A thick tome, 132 years old, has survived to tell the story of Piedmont’s grape-growing past. That is, if you can decipher the flowery penmanship and wade through the anachronistic turns of phrase. There, in a section on grape varieties in the book called “Wine Production and Oenology in the Province of Cuneo, 1879,” lies both the question and, perhaps, the answer to one of the region’s great mysteries.

What happened to Nascetta?

Piedmont is Nebbiolo country, first and foremost, though of course many other varieties grow and thrive. Nascetta is a white wine grape that few modern wine lovers have ever encountered. This is not unique in Italy; vineyards in this country produce almost incalculable numbers of varieties, and most never produce a special varietal wine.

But this is where Nascetta parts ways with its hundreds of viticultural cousins. Winemakers recognized the unique appeal of Nascetta early in its history. Writing in that 1879 book, Lorenzo Fantini describes Nascetta as having a “goodness uniquely owing to the nature provided by an exquisite grape, tending toward art…”

Art! Fantini described Nascetta as being refined, comparable to grapes of the highest known quality. Surely, Nascetta was positioned to stand together with Nebbiolo as the strongest white and red grapes in Piedmont.

In that same passage, however, Fantini offers what likely became Nascetta’s obituary:

“…tending toward art, which makes it absolutely defective for producers. They obtain results that are technically satisfying but economically burdensome.”

When producers realized that Nascetta didn’t work as a bulk wine, they opted for something else. This stately white grape became Il Dimenticato, The Forgotten One, existing only on the pages of ancient Italian texts.

The variety was kept alive in small quantities until finally a group of winemakers were curious enough to see what all the excitement was about so many years ago. Led by winemaker Valter Fissore of Elvio Cogno, interest in the grape began to ripple quietly across the region. Nascetta’s most vocal modern champion is probably Enrico Rivetto, winemaker at Rivetto in Serralunga d’Alba. On a recent visit, I learned that Rivetto is now producing 300 cases of Nascetta annually, and is dedicating new sections of vineyard to the grape.

“Rivetto is among the few producers who produce and study Nascetta,” Enrico said. “We believe in the potential of this vine, forgotten for years and now rediscovered.” Rivetto is encouraging his colleagues in Piedmont to plant Nascetta and produce a varietal wine from it; for now, only about half a dozen producers are doing so. “Thanks to the peculiarities of the terrain, it’s destined to become the great white wine of Langa,” Enrico added.

It’s an ambitious declaration, given Nascetta’s relative youth. The 2010 Rivetto Nascetta marks the first time Italian authorities permitted wineries to label the wine as Nascetta; previously the wine carried the nebulous title of “Langhe Bianco.” The legal recognition has changed the game. “We’re proud of the grape and we wanted customers to see its name on the bottle, to understand and become familiar with what this wine is,” said Rita Barbero, who led us on a tour of Rivetto’s vineyards.

In Rivetto’s tasting room I had my first opportunity to experience modern Nascetta. It was one bottle, of course, just one glimpse, but I was left wanting many more. The aromatics were explosive and layered, reminiscent of Muscat in the floral character, but tilting toward Sauvignon Blanc with its fruit. In the mouth, this Nascetta wove its colorful personality around a stony core. The 13.5% alcohol by volume stitched into the wine seamlessly. High quality, but also high character; how often do you taste a wine that is utterly unique and yet not simply idiosyncratic?

The proselytizing of Enrico Rivetto and the other Nascetta converts is already making an impact. Two of the finest Italian wine journalists have recognized the quality of Rivetto’s Nascetta, most recently Franco Ziliani, as well as Jeremy Parzen, who delves further into the details of Nascetta’s fascinating history in this post.

Ironically, Rivetto produces a wine called “Il Dimenticato,” but it’s not their Nascetta bottling. Enrico thought it would be a clever name for a late-harvest red wine, but don’t be fooled. The true story of Il Dimenticato goes back more than a hundred years, and it seems that eventually, wine lovers will laugh at the notion of Nascetta as a forgotten grape. It will make up for the lost time, and soon.

Evan Dawson is the author of Summer in a Glass, a book about Finger Lakes winemakers. Evan is also the  Finger Lakes Editor for the New York Cork Report. His paid job includes offering his best Ron Burgundy impersonation as a morning news anchor and political reporter for WHAM-TV in Rochester, NY.

About The Author

Evan Dawson

Evan Dawson is the author of Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes. It won the 2012 Roederer International Wine Book of the Year. Outside of Palate Press, his wine writing has been published in Wine Spectator, Tasting Panel Magazine, and the New York Cork Report, for which he serves as Managing Editor. He hosts The Connection on WXXI radio, the NPR affiliate in western New York, where he focuses on community affairs. He is a middling but enthusiastic cook.

Related Posts

13 Responses

  1. Eric Martin

    It’s too bad that controversy about an IP address and self-promotion can distract us from a great wine story like this one. Italian white wine, it seems, has potentially far more to offer than pinot grigio. Hopefully Nascetta will be easily available in NA markets sooner rather than later.

      • Eric Martin

        Unfortunately I live in Toronto, the land of the government alcohol monopoly, the land of 1,000 shirazes (paraphrasing Wilson Pickett) . We do not get much that is not run of the mill (slight overstatement, but still…).

    • W Grant

      fascinating piece, I wonder how many forgotten grape varieties are out there just waiting to be re-discovered. I read somewhere that Italy boasts more than 600 grape varieties, more than the entire rest of the world: could it be true?

  2. Diana Strinati Baur

    I believe you can find Valter’s (Cogno’s) Anas-Cetta fairly regularly (until the supplies run out) at Eataly in NYC. My husband took some guests over to Cogno for a tasting and there happened to be a bottle of Nascetta open from a publicity degustazione before they got there, and after the tasting, our guests (and we) were convinced of this grapes uniqueness. We cellar it now as part of our white wine collection. Piemonte is loaded with finds like this – another superior terroir-specific white is Timorasso, from the Tortona hills. It also has had champions who have worked hard at bringing it back, similar to the Nascetta. Living here is very adventurous for the wine lover.

    • Michael Verhaeghe

      Anna Maria Abonna has a very good nascetta as well and it so happens that she won some prizes of the New York Times with her dolcetti (who are fabulous, by the way …). I live in Belgium, my wife and I have a house in Piemonte where we go as often as possible. Unless I am mistaken, Anna Maria has an importer in Northern America. I can really recommend her nascetta (and dolcetto).