Barbera is the grape I’m most excited about. The reason may surprise you.

In December of last year, the wine route took me back to Piedmont where I visited vineyards in the heart of the Nizza DOCG.

Italian wine professionals are (or should be) well aware that Nizza — the commune of Nizza Monferrato and the surrounding villages — officially became its own designation in 2014.

But what they might not know or realize is that historically, this small area in Piedmont wine country has been home to some of Italy’s most iconic wines and wineries for generations.

Over the last few decades, italophile focus in the international wine community has shifted to the Langhe where Barolo and Barbaresco are raised.

But if you dig back through the guides and Italian wine books from the 1980s, you’ll find that a handful of pioneering growers and winemakers had recognized the immense potential of Nizza Monferrato where Barbera — not Nebbiolo — has its spiritual home.

One of the things that set this subzone of Barbera d’Asti apart is the fact that the soils there are identical to the soils found in La Morra, the largest commune for the production of Barolo. The little known Bricco di Nizza, a ridge that runs from the town of Nizza Monferrato to the west toward the village of Moasca, has the same ancient marl (limestone and clay) and clay subsoils that have helped to make Barolo so famous.

And I was there to take pictures of dirt.

Luckily for me, I arrived not long after the vineyards had been tilled. And the subsoils were easy to spot.

Those are clay-rich soils above. And below, you’ll see limestone-rich soils in a newly planted vineyard there.

Note the deep brick color in the first photo and the grey-whitish hue of the second.

People familiar with the vineyards of La Morra and other parts of Barolo could easily mistake them for land in Langa.

I was also there to speak to Barbera-whisperer Massimiliano Vivalda, the man showing me the Masnaghetti/Enogea map of the Nizza DOCG above.

He metaphorically walked me through all the historic wineries there and their vineyards as we studied the map together.

He talked to me about the gold rush of investment that is sweeping over this appellation as some of the top winemakers in Italy are buying property and building winemaking facilities in around Nizza Monferrato along the Bricco di Nizza.

And we tasted wines that come in part from a farm he and his family have managed for decades.

I had first heard of a new Nizza DOCG estate called Amistà through a client of mine. And when I met the son of the owner, a student at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Science where I teach every year, he extended an invitation to visit.

The thing that intrigued me the most about this new but storied property, where some of the vines are 60+ years old (see the gnarled plant above), was that the owner, a lovely gentleman from Turin named Michele Marsiaj, had decided to break with a tradition established by a handful of his famous neighbors.

Instead of aging the wine in French barriques, he had decided to make a Nizza DOCG raised entirely in large cask. When I had tasted the wine on campus (thanks to the student) back in the fall of 2022, I was blown away by its elegance and purity.

Connoisseurs of Piedmont wines will immediately recognize the significance of this stylistic choice. The use of barriques (as opposed to large-format botti) transformed Barolo and Barbaresco in the 1990s as winemakers reached for a “modern” expression of their grapes. Similarly, Nizza growers began “barriquing” their wines as early as the 1980s.

Amistà really impressed me with its clarity and varietal expression. And I’m ever more convinced that you’re going to be hearing a lot about it this year. That’s in part because Michele, a man I admire greatly, has asked me to be Amistà’s U.S. ambassador for 2023. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working on such a compelling project and I love and am proud to be part of the super team that Michele has assembled.

A new chapter begins! And there’s so much more to tell. Thanks for being here and stay tuned…

2 thoughts on “Barbera is the grape I’m most excited about. The reason may surprise you.

  1. Spot on, dude! Nizza is the wonder-horse territory for Barbera. Despite being a diehard Chianti-classico nut, we’re also Nizza-nuts (and, well Barbera nuts in general.)

    We live in the large Central Coast wine region in California. After tasting so many flabby wines where the heat has raised the sugar and depleted the acid, you come to appreciate a wine that has structure, fruit and acidity. At almost every price level, Barbera has that (yes, even the $6 bottles from Trader Joe’s…don’t tell anyone).

    People from the hotter districts in Paso Robles ask me why I like Barbera. My response: “Acid isn’t a 4-letter word”.

    Keep up all your work…both about wines and your social causes. These are truly appreciated and respected.

    John Gayley


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