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Appellation gems: Nizza, the new Barolo?

When we are on holiday we naturally immerse ourselves in wine and wine facts. Sometimes you come across real gems in specific wine regions or appellations! So is DOCG Nizza, one of the newest appellations in Italy. Because what they do here is quite special and ambitious! Read all about it in this blog.
Photo of vineyards around Canelli, one of the towns that Nizza is allowed to make DOCG
The vineyards around Canelli, one of the towns allowed to make DOCG Nizza

Disclaimer! This is quite a deep dive with a high level of nerdiness. We are good at that. But be warned, we cram as much information into as few words as possible... ;). More practical? Then be sure to read our action page! Together with Mantegazza Vini we have put together an Italian wine package with a Nizza.

Nizza? DOCG? What?

Let's start at the beginning. We are in Italy, in Piemonte to be precise. The region is very hilly, because it lies at the foot of the Alps and Apennines. That is also the literal meaning of Piemonte: 'at the foot of the mountain'. Piedmont can be roughly divided into 3 main regions: Langhe, Roero and Monferrato. In this blog we are going to talk about a specific piece in that last region. Want to read more about the entire Piemonte? Then read Wine region in a nutshell: Piemonte.

DOCG Nizza is a protected designation of origin. Each country has its own system for this. Wine from Italy is traditionally divided into four appellations. Officially there is now a European classification with two steps (PGI and PDO), but the Italians are still holding on to tradition. From 'mwa' to 'wow' this is the format:

  1. Vino da Tavola (VdT): really the basic wine, which you often get in jars without a label on the table in restaurants.

  2. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): wine from a specific geographical area. No more and no less. Often the wine is of a lower quality than DOC or DOCG, but not always! The famous Super Tuscans are the exception that prove the rule.

  3. Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): wine from a special geographical area that has to comply with quite a few rules. There are hundreds of DOCs in Italy.

  4. Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): a kind of DOC+. Stricter rules apply, such as a maximum yield per hectare or a specific way of aging. The wine must also be approved by a committee before they go into the bottle. Italy has a total of 74 DOCGs.

Piemonte wholesales in DOCGs. You will find 18 in this area alone, despite the fact that it is the fifth largest wine region in the country. That says something about how they view wine there; it's serious business in Piemonte!

Nizza, the youngest member of the DOCGs

In contrast to, for example, the Bordeaux 'Grand Cru' classification, there is sometimes some movement in the DOCG classification. Every now and then one comes along. And the latest DOCG is Nizza, named after the town of Nizza Monferrato, near the famous Asti. Before you can become a DOCG, you must first have DOC status (in Italy) for at least 5 years. Previously, Nizza belonged to the DOCG Barbera d'Asti Superiore. But since 2014 they have been promoted and disconnected from the big DOCG. Now Nizza is an independent DOCG and the winemakers have worked hard (and lobbied) for that! That is why everyone should know that Nizza is really something special. And they do it in style, because they sell themselves as the Barolo of Asti!

The typical Nizza wine

All well and good, that own appellation, but what do you get in your glass? Nizza is made from 100% Barbera. Wine from Barbera is fruity and full, deep red in color with not too heavy tannins. Of course a lot of red and black fruit in the scent, but cherries and plums predominate. The Barbera is a real Piedmontese grape, and first appeared in various literature around 1800. It is now the most planted grape and can also be found in other countries such as Chile and Australia.

Photo of a bunch of Barbera grapes
A bunch of Barbera grapes growing

Barbera wine has changed considerably since the 1980s. Previously, they were light and fruity due to the aging in stainless steel. Now more and more winemakers are experimenting with making more concentrated Barberas with aging in French oak. The result is a full-bodied red wine that you can't just drink on its own. Barbera thrives on dry soils of limestone, clay and calcium. Because Nizza is also the hottest part of the Asti, the most ripe and tasty Barberas come from here.

'Fun' fact:

Are you familiar with the Austrian wine scandal? Winemakers added diethylene glycol to the wine to sweeten it. Piemonte knows just such a scandal. In 1985 it turned out that several winemakers added methanol to their wines in order to reduce production costs. As a result, 30 people died, and many more went blind. Sales figures dropped drastically, and the Barbera kind of faded into obscurity. The grape is now immensely popular again, making it one of the most widely planted red grapes in Italy.

Nizza Conditions

So much for the grape. So they make Barbera all over Piemonte. Then it is called, for example, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera d'Alba or Barbera de Monferrato. But when can a Barbera be called Nizza? That takes some effort, because there are a lot of rules involved! Everything is done to preserve the special character of the DOCG.

What do those rules mean? Read along:

  • The wine may only come from 18 villages in the vicinity of Nizza Monferrato;

  • Bottling must take place within the DOCG, preferably on its own vineyard;

  • It must be 100% Barbera;

  • The yield may only be 7 tons per hectare;

  • The yield may only be 35 hectoliters per hectare;

  • The maximum alcohol percentage is 13% (which is quite a challenge in this warm area);

  • The wine must mature for at least 18 months in wood, and another 6 months in the bottle.

And the latter is actually even stricter. The 18 months of ripening is counted from January 1 of the year after the harvest. This way, each wine matures for about the same time, and quality remains paramount.

A water or vermentation lock that allows you to keep an eye on the wine level. Found at Luca Marenco Viticolore in Barolo.

The refilling of the barrels is also subject to rules. Wooden barrels need to be refilled once in a while. The barrels 'snack' the wine. It pulls in the veins, or it leaks a bit. This creates space in the barrel and then oxygen reaches the wine. You don't want that because it affects the quality. That is why the barrels are filled to the brim. Nizza wine may only be supplemented with the same harvest year. That (reserve) wine may be stored in wood or stainless steel, but wood is preferred.

Quality comes first

Pretty heavy! And what is completely special; the winegrowers have jointly fought for all these rules. Everything to ensure that Nizza is and remains a truly special wine. Therein lies a major parallel with Barolo, where winegrowers deal with their wine in the same way, but also with the drafting of legislation. As a winemaker you benefit enormously from a good name. Barolos are now selling themselves, they are a phenomenon. Every wine lover has heard of it, and prefers to have it in the cellar / crawl space / climate cabinet. It is therefore not for nothing that Nizza wants to follow the Barolo, and that winegrowers want to build up a similar status.

Big advantage: Nizza is (still) a bit cheaper than Barolo. Nizzas start from about 15 euros. You won't succeed with Barolo. In any case, Barolo is a completely different style (and grape), and there is no arguing about taste!

And that leaves 1 question...

Is it worth all that effort? Is Nizza really a special wine? And can you taste the difference between a Barbera DOC(G) and a Nizza DOCG? As far as we are concerned, the answer is 3x yes! We've already drunk quite a few Barberas, and we were already fan of the grape. After tasting several Nizza's (besides 'regular' Barbera's) we're done.

The taste can be compared to a red Burgundy. Just as fruity, but much firmer in nature. Nizza has both a fresh and fruity character and a heavy base. That rightfully makes it 'dangerously tasty', because you drink it faster than you would like. A special glass! As far as we are concerned, Nizza is really a party to drink.

And yes, there is indeed a difference between, for example, a Barbera d'Alba and a Nizza. And that is mainly due to the maturation. Many Barberas are still (mainly) aged on stainless steel. That keeps them light, but because of the aromas in the grape it can sometimes taste a bit irony. That has completely disappeared at Nizza. You get much more aromas such as cocoa and vanilla in your glass. And we are fans of that!

Would you like to try it yourself? Which can! In collaboration with Mantegazza Vini we have a Italian wine pack composed. Including a Barbera d'Alba and a Nizza. Then you can taste the difference yourself! And that too together with a nice white wine, within Wijnvaders budget! Read more? Check out our action page!

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