[Note: Nizza DOCG was approved as of December 2014, making it the 74th DOCG; others have been added since.—ed.]
After two years of utter calm, there may be some stirrings of activity in the list of denominations in Italy. If the wine growers in the area around Nizza Monferrato in Piemonte have their way, it won’t be too much longer before Italy adds a new DOCG to the 73 that have been in that club since 2011. On December 22, 2013, the local association, the Consorzio Tutela Vini d’Asti e del Monferrato, agreed on the rules for a new denomination, which would essentially elevate the Nizza subzone of the Barbera d’Asti DOCG to be a DOCG in its own right.
While Nizza may be a new name to a lot of people, it has earned its status as a top-flight wine region. Nizza has been recognized as a subzone of the Barbera d’Asti denomination since the 2000 vintage. Not long thereafter, the push for a separate identity began—well before Barbera d’Asti became a DOCG in 2008. The drafting of a disciplinare (governing regulation) and its acceptance by the consorzio mark perhaps the most significant milestone for the new Nizza DOCG, but the denomination will not become official until it gets the endorsement of the regional, national, and European governmental committees. The consorzio was expecting approval in Turin by the end of January 2014. Neither Rome nor Brussels is likely to veto the proposal, but they may not rush to a decision either, making the actual date of acceptance difficult to predict.
The following table shows the changes that are proposed for Nizza DOCG wines, as compared with Barbera d’Asti Superiore from the Nizza subzone.
Interestingly, the new disciplinare amends the section on closures to ban only crown caps, meaning that screw caps are allowed. Winemaker Stefano Chiarlo, quoted in a consorzio press release, notes that bottles sealed with screw caps can boost sales in by-the-glass programs and in some markets such as Asia where consumers are not as familiar with corkscrews.
The Nizza DOCG would be stacked on top of existing denominations, rather than seceding from them. The idea is that Nizza wines will be produced only in good years when fruit quality is at its optimum—thus the requirement for longer aging. In less than optimum years, Barbera growers in the Nizza zone would still have the option of making wine under the Barbera d’Asti DOCG label—not to mention Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG and the Barbera del Monferrato, Monferrato, and Piemonte DOCs.
At present, the Nizza subzone includes 89 hectares (220 acres) of vineyards and has 44 producers. The bottled output averages about 1,425 hectoliters (15,850 cases), which the producers have said they hope to increase to a million bottles (83,300 cases) annually by 2015—a figure that might be possible if all the growers in Nizza were able to make DOCG-quality wine from every drop of every grape, but which even the consorzio agrees is una grande sfida (a big challenge). There is enough vineyard land in the Nizza area to double the current output, but of course that will not happen within just two harvests if quality is to be maintained at the desired level. Suffice it to say that the availability of Nizza wine will increase in future years.
If you’re wondering whether the other two subzones of Barbera d’Asti will follow in Nizza’s footsteps, the answer is probably not. As enologist Chiarlo points out, the Tinella and Colli Astiano subzones exist more on paper than in reality. Their combined annual production from 4 hectares (10 acres) is just 240 cases.