Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

When thinking of Barolo, one wine comes to mind – Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is the king of grapes and the only grape grown in Barolo. That was until 12 producers in the town of Novello discovered the indigenous white grape Nascetta. Now Barolo producers in the town of Novello can say there is a white wine of Barolo as I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

As Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in Napa Valley, so does Nebbiolo in Piemonte, Italy. The regions of Barolo and Barbaresco are coveted for their stunning red wines. But in Novello, one of the 11 communes of Barolo, an indigenous white grape has captured the hearts of its producers who believe it is one of the great white wines of the Langhe.

Nas-Cëtta or Nascetta (pronounced “na-schetta”) was first written about in the late 1800s. Nascetta is the spelling used by the official Italian registry of grape varieties whereas Nas-Cëtta is the local dialect spelling that refers to the wine. It was typically blended with other white grapes or made into sweet wines for the church. But, due to limited vigor, as well as a phylloxera outbreak and two world wars, cultivation of Nascetta stopped and the grape was almost extinct in the 20th century.

For sentimental reasons, only a few rows of Nascetta remained in Novello. By the 1990s, the grape was rediscovered after Novello producers tasted some bottles of sweet Nas-Cëtta from the 1980s that reminded them of Sauternes. Intrigued, producer Elvio Cogno and his son-in-law Valter Fissore set out to vinify a 100 percent Nascetta wine and made their first commercial bottle in 1994.

For wineries located in the heart of Barolo, it is not easy to restart an old white grape. Nebbiolo is king. Just as Napa would not pull-out Cabernet Sauvignon to plant Riesling, Novello producers are not pulling out Nebbiolo to plant Nascetta.

Today, however, there are approximately 40 hectares of Nascetta planted throughout the Langhe and Monferrato, with more than one third of these plantings in Novello. In 2001, Nascetta was officially registered in the National Register of Vine Varieties. In 2022, Nas-Cëtta became part of the Langhe DOC. In 2010, Nas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello was recognized as a designation of origin (DOC). Langhe Nas-Cëtta del Commune di Novello DOC can only be made from 100 percent Nascetta from within Novello.

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

Nascetta is a special grape with unique genetics. It shares some characteristics with Nebbiolo, such as winged clusters, late ripening, an affinity for limestone soils, a love of the sun, and is high in acid, but there is no scientific connection between the two grapes.

Nascetta is original and has only one certified clone. It is a pure variety that has had very small diffusion into the world. There is a high probability that it is part of a family of Piemontese varieties and is most likely indigenous to Novello.

Nascetta is a semi-aromatic white grape variety. It ranges from fresh and pleasant, with floral and fruity notes of apple, peach, and citrus, to more complex wine, fermented or aged in wooden barrels, which give way to aromas of honey. The mouthfeel of Nascetta is savory and fresh, thanks in part to a salty, bitter finish. With moderate acidity, Nascetta is a wine often drunk young, but it also has great aging potential. It does not oxidize easily and as it ages, it gets richer and more complex without losing the fruit character and freshness.

This unique gastronomic wine with great aging ability is not like other grape varieties. It is delicate, spicy, and complex like Gruner Veltliner. It has the pale, delicate, creamy texture like a pure Viognier yet it has a bitter finish. And, as it ages, it picks up petrol characteristics like Riesling.

Nascetta is a grape that expresses where it is grown. And to best enhance the territoriality of Nascetta, the producers of Nas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello initiated a self-yeast project. Since 2019, they have had a selected yeast for the region that works with the grape to express the terroir of Novello.

Nas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello is a niche variety and limited in size. But it has a strong identity. There are 12 producers of Nas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello who learn together and work together to promote this special wine.

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Elivo Cogno

Elivo Cogno purchased property in Ravera, a Cru of Novello, in 1990, and with his son-in-law Valter Fissore, spent 25 years saving Nascetta after tasting bottles and understanding the grapes’ uniqueness and specialness. “We are in the Barolo area doing one of the best wines in the world. Then we tried a Nas-Cëtta Passita and thought ‘why did we abandon this grape?’”, Valter expressed. They decided to focus on this wine and today Valter is the President of the Nas-Cëtta Association. He describes Nas-Cëtta as “an emotional grape that makes a unique wine.” He added that it is “love at first taste.”

Elvio and Valter set out to make a single-variety vinification of Nascetta. Their first commercial bottle was in 1994 and from 1994 until 1999 they sourced their Nascetta from the Pasinot vineyard. Today Elvio Cogno has three hectares of Nascetta planted at Ravera and the oldest plantings are from 1996. While Nas-Cëtta was an officially recognized grape by 2001, it could only be labeled as a Table Wine.

Over the years, experimenting with oak and with malolactic fermentation, Valter has seen the beautiful evolution of this wine. And he believes that “if we taste Nas-Cëtta too early, we lose the quality of the wine.” I had the privilege to taste a vertical of Nas-Cëtta while recently visiting Novello that truly expressed the uniqueness of this grape, making me understand why Nas-Cëtta is the queen of Barolo.

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

Elvio Cogno Anas-Cëtta Vertical Tasting:

2020 [big cask, no malolactic, no skin contact] – very pretty and elegant with floral aromas, bitter finish, fresh acidity

2019 [big cask, no malolactic, no skin contact] – flinty notes, apple aromas, tons of acidity, bitterness on the finish

2016 [no oak, no malolactic, skin contact] – lime citrus notes, flinty minerality, soft acidity, savory

2015 [no oak, no malolactic, skin contact] – big and rich with notes of acacia honey, rounder acidity

2014 [no oak, no malolactic, 24-hour skin contact] – aromas of apple, orange peel, chamomile, and macadamia nuts, lots of acidity, long savory finish

2003 [table wine] – notes of orange blossom and honey with a touch of flintiness

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Le Strette

Le Strette was the second producer, after Elvio Cogno, to produce Nas-Cëtta. Founded in 1997 by brothers Mauro and Savio Daniele, both enologists and winemakers, they began working with Nascetta the same year.

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

In 2014, the Daniele brothers discovered a Nascetta vineyard planted in white chalky clay soils on Pasinotti Hill. Originally planted in 1948, the vineyard had been neglected but a tiny plot of Nascetta still remained. They purchased twelve acres and began cleaning the vineyard. “We were crazy to restore and replant this old vineyard,” explained Savio. But it is “a unique indigenous vine” that has a “deep bond with the beginning of our history.” In collaboration with Dr. Stefano Raimondi (collaborator of the CNR – IPSP Institute for the Sustainable Protection of Plants), they have collected 29 different cuttings from several patches of old vines and a collection of 750 Nascetta vines was planted to study and protect possible different Nascetta clones.

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

Le Strette Pasinot Nas-Cëtta 2019 – intense floral aromas of white flower and acacia, as well as notes of apple, bright and savory with a long mouthwatering finish

Le Strette Pasinot Nas-Cëtta 2015 – the first vintage of this single vineyard wine has notes of flint and honey, savory with a lightly bitter finish

Le Strette Nas-Cëtta 2003 – a golden yellow with flinty minerality

Le Strette Nas-Cëtta 1997 Passito – aromas of bruised apple, honey, sweet dried fruit, and sweet nuts, lots of honey on the finish

— Vietto

After growing grapes, Davide Vietto and his wife Silvia started making wine in 2000. In 2005, they planted one hectare of Nascetta and began studying the grape. Davide loves the aromas of Nascetta, and Silvia loves the wine with three or four years of age.

Vietto Nas-Cëtta 2019 – very pretty with floral aromas, fresh and light with delicate acidity and bitterness on the finish

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Luca Marenco

After studying agronomy and working in another cellar in Barolo, Luca Marenco, with the support of his parents, started the winery in 2015. They started producing Nascetta in 2018. Luca feels “lucky to have this grape. It is a unique grape. It is hard in the vineyard but amazing in the glass. It is our identity.”

Luca Mareno Nas-Cëtta 2020 – very pretty with floral aromas, flavors of lime, fresh and crisp with mouthwatering sapidity

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Arnaldo Rivera

Arnaldo Rivera was a teacher, a partisan, and mayor of Novello for 40 years. He was also the president of the Barolo Consortium. In 1958 he started Terre del Barolo, a wine cooperative with 21 members. After one year there were 250 members and today there are 285 covering 600 hectares and 11 villages. Focusing on indigenous varieties from the Langhe, Nascetta is the only white wine they produce. According to brand representative Gabriele Oderda, they “wanted to give voice to this little grape that survived.” They have five rows of Nascetta that were planted in 1963 and made their first Nas-Cëtta in 2016.

Arnaldo Rivera Nas-Cëtta 2019 – beautiful floral and citrus aromatics and bright acidity that lingers on the palate

— Gavetta

Cascina Gavetta is a farm owned by Silvio Cogno (cousin of Elvio Cogno) and his family. Silvo calls Nascetta “a rebel and a challenge in the vineyard” but also loves its ability to age.

Cascina Gavetta Nas-Cëtta 2019 – elegant floral notes, light and fresh but textured, bitter finish, and tongue-tingling acidity

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Marengo Mauro

Growers and farmers for generations, the Marengos first planted vineyards in Novello in the 1950s. Third generation Mauro started the wine label in 2015. His youngest son Daniele is studying enology, and his daughter Elisa, who studied graphic design and etching, manages the label design and marketing materials. With deep family roots in Novello, Maura feels it is an “honor and duty to cultivate Nascetta.” Elisa loves the sapidity of the wine, explaining that “if you take one sip, you will want more.” She added that Nas-Cëtta “balances perfectly with food. It is a gastronomic wine.”

Marengo Mauro Nas-Cëtta 2020 – aromas of citrus, grapefruit, and fennel, delicate but long finish, bitter and savory

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Casa Baricalino

Six years of rain in the 1960s led to many people leaving vineyard work and moving to Torino to work in factories. Omar Sanino was born in Novello but moved with his family to Torino. In 2014, he left the automotive industry and returned to Novello where he bought property. Today he has 7.5 acres of vineyards surrounding his home which is an agroturismo. He planted one acre of Nascetta which he ages in new oak.

Casa Baricalino Nas-Cëtta 2019 – richer in color and on the nose, the wine exhibits more spice notes and has a long bitter finish

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Sansilvestro

Established in 1871 by Giovanni Sartirano, the tradition of San Silvestro is carried on by fourth generation Paolo and Guido Sartirano. They planted 2.5 acres of Nascetta in 2007 and made their first vintage in 2010. They have since planted 7.5 more acres and see Nascetta as “a perfect expression of the levels of excellence that this area knows how to give.”

Sansilvestro Nas-Cëtta 2019 – partially aged in oak, the wine has savory aromas and a bitter finish

Nas-Cëtta, the white wine of Barolo

— Azienda Agricola Stra

With a history of 200 years of farming, the Stra family says that “a great Nas-Cëtta is made with passion, enthusiasm, and care, from the vineyard to the cellar.”

Stra Nas-Cëtta 2020 – flavors of wildflowers, pink grapefruit, sage, and rosemary with notes of flinty minerality, and a bitter finish

— La Pergola

A small family winery, owner Marco Taricco feels that “the Nas-Cëtta is an indigenous oenological gem that we are proud to help rediscover and enhance.” La Pergola planted Nascetta 2012 and made their first vintage in 2014.

La Pergola Nas-Cëtta 2019 – aromas of acacia flowers and grapefruit with citrus, almonds, and minerality on the finish

— Passone Massimiliano

After cultivating grapes for four generations, the Passone family created Passone Massimiliano in 2020 with the release of the 2019 Nas-Cëtta. They believe that “the Nas-Cëtta is for us the beginning of our history, the rediscovery of a great powerful and authentic grape of which we are proud.”

Passone Masimiliano Nas-Cëtta 2019 – aromas of pear, apple, ginger, and sage lead to a fresh wine with a bitter finish and salinity

A white wine in Barolo is not what most people expect, but the producers of Novello believe in the potential of Nas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello. It is a niche variety that is strong in identity and produces a wine with soul.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.