While Barolo and Barbaresco have rightfully driven Piemonte to worldwide fame, this leading Italian wine region also boasts several lesser-known, high-quality, rare varieties worth seeking out. On our five-day adventure through the region in summer 2021, I was determined to do exactly that. Of course I was interested in exploring the Nebbiolo-backed legends. Yet true to form, my heart was set on discovering what the unsung native grapes had to say for themselves. With up to 300 varieties yet to be researched, 36 rare indigenous varieties, and 9 principally recognized native grapes, it’s safe to say there are a lot of untold tales waiting to be heard amongst the vines of Piemonte. After scheduling tasting appointments accordingly, I set out to discover what some of these characters had to say. I’ve already shared with you the revelation that is Ruché. So, now let’s explore Nascetta.
The History of Nascetta
Nascetta, also known as Nas-cëtta or Anascetta, is native to the municipality of Novello in the province of Cuneo just a short 5km south of Barolo. The first documented existence of Nascetta dates to 1877 within Giuseppe dei Conti di Rovasenda’s Essay of a Universal Ampelography in which he notes Nas-cëtta as “a very delicate grape and exquisite wine.” At this time, the variety was vinified into aromatic sweet wines and likely blended with other white grape varieties of Piedmont.
History passed on orally from one generation to the next in Novello also indicates Nascetta was traditionally used for Mass. Its sweet, passito style wines were ideal and capable of withstanding over time. Another written mention of the variety appeared in 1883 from Lorenzo Fantini within the Agricultural Monograph on the Alba District: “Anascetta, a vine that produces very fine grapes…It is grown in good quantity in the Novello area, where it bears very well.”
However, Nascetta was a somewhat inconsistent vine that’s difficult to cultivate, yielding abundantly one vintage and poorly the next. When the 20th century came about, many Nascetta vines were replaced with the more favorable and profitable Nebbiolo. Cultivation wasn’t wholly abandoned, but Nascetta only survived by the grace of intermittent vineyard plantings and a few very small, select vineyards, the oldest of which dates to 1948.
In 1993, fate intervened in the destiny of this rare variety. Winemakers of Novello were hosting journalist Armando Gambera and decided to uncork some bottles of 1986 Nascetta. Everyone was blown away by the elegance and structure of the wine. Despite the years spent in bottle, this white wine showed aromatic character and a great resistance to oxidation. Better yet, there wasn’t a white wine quite like this currently produced in the Langhe. Subsequently, producers began immediately experimenting with Nascetta. Since there were no single vineyards planted to the variety, they took to wandering individual rows of Novello vineyards recovering bunches of Novello on a plant-by-plant basis.
Elvio Cogno and Le Strette were two leading producers in the recovery of Nascetta. In 1994, the first harvest of the variety lead to 800 bottles of Elvio Cogno’s Anas-Cëtta, followed by Le Strette’s first experimental production in 1997. Le Strette was also instrumental in establishing a collection vineyard for Nascetta featuring 750 strains of the variety from the selection of 29 old vines from three different Novello vineyards. Read more about Le Strette’s research and work with Nascetta, along with ampelographic characteristics and history of the variety here.
We had planned to visit Le Strette while in Piemonte to learn more about Nascetta directly from one of the variety’s main advocates. Unfortunately, Mauro Daniele, the proprietor and one of two brothers who founded Le Strette, passed away at the time. May he rest in peace.
In his memory, here is a video of the Daniele brothers talking about Nascetta.
About the Variety
As the revival of Nascetta was relatively recent, there is still a lot about the variety not yet completely understood. It’s a low producing variety, generally with just one bunch per cane. The bunches are quite compact; thus they can be prone to rot. Nascetta suffers from millerandage, leading to irregular ripening. Furthermore, unripe Nascetta has a grassy character like Sauvignon Blanc. Yet careful attention needs to be paid around harvest, as this variety can overripen quickly, resulting in wines with 14%+ alcohol by volume.
Nascetta is a semi-aromatic grape variety often expressing aromas of peach, kiwi, florals, and spice. It’s wines generally have moderate acidity and most are intended to be drunk young. However, the variety is not one to oxidize easily, so it has potential to age longer than other local white varieties Arneis and Favorita. With age, Nascetta develops petrol characteristics like Riesling.
Today, around 40 hectares of Nascetta are planted in the Langhe. Novello encompasses more than one third of these plantings. In 2002, Nascetta was accepted into the Langhe DOC. Late in 2010, the variety received its own prestigious denomination, Langhe Nas-cëtta del Commune di Novello DOC, which can only be made from 100% Nascetta within Novello. The denomination also requires a maximum yield of 90 quintals per hectare.
Learn more about the variety and explore producers working with Nascetta with the Nas-cëtta Producers Association of the Municipality of Novello.
Tasting: Ettore Germano, Langhe DOC Nascetta 2019
- Made from Nascetta planted to limestone and Langhe stone soil at 560m above sea level
- Fermented in steel tanks with 10-day maceration on the skins
- Aged 6 months in clay amphora
- Golden lemon color in the glass with brilliant golden reflections
- Medium+ intensity aromas of juicy green pear, honeysuckle, jasmine, clay, earth, dried sage, thyme, balsamic mint
- Round and mouth-filling, medium to full-bodied with balanced acidity and a concentrated, lingering finish
- Somewhat savory on the palate
Pairing: Ideal wine for shellfish or seafood. I see this pairing so nicely with sushi or the perfect wine for a lobster or crab boil.