The Story Behind Nascetta (and Anascetta)

I get so many emails from folks saying how much they appreciate this post on the story behind the ampelonym Nascetta that I thought I’d repost it today. Buona lettura!

*****

Romeo, doff thy name!

Above: Valter Fissore of Elvio Cogno (Novello) single-handedly delivered the Nascetta grape from oblivion after he tasted a wine made using this once highly praised grape in 1991. The wine had been bottled in 1986.

It’s regrettable that when I tasted the Nascetta grape for the first time last year, it was served to me ice cold and was described as a “light-bodied white wine.”

While in Piedmont in March of this year, I happily learned that Nascetta is actually a noble white grape variety that can produce long-lived, structured wines. And I had the great fortune to taste Valter Fissore’s excellent 2001 bottling — a nearly decade-old expression of this grape. In my notes, I wrote “rosemary, sage, petrol,” and was blown away by the structure of the wine, its lively acidity, and most of all its gorgeous, unctuous mouthfeel.

Yesterday, in a wonderful post on drinking the last extant bottling of a vintage, Cory nudged me to fulfill a promise to explore the origins of the name. And so here it is.

First of all, a little history.

The name Nascetta was coined by 19th-century Piedmontese enologist Giovanni Gagna (left, 1833-1881), who believed erroneously that the grape was related to the Sardinian grape Nasco (from the Sardinian nuscu, from the Latin muscus, meaning moss). Remember: for the better part of the 18th and 19th centuries, Sardinia, Nice, Savoy, and Piedmont were ruled by the House of Savoy (the Kingdom of Sardinia), with its court in Turin and so commerce between Sardinia and Piedmont was fluid during that period.

In 1877, Count Giovanni di Rovasenda listed the grape using its dialectal name, Anascetta, in his landmark Saggio di una ampelografia universale (Essay on Universal Ampelography). The fact that he uses the dialectal inflection of Gagna’s name for the grape is an indication of how popular the grape was in Piedmont at that time, when it was commonly blended with Favorita (Vermentino) and Moscato. (In Piedmontese dialect, an initial a is added to certain words to compensate for syncopated, i.e., lost vowels; in this case, the acquisition of the initial a would appear hypercorrective, a phenomenon not uncommon in the morphology of Piedmontese.)

Here’s where it gets a little complicated.

Above: The confusion regarding the name of this grape was created in part by Valter’s frustration with labeling requirements. In 2001, he bottled the wine as a non-vintage vino da tavola (table wine) because the grape was not yet authorized for the Langhe Bianco DOC appellation.

Let’s start with some chronology:

1991 – Valter tastes a bottling of 1986 by farmer Francesco Marengo (Novello).
1994 – Valter produces 800 bottles from his own planting of the grape, labeled as Nas-cetta; following this vintage, Valter is forced to stop labeling the wine as Nas-cetta after he is fined for listing an unauthorized grape variety name on the label.
2000 – Nascetta (the grape) is added to the catalog of authorized grape varieties for Langhe.
2004 – Valter bottles the wine as Langhe Bianco DOC but cannot list the grape variety on the label; he labels the wine “Anas-cëtta” using a “fantasy” name because the grape is not authorized for the Langhe Bianco DOC labeling (it’s authorized for the blend but not the label).
2010 – After Valter’s successful lobbying, the 2010 vintage will be first labeled as Langhe Nascetta [sic] DOC.

Above: Valter’s Nascetta is an excellent value for a structured, age-worthy white. Be sure to serve it at cellar or room temperature.

When I asked Valter directly about his use of diacritics (in this case the umlaut and the hyphen), he told me flatly that he introduced them in the labeling for purely proprietary reasons. The mutation of the grape names Nascetta and Anascetta was inspired by his frustration with labeling requirements. The good news is that the confusion has been resolved and this noble white grape will be labeled as “Langhe Nascetta DOC” beginning with the 2010 vintage.

While in Piedmont in March, I also tasted another excellent bottling of Nascetta by Rivetto.

Be sure to read Cory’s post on the last bottle of 2001 and Whitney’s post, too.

… O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

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