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A Niche Nizza

Once man progressed to the stage when his agricultural exploits produced surpluses then the stage was set for the possibility of specialisations. After all, the village blacksmith could only ply his trade if the farmers he was servicing could pay him. Thus we have the fundamentals of agronomics and, in truth, little has changed over the succeeding millenia; it may be more sophisticated but the principles remain. At the intersection of carpentry and smithing we have another very specialised trade, the cooper, or barrel maker. In a town like Nizza Monferrato - an important centre of wine production for centuries - there would have been competition amongst the local coopers and this is still celebrated today in the annual barrel race held on the first Sunday in June. Sadly, the coopers have long since gone. The advent of modern transportation has meant that production has now been centralised as the use of wood for maturing wine has become more of a niche activity and the ubiquitous stainless steel containers now carry the heavy load.

However, other businesses have developed to support the wineries that are using ever more sophisticated viticultural techniques to satisfy an ever more demanding market and one of those was run by the father of Susanna Galandrino. Agostino was an engineer whose innovative designs are still in the cellar today. In 1999 the family sold the business to concentrate on wine production and under the stewardship of Susanna they are producing fine wines. In 2000 they purchased La Gironda where they produce around 70,000 bottles per year from their 9 hectares of organically certified vineyards.


The cellar is an interesting blend of tradition and innovation. Normally maceration and fermentation is done in vertical containers that then require techniques like pumping over and punching down to ensure that the maximum goodness is extracted from the grapes but La Gironda have something different. It is a horizontal tank with an internal paddle that Susanna assures me only needs to be used once a day and shortens the time required dramatically. Away from the modern part of the winery is the traditional brick-vaulted cantina under the old farmhouse but even here Agostino’s ideas can be found. The oak barrels slide in and out of the storage racks at the touch of a finger thus enabling ease of sampling.


But the heart of La Gironda is as traditional as it is possible to be. The Barbera grape has been recorded in this area since the 13th century and this is their mainstay. From it they produce two Barbera d’Asti wines that are both DOCG but also they make two versions of the latest addition to the DOCG canon known as Nizza. By way of comparison, there are 160 communes that are authorised to produce Barbera d’Asti but only 18 can call their wines Nizza. The maximum yield per hectare also is reduced from nine to seven tonnes thus ensuring the highest quality.

La Gironda have named their Barbera d’Asti "La Lippa" after a child's game but, whilst this may be the junior wine, it has its place. Fermented and matured in steel, the 2020 that I tasted was a ruby colour with hints of the purple of youth. On the nose it was full of the fruits of the forest, blackberries, and raspberries. On the palate it was fresh and fruity with light tannins and good acidity. This is light wine that would be excellent at lunchtime with a pasta dish or perhaps with Brie.


The Barbera d’Asti Superiore is called La Gena and I sampled the 2017. This is a wine with a rich, deep ruby colour. The bouquet is full of raspberries and cloves and in the mouth there are bitter cherries and light tannins with a good acidity. This would be a wine to pair with red meats, roasted or braised, or medium fat cheeses.

Susanna explained that Le Nicchie translates as "the niches", places of honour where the best wine is kept. Certainly, this Nizza deserves its place of honour. The wine is matured in a mix of barrique, tonneaux and botti for 12 months, twice the required minimum, before being blended and bottled. It has a deep ruby colour and the 2017 that I tasted had a bouquet full of cherries, violets, and strawberries. On the palate it was full of fruit but with good acidity and a long finish.  At 15.5% it is not a wine I would fancy at lunchtime but perhaps something to enjoy with a mature cheese at the end of the evening. For those with sufficient self discipline, or a big enough cellar, Susanna thinks that this is a wine with a potential to age up to 20 years.


Finally, I was privileged to taste a wine that has yet to come to market. Ago (short for Agostino) was Susanna’s father’s nickname and this Nizza Riserva has been named for him. I tasted the 2015 and it is La Gironda’s capolavoro or masterpiece. As with all these wines the harvest is undertaken by hand and that enables an initial selection of only the best bunches, but for a riserva it is only the best of the best that are selected. The wine then spends two years in oak, twice the required minimum before being bottled. It has an intense ruby colour with the first hints of garnet that develop with age. On the nose there are big flavours of soft cherry, vanilla, and pepper whilst in the mouth there are bitter cherries and acidity that make a good structure with a long finish. I would relish this with wild boar.

This is an archetypal family business run by Susanna, her husband and son, together with one employee, and this small scale means that much care goes into everything they do and this is certainly reflected in the quality of their wines. 

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