrus peel quality lingers in the finish. Unique and boisterous in personality, this wine beautifully showcases the joy of old-school mixed-black wines. An unusual field blend of 49% Syrah, 49% Sangiovese, 1% Viognier, .5% Canaiolo, and .5% Mammolo grown on the prominent hill just behind the winery. 13.9% alcohol. Ages in 42% new French oak for 18 months. 132 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.