Four Different soils for just one great result: Nizza Docg.
Not too long ago, we compared the wines at the pinnacle of the Monferrato Barbera quality pyramid – from the Nizza Docg (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) – to James Bond.
The idea behind that comparison is that, like everyone’s favorite iconic pop culture spy, Barbera wines from Nizza are intense, classy, unique, and a product of interesting historical pedigree.
But what about the most important part: what’s in the glass itself? After all, impeccable credentials don’t guarantee a successful end product. I mean, not all Bond movies are created equal, after all. Remember Moonraker? Most of us who have seen it are actually trying to forget that Moonraker ever happened.
To understand Nizza Docg, and what makes it special, before you actually get it into your mouth, it helps to understand a bit more about something. And that something is… dirt.
Yeah, Nizza has stringent production requirements (in barrel and bottle aging times, for example) that make it particularly suitable for longer aging (a lot more on that in a few minutes). But what really makes it special for creating long-lived Barbera wines is the place itself. Generally, despite its relatively small size (250 hectares / 620 acres, which are also home to other grapes besides Barbera, such as Dolcetto, Moscato, a and Grignolino), Nizza is diverse. The area sits almost smack-dab in the middle of the Barbera d’Asti DOCG production region, and it is made up of four types of dirt. Each soil type brings a different aspect to the color pallette used to make up a Nizza Barbera wine:
Sand: These soils usually produce Barbera grapes that are lighter, fresher, more elegant, and better suited for early consumption.
Sandstone: The addition of calcium carbonate to sandy soils yields a Barbera similar in their lighter structure to the ones grown in sandy soil, with a bit more intensity and aroma.
Sandy Marl (limestone and clay): Barbera grown in these soils starts to get a bit more serious; they have more body, more color, and generally more intensity all around.
Silty Marl: Barbera from these soils is the most intense; structured, dark, and built for long-haul aging.
When you factor in that some Nizza areas have soil combinations of all of the above, you start to get an idea of the raw potential of the area when it comes to crafting an age-worthy, serious Barbera wines. The type of red wine that can stare you down with a stern look. The kind of wine that you really don’t want to piss off.
Ok, now that we’re done talking dirty, we can get back to what’s in the glass.
I happen to know firsthand the power and potential of Nizza Barbera, having had a crash course in its longevity when I visited a picturesque manor house and winery. While there, we tasted through several vintages of Nizza Barbera, dating back to 2008 (not sequentially, however, since they only produce that top-tier wine in vintages deemed special enough to warrant carrying the special designation on the label). These Barbera wines see fifteen months of oak aging, and a further twelve months of bottle aging before being released. So, when you factor in their further bottle aging potential, these aren’t the wines for you if you are the impatient type. In any case, they are as good (and representative) examples of aged Nizza Barbera as you’re likely to encounter.
So what happens when we travel back in time through vintages of Nizza Barbera that have four, six, seven, eight years on them?
There are variations in vintages, of course (with some being warmer and fruiter, others cooler and more reserved), but In general, this is what happens:
The Barbera gets darker, more balsamic, and decidedly spicier. Elegant aromas of wood, dried herbs, orange peel, and baking spices dance over the notes of plum, red fruits. The older wines begin to show hints of toasted nuts and cigars. The further back you go, the more likely you are to wonder if someone poured premium, aged Barbaresco into your glass and is playing a trick on you. The wines become less tightly wound, more open than in their younger years, but remain serious, elegant, and above all never, ever, ever lose their vitality. The fine acid backbone of Nizza Barbera wines never slouches with old age; they remaining standing tall.
Overall, in this kind of vinous trip down memory lane, we witness a kind of age-defying magic that would send youth-restoration treatment producers like Ulta, Olay, or Estée Lauder into frenzies of jealous rage. That’s what happens when we travel back in time through Nizza Barbera vintage releases.
When you reach the level of Nizza Docg, you’re squarely in refined, high-end fine wine territory. That shouldn’t be too surprising, given the rigorous requirements involved in the production and aging of the wines that are permitted to carry the Nizza designation on their labels.
This isn’t Moonraker Barbera, folks; Nizza is more like Dr. No, The Spy Who Loved Me, or Casino Royale Barbera: an instant classic in the making.