With the Nizza DOCG nearing reality, Italian Wine Central interviewed some leading producers of Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore from the Nizza subzone about the future of this region. The participants were Stefano Chiarlo, winemaker at Michele Chiarlo; Luca Currado, winemaker at Vietti; Erika Abate, export manager for Bersano; and Ignazio Giovine, winemaker and owner of L’Armangia. All four wineries are members of the Nizza Producers Association.
Currado: Nizza is the heart of production of Barbera d’Asti. Its terroir and climate conditions make this part of the Asti region unique and superior.
Chiarlo: The denomination includes only the vineyards in the heart of Barbera d’Asti, in 18 municipalities around Nizza Monferrato (Barbera d’Asti extends to 160 municipalities). The exposure of these vineyards is ideal, from southeast to west.
Giovine: The Nizza River valley is unique because of a combination of altitude (between 180 and 280 meters); soils rich in limestone, clay, and calcium but poor in organic substances; less rain than in the Barolo area (which is closer to the Alps); and a good day/night temperature change in late August, September, and October.
Chiarlo: The soil composition—light-colored soil called Astiane sand—is basically silt that originates from marine sediment, poor in organic matter but rich in trace elements, especially magnesium. In other parts of the Barbera d’Asti area, red earth and clay are also found. In addition, the yield in the vineyards is kept much lower than in the rest of Barbera d’Asti.
IWC: How do the Nizza wines differ in taste profile from other Barbera d’Asti wines? How should a sommelier explain to a customer the difference between a Nizza DOCG wine and a Barbera d’Asti DOCG?
Currado: This is not an easy question to answer. What makes Clos de la Roche different from the next vineyard?
Abate: As Nizza is the best area for producing Barbera d’Asti, the result that comes from it is a super and unique Barbera that can express the best result from this variety.
Giovine: The Barbera d’Asti area is really quite large. You can find some other small good places—in Costigliole d’Asti, Calosso, or Rocchetta Tanaro, for example—but in Nizza the large majority of our area is conducive to producing wines that are rich and complex, with good aging potential, fruity and with a naturally balanced acidity. Normally, we have a more complex nose, not only cherries but also violet and plum, and more longevity of this fruity character.
Abate: Refinement in oak—especially the small barriques—the power of an extraordinary bouquet, and the great structure that comes from strict selection give Nizza a unique personality. Nizza is a Barbera d’Asti with as great a potential to age as other great crus in Piedmont.
Chiarlo: The wines we make highlight very clearly the profile of the grape at its most elegant and complex, with sweet spices, balsamic, and red fruits such as cherries.
Currado: Normally, Nizza gives wines that are more elegant and refined than most Barberas—wines with the same power, but much more complexity and long aging potential.
Chiarlo: Because of the lower yields in the vineyards, the wines are characterized by being highly structured with the ability to evolve positively for over ten years. The regulations of Nizza require an aging period of 18 months, of which a minimum of 6 are in wood, but in reality, almost all of the 40 producers age for 3 years or more—at least 12 months in wood and the remaining time in the bottle.
IWC: Which wine consumers do you think will be most interested in Nizza DOCG wines?
Chiarlo: It is a wine that has had success in many of the 65 countries where we are present and immediately pleases wine lovers who drink wines with good structure such as Bordeaux, California, and big Merlots or Super Tuscans.
Currado: Barbera is a wine that attracts many different kinds of consumers. When customers first discover old world wines, they love Barbera’s power and darker fruit aspect. Established old world wine fans love its unique complexity. And foodies love the fact that Barbera has incredible versatility in food and wine pairings.
Giovine: I think Barbera is mainly a food wine, because of its low tannins, good acidity, and fruitiness. Few other wines have the same easy matching with a range of foods. And it’s not a wine only for rich dinners, but is also good for finger foods, too, so I think probably the best and first consumers are those drinking wine in restaurants, or at home during a meal or as a rich aperitif.
Chiarlo: It can be easily matched to pasta with meat sauces, red meats, and medium-aged cheeses. Of course, for us, Barbera d’Asti, having a bit less structure and more fresh fruit than Nizza, is a wine to be drunk within 4 or 5 years. It is for more everyday consumption, with a wide range of prices.
IWC: After the Nizza DOCG is approved, do you expect to make the same amount of Nizza wine or increase production?
Abate: At the moment, the total production of wine made by all Nizza producers is 250,000 bottles.
Currado: We only make one Barbera Superiore, the Nizza La Crena. We have 5 acres of very old vineyard, planted in 1932 at the 25-acre La Crena property. We use the juice that comes from this for our La Crena, whose production is between 8,000 and 10,000 bottles, depending on the vintage. At this moment, we do not have any plans to change or increase production of La Crena.
Giovine: Actually, I bottle only 10 percent of my total production as Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore Nizza—Nizza DOCG from the 2014 vintage—but because of good demand, I have to find new established vineyards to increase that production to a minimum of 30 percent. With the new Nizza appellation, I think we will increase another 50 percent in a few years. People tasting a quality Barbera normally love it in pairing with food, so they ask for it in restaurants more and more frequently.
I will bottle my Nizza Vignali—an average of 20 percent of my total Nizza bottled wine—as Nizza DOCG Riserva. I will also continue bottling a Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Sopra Berruti, as a fresh, fruity food wine. Making a wine for daily consumption and for those who are just approaching Barbera is really important for me, and I think no producer should forget that.
Abate: Bersano will continue to produce Barbera d’Asti DOCG, too.
IWC: When they are labeled as Nizza DOCG, will the wines cost more or the same as when they were labeled Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza?
Abate: The same.
Currado: This depends on producer politics.
Giovine: Prices are due to both the success of a wine and its production costs. Actually, the prices are increasing, because of the growing demand, but will never reach unreasonable levels like other European and Italian trendy wines. I don’t think prices will rise too fast in the next few years. The new DOCG for Nizza isn’t a result of the desire to raise prices, but to highlight the terroir and the evident differences from other Barberas.
Chiarlo: I don't think that wines labeled Nizza will have a higher price, because ever since 2000 the name Nizza has been more prominent than the name Barbera d’Asti. In fact, disengaging from the name Barbera d’Asti will be an opportunity to help consumers distinguish this wine as a different type from Barbera d’Asti.
IWC: Thanks to all of you for your observations, and best of luck with the Nizza denomination.