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Cascina La Barbatella

Cascina La Barbatella

Southern Piedmont is an area rich in viticultural heritage but that does not prevent new arrivals on the scene and in 2014 the rules were changed to admit a new DOCG wine called Nizza. It takes its name from the town of Nizza Monferrato at the centre of the designated production area and the rules state that it must be 100% Barbera, a variety that is a native to this region. Cascina La Barbatella is a small winery hidden in a tiny valley above the town that has embraced this newcomer to the Italian wine compendium.

La Barbatella was founded by Angelo Sonvico in the early 1980s and his name lives on in some of the wines now produced by Lorenzo Perego and his wife, Cinzia Marguccio. This is small-scale wine production with an annual production of only around 25,000 bottles from 4 hectares of vines. 

The tasting room is situated on its own terrace and has a beautiful view over the valley. Here we tasted two wines, both made from the Barbera grape but vinified in very different ways. The harvest for both these wines is towards the end of September and is done by hand. Both wines are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for two to three weeks but then their paths diverge.

The DOCG Barbera d’Asti from 2020 was matured for 12 months in steel tanks and should then have a further 6 months in the bottle; however, we were disturbing that final period of repose. The colour is bright ruby with cherries and raspberries on the nose with a hint of lavender. On the palate it is light and fruity with the low tannin level that is a feature of the Barbera grape but with good acidity. This is a light and fresh wine that will go well with pasta dishes at lunchtime when its characteristics will suit not only the food but also the occasion. This is a wine to be drunk within five years to appreciate it at its best.

By contrast, the Nizza, the wine that we were here to sample, has had a more complex treatment. The maximum yield for grapes used for Nizza is seven tonnes per hectare compared with nine for Barbera d’Asti and this reduction in yield increases the quality of the grapes. After fermentation the wine matures for 12 to 16 months in barriques of French oak before spending six months in a tank and one year in the bottle. We tasted a 2018 that had a deep ruby colour. The bouquet has the extra notes of vanilla and old leather from the oak of the barrique that complement the underlying fruitiness of the Barbera grape. Tannins are present but not high which is again a characteristic of the grape. This is a more complex and structured wine that would sit well with dishes containing truffles or red meat and has an ageing potential of 10 to 15 years. Lorenzo and Cinzia have given this wine the name Vigna del Angelo or Angelo’s vineyard in honour of the founder of the vineyard, Angelo Sonvico. 

For those looking for a still more complex Nizza, La Barbatella also offers a riserva that involves the selection of only the finest bunches of grapes and is only produced in the best years. This then matures for two and a half to three years in 500l French oak tonneaux before spending six to 12 months in the bottle.

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