Secret Langhe: Nas-cëtta

The grape variety Nas-cëtta will be unfamiliar I suspect, as it was to me before this tasting. The wines come from the commune of Novello, a village in the Langhe area of Piedmont and the DOC of ‘Langhe Nascetta del Comune di Novello’. The Langhe is also home to Barolo. You will note the spelling of Nas-cëtta (the local dialect spelling) as Nascetta on some labels and, to add a touch more complication, it can also be known as Anascëtta, which appears on other labels.

Pronounced Naz-shetta, this is an indigenous variety with a long history in the Langhe. It is not unique to the village of Novello, with plantings in other communes too, but it has been known here since at least the 18th century when documents talk of its quality for both dry and sparkling wines.

Nas-cëtta effectively disappeared after Phyloxerra struck and vineyards were replanted with resistant varieties. Its renaissance began in the 1990s with studies of some remaining vines, and a concerted programme to expand cultivation.

Nas-cëtta del Comune di Novello DOC

It was not until 2010 that production regulations for Nas-cëtta del Comune di Novello DOC were formed: bottles must be 100% Nas-cëtta, and there are  restrictions on yields. Prior to this, Nas-cëtta would disappear into wines labelled simply as ‘Langhe Bianco’.  The Produttori di Nas-cëtta del Comune di Novello association was established by a group of producers whose purpose is to both enhance quality and promote the variety. Today around 88,000 bottles are produced and research continues, one project currently seeking to identify a local wild yeast from the Novello vineyards, the use of which could become part of the regulations.

What is Nas-cëtta?

There is a suggestion that Nas-cëtta might be related to Nebbiolo, evidence including cluster shape, a late-ripening aspect, and some tannin structure.  Savio Daniele from Le Strette winery describes it as a ‘semi-aromatic’ variety, with some Linalool (giving a note of geranium) for example, which is also found in Muscat and Gewurztraminer. It also takes well to some skin contact, and experiments with passito wines (made from dried grapes) are promising. Those, along with dry wines and spumante, are permitted styles. President of the Association, Valter Fissore, says the white wines can age 10 years without a problem, gaining complexity, while Savio Daniele describes a typical Nas-cëtta character: “There is sweetness but also minerality, some fat but also fresh acidity, and salinity is normally present.”

The Wines

The wines tasted here are from the 2019 and 2020 vintages, which were quite similar. Dry in the winter, spring rains came before normal ripening over the growing season. Most of the members of the Produttori age their wines for an extended period before release, believing the wines only show their true character after a year or so in bottle.

(2022) A herby and lemony Nas-Cëtta, not particularly aromatic, but mineral and fresh. Quite full of the palate, lots of bitter lemon twisting through the finish, after a fatter lemon palate.
(2023) San Silvestro has been producing Nas-cëtta since 2010, and is investing in Nas-cëtta with more plantings. Co-owner Paolo Sartirano does not understand comparisons with Sauvignon Blanc; he sees it as much more reflective of local fruits like apricots and expressing something of the terroir. His is one of the more aromatic wines here, lovely floral, lime leaf and ripe stone fruit aromatics. There's a definite stoniness and mineral saltiness on the palate, but that fruit ripeness and juiciness floods the mid palate. Long with a lightly spicy finish.
(2023) Valter Fissore is also president of the Nas-cëtta producers association and one of the earliest players in its modern production in Novello. Labelled with the variant spelling of Anascëtta, this is vinified in stainless steel and aged in large barrels. Straw/yellow in colour, it's aromas are of creamy apples, flowers and dried herbs, leaading onto a palate that is full of flavour, lots of spiced pear and ripe rosy apple, finishing with good acidity, a little less obvious salinity than some, but no shortage of freshness and bags of personality.  
(2023) Le Strette is named for the hamlet of Novello where it is based, and it is one of the real pioneers in the renaissance of Nas-cëtta, having discovered an ancient abandoned vineyard from which they took cuttings and replanted, producing their first Nas-cëtta in 1997. This is a single vineyard wine from that vineyard called Pasinot, made with a little skin-contact which gives a coppery glow to the colour. Beautifully fragrant nose, here the Gewurz-like character singing out, perfumed and exotic. On the palate there is lovely ripeness and sweetness of fruit, but a strict acid core and that saline note once again keeps this focused and long, little honeyed nuances adding to the mouthfeel and complexity. Note the stockist listed is for the previous vintage at time of review.
(2023) From a small vineyard formed in 2004 that does not use synthetic chemicals, the striking, more golden colour here is explained by the wine having been aged four months in barriques. There's a golden hue to the aromas and flavours too, in the peach and apricot spectrum, slicked with a little vanilla and buttery lemon too. Lovely palate, a little nuttiness and honeyed open character, then fairly lean and citrussy into a balanced finish with a nice twist of Italianate bitter almond. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) This wine spends eight months on the fine lees in stainless steel, plus one more year in bottle before release as Arnaldo Rivera believes only then does it begin to show complexity. Pale green in colour, it is quite sparky and aromatic immediately, with confit lemon, a little peach and some yellow plum all highlighted with a touch of herbal character. The palate is equally punchy and the most striking immediate aspect is its saltiness: there's a real saline slickness and flavour running beneath the fruit of the mid-palate, some crunchy apple now, and running into that saline, mouthwatering finish. Price and stockist quoted are for a previous vintage at time of review.
(2023) A small family-run winery, whose first bottling of Nas-cëtta was in 2015, and which is now producing 3,800 bottles annually. Pale straw in colour, there's a citrus peel and melon rind character on the nose, maybe something a little like hessian, a grape and yellow plum fruit. In the mouth it is a vivacious wine, plenty of punchy, zesty fruit and ringing acidity into a quite chewy, textured finish. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review
(2023) Passone began as grape growers and have been bottling their own wines only since the 2019 vintage, starting with this Nas-cëtta. A lttle depth to the straw-green colour, the nose a touch more figgy and apricotty than some, intense and vivid fruit on the palate, an incisive lime and Seville oragne zest acidity and again that figgy/nutty richer element to the apple fruit. Zingy stuff, perhaps not so refined as some here, but striking and tasty. No UK stockists at time of review.
(2023) A typically understated Nas-Cëtta from a family estate, who's first Nas-Cëtta was released from the 2018 vintage. This is a nicely dry, salty and apple-fruited example, but the palate broadens slightly, a sense of mealiness and richness undercut by those zipping citrus flavours and acidity. Really quite bracing, this was one of my favourites for its invigorating style with a little weight too. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) Though not certified organic, I believe this vineyard is organically farmed. A little development to the colour here, and a fine, herby, slightly medicinal (but not at all unpleasant) nuance to the aroma. In the mouth a subtle and complex wine, with a vivacious edge to the fruit, aided by keen acidity. A definite saline tang to this too.

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