This is the story of how a prized variety, indigenous to the hills of Novello (Piedmont), fell into oblivion and was almost extinct before being saved by a dedicated group of producers.
Their efforts to revive it allowed for Nas-cëtta to, in less than twenty years, emerge from clandestinity and gain its own well-deserved appellation. The quality of the wines it produces is just starting to show.
A historical noble variety lost to modern anxieties
The first pieces of historiography documenting the character and existence of Nas-cëtta, also known as “Anascetta”, date from the 19th century and describe it as an extraordinary grape capable of producing wines of great finesse. In 1877, the scholar Giuseppe dei Conti di Rovasenda, in his “Essay on a Universal Ampelography”, defines Nas-cëtta as “an extremely delicate grape and delicious wine”. These records show that Nas-cëtta had been once used in the production of sweet wines, valued as an aromatic blending companion to other Piedmont white varieties. Novello’s oral tradition also confirms this: Nas-cëtta was used as altar wine – a sweet, “passito” style – capable of ageing beautifully. In the “Agricultural Monograph of the Alba District” of 1883, Lorenzo Fantini writes: “L’Anascetta, a variety that produces very fine grapes…It is cultivated in significant quantities in the Novello terroir, where it bears fruit fairly well”. But the dawn of the 20th century would mark the variety’s demise…
Nas-cëtta is, very much like Nebbiolo, a delicate and fussy variety, very difficult to grow and very vulnerable to changing growing conditions, thus with very variable yields. In the first half of the 20th century, following the aftermath of the phylloxera blight and of the two World Wars, most producers replanted their vineyards with varieties that would grow more easily, demand less resources and be more commercially appealing. The rise of Barolo and Barbaresco played an important role in the marginalisation and quasi-extinction of Nas-cëtta. It survived in scattered small vineyards and in scanty rows interspersed with the noble red varieties, mostly as a result of forgetfulness or neglect rather than true oenological interest.
The intervention of a committed wine journalist would change the course of history.
Rebirth: from oblivion to local specialty
In 1993, Novello producers were invited by journalist Armando Gambera to gather and taste a line-up of 1986 Nas-cëttas. While some were already aware and interested in their local forgotten gem, most were simply baffled. The surprise was twofold: on the one hand by the sheer existence of this elegant, unique, semi-aromatic variety unique to their villages; on the other hand, by the incredible development of the wines, with fine floral and citrus aromas refined by toasty sweet notes, without any hints of oxidation. The profound and shared conviction that Nas-cëtta, in light of its character and potential, had to be saved from oblivion was then born.
Different producers started thorough experiments and research. An extensive work to gather and catalogue the available plant material enabled the expansion of the vineyard area. The first commercial Nas-cëtta of this ‘modern age’, a production of fewer than 800 bottles, was released to market by Elvio Cogno in 1994. Le Strette followed suit with their award-winning iteration, first released in 1997. Now, a total of 10 producers are committed to Nas-cëtta, its production, quality development and oenological profiling.
No longer clandestine, finally a DOC of its own
Nas-cëtta remained, for many years, a ‘clandestine’ variety, not catalogued in official registries and therefore not governed by any production rules or quality designation. Thanks to the efforts of committed producers, namely Cogno and Le Strette’s Daniele brothers, the viticultural and oenological rediscovery was slowly but surely followed by a bureaucratic evolution. After a long lobbying process, supported by research, genetic profiling and successive harvests producing outstanding wines, the legal transformation happened in two important steps: in 2001, Nas-cëtta was registered on the Italian National Registry of Grape Varieties allowing producers to label their wines under the Langhe DOC instead of simply as “Vino da Tavola”; in 2010, after a journey of almost twenty years, the Novello municipality was recognized as a historical “sub-zone” for the cultivation of the noble white grape. With the creation of the “Langhe Nas-cëtta of the Municipality of Novello”, this unique white wine finally gained its place among the great wines of Langhe. Nas-cëtta is now being seen again for what it is: one of the noble indigenous Piedmontese varieties, sharing with Nebbiolo the same historical importance, sophistication, ageing potential and deep roots in the local food & wine tradition.
The variety is now planted on 40 hectares of vineyards (20 within Langhe) and, although now also seen beyond the hills of Novello, its purest and best expressions remain those of the designated appellation.
Finally being appreciated as a true Piedmontese gem with unique elegance, Nas-cëtta is incredibly adaptable to different winemaking styles (another trait it shares with Nebbiolo), capable of retaining aromatic refinement and a distinct minerality with a delicious savoury edge. This in turn means Nas-cëtta offers a transparent expression of its terroir and has incredible ageing potential, something that is becoming increasingly clear as producers are now able to showcase the development of their first vintages.
The quest continues with many producers now working towards the recognition of single-vineyard Nas-cëttas. Le Strette’s Pasinot project, a vineyard with a careful selection of only the best catalogued plants, is paving the way for this next, natural step that would effectively create designated ‘Crus’ within the appellation.
The path is clear: Nas-cëtta is one of the most exciting, rediscovered grapes of the 21st century producing fine pours that will shine in fine wine markets (and in our cellars!) in years to come.