Barbera d’Asti Del Monferrato E Nizza Monferrato

A varietal Collisioni exploration into the eastern hills of Piemonte

By Michael Godel

Back in July of 2017 I hopped aboard the Collisioni Progetto Vino train in advance of four seminar-saturated days in Barolo, to immerse myself in everything the great red hope known as barbera holds in the territory of Monferrato. Here in Ontario we possess a pretty good idea about the nature and the competency of Barbera d’Alba, mainly because of its association with the Piemontese region’s more famous grape variety nebbiolo in production of the noble and regal Barolo and Barbaresco wines. The successes enjoyed by Barbera d’Alba are ensured, not solely because of but certainly by its proximate association. But what about Barbera d’Asti?

Collisioni Festival’s Ian D’Agata recently stated “it is undoubtedly in Piedmont where the grape performs best. To put barbera’s popularity in perspective, consider that 33% of Piedmont’s 45,000 hectares under vine are planted to barbera.” Try throwing this statistic in the face of Monferrato, Nizza Monferrato and so many other Asti barbera growers. So the question begs as to why so many DOC’s exist is such a close proximate place? The answer is quite simple. I am “insert commune name here” and I am this DOC, around my village, with my own very special terroir. Yours may only be five kilometres away from me but I am special and my land and grapes are not like yours. It must be noted that in Piemonte there are as many native grapes as there are in all of France. This is the second and more important reason nearly 50, or almost 10 per cent of all registered Italian grapes are found in Piemonte.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG

The consortium for Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato wines was founded in 1946 with distinctive labelling and while only seven members were originally on board, today more than 200 band together for the good of the grape and especially the agricultural practices of the territory. I will touch on other Piemontese denominations such as Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, Freisa d’Asti and Grignolino d’Asti in a follow-up report but now is the time to discuss, analyze and celebrate all things Barbera d’Asti E Vini Monferrato.

Barbera d’Asti is a DOCG with upwards of 3,900 hectares under vine with nearly 2,500 producers, 30 of which are cooperatives. The wines can be fresh reds made in stainless steel or receive some oak aging while the bigger Barbera d’Asti Superiore, made from selected grapes are required by DOCG law to be aged for at least six months in wood. Both the Barbera d’asti Superiore and Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCGs were awarded in 2008, both have maximum yield allowances of nine tonnes per hectare but Monferrato’s minimum alcohol requirement is a half a point higher at 13 per cent by volume. The Vigna (single-vineyard) Monferrato yields are lower, at eight tonnes per hectare. Aging for both is 14 months from November 1st the year after harvest. In Monferrato 85 per cent must be barbera with the remainder allowing dolcetto, grigolino and freisa while Barbera d’Asti Superiore requires 90 per cent barbera.

Barbera vineyards in Costigiole d’Asti

The rich limestone, clay and calcium hills of the Nizza wine zone is one of three Barbera d’Asti sub-zones (that also include Tinella and Colli Astigiani). Nizza’s terroir is a result of marine sediment and with proof supplied by a walk-around tasting and dinner during which wines dating back to 2001 were poured, it is indeed the zone where the most ageworthy and arguably the best Barbera d’Asti is made. In 2014 the DOCG was created and the artist formerly known as “Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza” has now been abbreviated to simply, Nizza. Like Prince. Power and balance are married in Nizza and many perform well past the 10 year mark after vintage. Wines from Nizza must be 100 per cent barbera, the yields are capped at seven tonnes per hectare and the age requirement is 18 months (six in oak) from January 1st the year after harvest. Reserva is 30 months (12 in oak) and Vigna (single-vineyard) releases must have yields no higher than 6.3 with a minimum of 13.5 per cent alcohol.  The first Nizza DOCG wines were released in July of 2016.

Still today the barbera wines of Monferrato and Nizza are virtually ignored worldwide. Many consumers simply think of the name Asti and sweet sparkling wines come to mind. Many others know not of Asti and still countless more associate the grape with Alba. The Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato is working tirelessly to change public perception, first with its proud public speaking president Filippo Mobrici, by enlisting the association with the Collisioni Festival and through the work of ambassadors like Michele Longo. The Collisioni Progetto Vino brings groups of journalists and sommeliers from around the globe to taste, educate and indulge in the multiplicity of barbera.

The Barbera DOCGs via

The following tasting notes of Barbera d’Asti and Nizza wines were executed in the consorzio headquarters in Costigiole and at the Enoteca Regionale di Nizza in July of 2017. The first tasting focused on Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Asti Superiore from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages with the emphasis placed on four sub-zones and their differing soils. The second (walk-around) tasting allowed producers to pour at their whimsy so this included portfolios with varietal wines such as grigolino and freisa. The gathering of the Associazione Produttori del Nizza focused beautifully on a comparison of only wines from the 2014 vintage, by way of introduction, followed by two brilliant tastings in which verticals of their wines were offered, first at a (way too fast) high-speed walkabout and then later during a (beautifully slow) dinner at Locanda Del Boscogrande. My full report covers more than 75 reviews of Monferrato barbera but is abbreviated here 20 top examples from the Barbera d’Asti and Nizza denominations (please note that not all the wines are available in our market).

Barbera d’Asti DOCG

Consorzio Barbera d’Asti E Vini Del Monferrato Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015

Every year one wine is chosen through a series of blind tastings from a selection of producers, to be bottled and labeled under the “taken as a while” entity Consorzio Barbera d’Asti E Vini Del Monferrato Barbera d’Asti. Only the producer and the President (Filippo Mobrici) know who’s wine is chosen, along with wink, wink, everyone else. This 2015 is quite the firm and brambly barbera, as it should be, with an omnipresent blanketing European vintage depth of character, from warmth, quality, quantity and length. This is typically barbera pressed, full on for fruit, specific to a Monferrato territorial claim and nary a moment of intrusive tannin. Drink 2017-2019

Coppo Barbera d’Asti DOCG Pomorosso 2014

From the house that Piero Coppo built, now in the forward thinking acumen-saturated hands, heart and mind of Luigi Coppo, comes a barbera most ambitious and in 2014, likely to be misunderstood in the throes of its youth. Pomorosso carries the baggage and the experience of 125 years of history in pocket, is only produced in the best vintages and spends 14 months in French oak. A fair to challenging vintage makes cause and pause to consider it a case of over-oak usage because it still overwhelms the terroir while simultaneously in disavow and disallow for the vintage to speak. The big but factor is spoken with a simple term. Balance. Even while the wood is very much in charge the craft behind the scene fills the screen, like a sepia toned vintage movie reel, in which hard at work agriculturalists, agronomists and oenologists move in fast frame motion, tending to their barbera. Beautiful fruit defends itself, because and for the land, reeks through the wood, integrates acidity and lingers, long after the wood perfume has dissipated. Fast forward to the end of the film and enjoy in retrospective view, somewhere mid next decade, while the credits roll. Drink 2020-2028

Erede Di Chiappone Barbera d’Asti DOCG Brentura 2013

From Daniele Chiappone and a 100 per cent stainless steel upbringing at four years old the Chiappone retains remarkable freshness, with not a moment of reduction or careless redirection. Some dried fruit on the nose is curious so changes are in the air but the Brentura’s structure outside of the wood realm is more solid than most. So too is the warmer, rounder and more breathable acidity, now so integrated. Marvellous example of what Barbera d’Asti can be. Drink 2017-2019

Az. Agr. Franco Roero Barbera d’Asti Superiore Docg Mappale 213 2015

From Montegrosso d’Asti Roero’s Mappale takes a heat index step back from Carbuné and from 2016. In 2015 the single vineyard, single (213) block is vinified separately from the others (including Siché and Cellarino) and spends 18 months in large barrels. Still it’s a dark, hematic bruiser with Cassis and dark chocolate, plus the omnipresent energy of acidity. Also ropey, tart and glazed, almost to the point of deep caramel. Then again it always comes back to how young it is. Drink 2018-2023

Azienda Agricola Ivaldi Dario Barbera d’Asti DOC 2015

In the pantheon of red wine made from the barbera grape in Asti lands it is Andrea Ivaldi’s that stands out, like a beacon or a lighthouse, lit up to help mariners find the shore. In this case a summoning light set in a white limestone vineyard and it is the youngest member of the Ivaldi family who resides as the current superintendent of this special barbera. At a locally low 14 per cent alcohol and a hue so Monthelie transparent this is classic, innate, intense liquid stone, bled from the pietra bianca at 300 masl. The blessedly honest red fruit raised in cement tanks for one year is hypo-reductive and only 4,000-5,000 bottles are produced. So balanced, melting, oozing and brisk, structured even. Drink 2017-2021

Marchesi Incisa Della Rocchetta Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Sant’Emiliano 2015

Marchesi Incisa Della Rocchetta is from Sassiccaia fame and also a family with a long Piemontese tradition. Their barbera is aged 18 months in French barrels and hails from near (southeast) of Asti. It’s certainly poised and appointed though I can’t help but notice the five-spice, caramel and balsamic aspect. A highly refined if tart style, seriously structured and wholesome though balanced within that formidable framework. As it fleshes and expands it reveals more charm, with some grace and elegance, kept warm and safe from the elements with an expensive scarf to be sure. Drink 2018-2023

Marco Bonfante Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Menego 2011

Marco Bonfante’s Barbera d’Asti made from fruit all over the hill is called Menego, the nickname and in honour of his and Micaela’s father Domenico who passed away in 2000. At the top of Domenico’s hill is Il Bricco and it is this one and a half hectares of south-exposed fruit that separates this barbera from the broad expression that is Menego. The calcareous terroir defines this wine and though the journey here is a high octane, jammy developing one through 14 months in barriques, this is the (relatively speaking) elegant vintage. It stills clocks in at a minimum 15 per cent alcohol and delivers a firm, confident and authoritative message but its elasticity and length allow it to breathe. Still it does not merely wave but punches and is more of a shout than a whisper. At six years the window of pleasure is open, if only just the first crack. Drink 2017-2023

Michele Chiarlo Le Orme Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015

Le Orme or “the footsteps” spent 16 months in stainless steel, taken from variegated terroir; sandy, marly and coarser soils. It sheds developed florals and high yet stretched and creeping acidity and in turn length. The acumen and experience comes through, leading to more refinement and almost a creamy (though unwooded) texture on bright, juicy fruit. Drink 2017-2019

Pico Maccario Barbera d’Asti DOCG Lavignone 2016

Quite the deep, dark and handsome barbera with a current of black currant and a pure stainless steel raising. Plums and chocolate mark the second half profile for the rich red, no oak lover in you. This pervasive barbera represents just about half of the house’s total (400,000 bottle) production. It’s truly a matter of fresh fruit and the already conscious awareness of its sharp, tart, fugacious youth. Solicits a knowing nod of the head when tasted at the source not long after a moment with the ’14 less than a year before. Drink 2017-2019

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Nizza DOCG and DOC

Bava Barbera d’Asti Superiore Pianoalto Nizza DOC 2007

Barbera’s secondary moments are upon the 10 year-old Pianoalto though the wine still slides across the palate with creamy barrel texture. Notes of fig and prune are a case of a hot and dry vintage with very low yields. The nose has matured into a perfume only lifted now by the persistence of barbera’s elevated acidity so this continues to fly at a decent altitude. It’s quite perfect at the ripe old age. Drink 2017-2020

Bersano Generala Barbera d’Asti Nizza DOC 2010

The summer of extreme heat (though perhaps holding no candle compared to 2017) has delivered a warm to warmest Bersano barbera with a calming effect achieved by cooling time spent in big barrels that date back to 1970. This ’10 is possessive of that sort of delicious perception of sweetness that puts it up there with the richest of the Nizza barbera. The élevage is half and half tonneaux/barriques and texture is full of this Mediterranean liquorice/black olive/gariga/briny tang. Nicely structured to last in this state for another three years. Drink 2017-2020

Berta Paolo Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza DOC La Berta 2011

The Nizza DOCG was added to Asti’s barbera portfolio in 2014 so this predates the appellative status, though for real intents and purposes this ’11 serves the same purpose. From a hotter than hot summer though the aromatics hide the thought and so you would never know just how warm it was. The palate speaks a different story with a deep-seated liqueur distilled from the top of the Berta Paolo terroir, a 40-70 year old set of plantings at Il Bricco, “The kettle” vineyard, 270 meters above sea level. The veins of this plot stretched over the hill of San Michele at Nizza Monferrato are the reason for Berta Paola’s distinct barbera texture. In 2011 this translates to a creamy, dreamy, suave and fine leathery parochial wine. Another example to set up one’s mind to realize what later vintages will turn out to be. Drink 2017-2022

Borgo Isolabella Delle Croce Barbera D’asti Superiore Nizza Doc Augusta 2009

All the Isolabella wines receive a girl’s name, in this instance Augusta, a vineyard selection from a couple of sites on each side of the village limits and named after the proprietor’s sister. The estate produces only 90,000 bottles, each highly specialized and this barbera comes out of the highly prized vintage. In retrospect and with the fortune to taste several 2009s in one walkabout it is now obvious that the season bequeathed the gift of age on its wines. Great because of an extra fineness of acidity from a grape that always gives this way but in Isolabella’s 2009 there is this cool, savoury, reserved character, not unusual but balanced in equal opposition to the strength of perfume and body. A delicato is expressed in what may be referred to as an ultra-über special 2009. Drink 2017-2025

Cascina Garitina Barbera d’Asti Superiore “900” Neuvsent Nizza DOC 2010

Having tasted Gianluca Morino’s 2014 earlier in the day it makes this follow up, retrospective look at his 2010 such a satisfying confirmation of his work. That ’14 was way too young to make lifelong friends with but this ’10, well this is something other. While still a seriously brooding, hematic, ganache spread of fine chocolate barbera, the components have filled the kettle to overflowing, but time has worked to now emit a floral and spice perfume. The richness of oak has also rendered a touch of complexity, of caramel and baking spice but even further, into secondary beginnings. The tones are aromatic, musical and textural, of sweet, salty and faintly sour by a fineness of acidity. One more year will bring it all together. Drink 2017-2020

Coppo Barbera d’Asti Nizza Superiore DOC Riserva di Famiglia 2009

From a small cru located in Castelnuovo Calcea, born in 1998, “a project, not only a wine,” explains Luigi Coppo. Only produced in the best vintages, the previous being 2007 and the next will be 2010, though this ’09 is undoubtedly the finest. “It’s not a wine of economics,” continues Coppo, but a single-vineyard expression for people to think outside the barbera box. It shares less history than Pomorosso and thus the reason why it is only selected from very specific vintages, “to work on the craft.” Few if any Barbera d’Asti carry such precision and presence. It’s adult candy, wise and layered, the key to making great barbera right here, in this texture. Expertly woven are fruit, wood and acidity so that all are blended, with no ego, nothing taken for granted, all in balance. Drink 2017-2027

Erede Di Chiappone Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza DOC RU 2006

RU by Daniele Chiappone is this, at first something altogether inexplicable but when tasted alongside his 2005, 2010 and 2011 it makes such perfect sense. Sense in where this fits in his evolution and to speak on behalf of the age-worthy ability of Nizza barbera. In a world where barbera perfume so often performs with perfunctory brevity this goes on and on. It is a unique combination of fennel frond, incense, hibiscus and violet to create an intoxicant and an anaesthetic. Yet another exceptional vintage is revealed, traditional and so alive, spun from earth crusting over cherry and then this smooth leather. The portal backwards 10 years allows for looks forward 10 more, especially into what’s coming from 2015 and 2016. To say the match with a prodigiously spiced in aromatic ragu over linguine was agreeable would be the understatement of the Monferrato century. Perfectly timed acidity seals the deal. This is barbera folks, of wit, age and history. Drink 2017-2021

Azienda Agricola Ivaldi Dario Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza DOC “1613” 2012

Few persuasions in the schemes of wine assessments are more fascinating to study than vintage variation, always great signs and portents from the fringe growing regions of the world. Monferrato is one such place, affected by swings in climatic conditions from year to year, raised here in magnification through the lens of Andrea Ivaldi’s multi-faceted barbera. The depth and structure in this ’12 is so contrary to the bright eyed ’14, now richer and almost brooding, even for Nizza. Ivaldi is a house with a self-predicated idiosyncrasy but here it speaks with Nizza style, perhaps antithetically reflexive but still with fruit that echoes from its manifest gaze into a mirror. Andrea makes exactly what the vintage gives, with blacker than red fruit bruised with a variegated hematoma and yet layered with a mineral underlap from that white limestone hill. As an arrangement it’s bigger than even he would likely have wanted to fashion but he’s a pragmatic winemaker who had to pick his fruit by September 20th. Do the math and see the forest for the trees. Drink 2017-2022

Marco Bonfante Barbera d’Asti Superiore Riserva Nizza DOC Bricco Bonfante 2009

It was beginning to look like no matter how far back you travel in a Bricco Bonfante Nizza vertical there would be no signs of evolution, that is until you hit this 2009. Here the first to begin an inkling into secondary notes, if only the etchings of spice symbols and wood derived pericopes. There is also a faint, around the corner idea of tar and candied roses, or perhaps they’ve already begun to join the scented party. I find this 2009 quite cru Barolo-like and it’s interesting to note that this was Marco’s first Nizza Bricco. It also happens to be the one with the most apparent fruit, or perhaps time is the factor needed for such a reveal. It travels from red to black and back. Really quite amazing. Drink 2017-2021

Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera D’asti Superiore Nizza Doc 2010

Earlier in the day it was Gianni Bertolino who commented on barbera from Nizza being a six-year wine. His 2010 must have hit its stride at just about exactly the six year mark because here in its seventh just the beginnings of secondary character are showing their tell tale signs. It’s in cantilever mode, stretching out over the barbera abyss, unfurling its wings and truly opening to reveal its charms. Though the acidity still burns, churns and plays devil’s advocate to the depth of fruit and territory, the wood has melted enough to reign in that sapidity and balance is coming into order. It may come as a surprise to find the acidity warm but no longer sharpening its stone but where chocolate, dried fruit (namely plum) and spice are concerned this will be the result. Yet so much life persists in this ubiquitously defined cru of a Nizza. Drink 2017-2022

Viticoltori Associati Vinchio Vaglio Serra Barbera d’Asti Superiore Laudana Nizza DOCG 2014

From the hill known as “Bricco Laudana” this is one of two barberas produced from its clay and sandy marls, a Barbera d’Asti DOC and this extraordinary Nizza DOCG. The Nizza is aged one year in large oak barrels, thus mixing grace, elegance and full on liqueur with high, nearing acetic acidity. Very long but with angular bits and spikes in and out of the morello cherry fruit. Needs a year to settle in and amongst its sharp, moving parts. The cru is farmed by five or six producers and certainly one to watch, explore and anticipate the subsequent glory that near-future vintages will bring. Drink 2018-2024

The Canadian contingent with Ian D’Agata in Nizza Monferrato.

Thanks for reading up on the wines of Barbera d’Asti and Nizza Monferrato. Let’s all hope we begin to see more options in both categories made available here in Ontario. A special thanks to Ian D’Agata, Michele Longo, Michaela Morris, Giulia Corino and the entire Collisioni crew.

Good to go!