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Barbera Gains New Recognition in Italy

In Piedmont, Asti’s Nizza subzone has been elevated to its own DOCG classification
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Oct 17, 2017 11:30am ET

New appellations spring up like mushrooms in Italy (and are often meaningless), so it's comforting to see recognition for an area that deserves it. The Nizza subzone, long known for its excellent Barberas, received DOCG status with the 2014 harvest. The wines are now showing up in the United States.

The Nizza DOCG was not an impulse decision. Vintners have recognized the area's potential for decades, and sought the delimitation of the subzone in the 1990s. The name "Nizza" began appearing on labels with the 2000 vintage. In 2008, Barbera d'Asti was promoted from DOC to DOCG status, with "Superiore Nizza" appended to wines from the subzone. As of 2014, Nizza now stands on its own.

I recently sat down with Michele Chiarlo's Stefano Chiarlo, who showed me a few vintages of his Nizza Cipressi. Chiarlo is also on the board of the Consorzio Barbera d'Asti and Wines of Monferrato and is bullish on the new designation. "We believe in this appellation for the future," he said. "In the Langhe, they are focused on Nebbiolo, so a lot of producers of Barolo and Barbaresco are looking for property in Monferrato for Barbera." Production has grown from 25,000 cases to nearly 70,000 cases from the 2013 to 2016 vintages, and has the capacity to grow to 350,000 cases based on the maximum vineyard area available.

Michele Chiarlo produces Barolo and Barbaresco and is closely allied with Barolo's Cerequio cru, where the brand has also developed a luxury hotel. However, the winery is located in Calamandrana, one of the 18 villages entitled to the Nizza appellation. Chiarlo's Nizza Cipressi 2014 (91, $28) is bright and pure, offering violet, blackberry, black currant and light spice aromas and flavors. Beautifully balanced and expressive, it also has the structure to age. The 2015, scheduled for release next spring, is dense and mouthfilling, with even more explosive cherry fruit flavors.

Other notable producers of Nizza include Olim Bauda, Coppo, Prunotto and Vietti. I have yet to taste any of their 2014 or later vintages, but all made fine Nizza bottlings under the Barbera d'Asti Superiore designation in earlier vintages.

The Nizza zone is lower in elevation than the Barbera vineyards in Alba, and generally enjoys a warmer growing season. Its soils are marine sediments, a mix of sand, sandy loam and clay.

The Nizza DOCG calls for 100 percent Barbera, up from 90 percent for the Barbera d'Asti Superiore Nizza designation. Nizza (and the Nizza Vigna designation for single-vineyard Barberas) has a minimum aging requirement of 18 months, six of which must be in wood, while Nizza Reserva and Nizza Vigna Reserva must age at least 30 months, 12 in wood. Nizza Vigna-designated wines must also meet a lower yield limit of a maximum of 2.5 tons per acre vs. the upper limit of 2.83 tons for Nizza.

With 45 producers in the delimited geographical area, Nizza may become for Barbera what Dogliani, slightly larger in area, is for Dolcetto: A focus on a single grape, planted in the best sites to elevate quality.

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