It’s been four years since the passing away of Elvio Cogno, the man who rediscovered the Nascetta, and this quirky indigenous variety is now faring better than ever before.
During my visit to Cogno’s estate in September, I tasted through the winery’s whole portfolio and found the Barolos and Barbaresco solid, reliable. However, the 2018 A-Nascetta stole the show. No matter how delicate and difficult to handle this grape is – it suffers mold a lot! – the outcome repays all efforts. This white variety produces wines that combine complexity with drinkability and offers a broad variety of styles, ranging from lighter quaffers with a floral and herbal personality to complex amphora-aged orange wines.
Back in 1994, when everyone in the Langhe tried hard to make New World-ish Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc in the Langhe, Elvio Cogno, who had run a famous restaurant in La Morra before becoming a full winemaker, fell in love with an ‘86 Nascetta produced by a farmer in Novello, the township of the Barolo area that houses the estate that bears his name. Shortly thereafter he started looking for residual plants of this forsaken grape to make the first commercial Nascetta wine.
A semi-aromatic grape, Nascetta was one of the most planted varieties in the Langhe until it fell victim to the phylloxera pandemic in the early 20th century. By the end of the 90s, the variety was so rare that Cogno had to buy tiny amounts of grapes from all the farmers who owned spare plants to make a few hundred bottles of Vino Bianco da tavola. As often the case with forgotten grapes, Nascetta didn’t have any legal recognition. It took Cogno sixteen years – and a lot of fee payments – to register the grape, and make a DOC wine. What he achieved is a specific denomination for Nascetta from Novello. You may ask yourself what’s the difference between Nascetta del Comune di Novello and Langhe Nascetta. Well, the first must be 100% Nascetta, while the second can contain up to 15% complementary grapes.
Cogno passed away aged 79 in 2016. By that time, his son in law Walter Fissore had already taken the reins of the thirteen-hectare estate. Along with Nascetta, the production of which is now 2.000 bottle strong, Walter also makes two other wines that are even harder to find and just as unique. The first is the Pre-Phylloxera Barbera d’ Alba, which comes from century-old ungrafted vineyards in Berri di La Morra. The second is the Barolo Ravera Vigna Elena, the only single vineyard Barolo produced with 100% Nebbiolo Rosè.
Nebbiolo Rosè is the least common of the three main Nebbiolo da Barolo clones, the other two being Lampia and Michet. Many experts – including superstar agronomist Maurizio Gily – argue that Nebbiolo Rosè is so peculiar from a genetic standpoint that it could be considered a different wine grape from “Classic” Nebbiolo (even though it is closely related to it). Also in terms of appearance and flavor profile, Nebbiolo Rosè is unique. The color of both the berries and the wine they give is extremely light – hence the name Rosè – and the tannins are even stronger than those of Lampia and Michet. You also get a more floral, spicy, Pinot Noiresque aromatic profile. More on that as soon as I manage to get my hands on a bottle of the Riserva Elena
As you see from the pictures, Elvio Cogno’s headquarters offer breathtaking views on the towns of Barolo and Novello. The winery even received an award from UNESCO for having preserved the original architecture of the villa that houses the winery. Except for a plot in Barbaresco’s Bordini Cru and the pre-phylloxera Barbera in Berri di La Morra, all the vineyards are within short reach from the villa. The Nascetta vineyards stretch from the castle of Novello the surroundings of the property. Nebbiolo plots span across the adjacent Cascina Nuova, Bricco Pernice, and Ravera.
You often hear people affirming that Novello wines bear resemblance to those produced in Barolo. In this case, that statement is not true at all. Elvio Cogno’s parcels all lie on blue marl soils that are somewhere in in between those of Barolo and Monforte d’Alba. The presence of sand is very limited, so the wines tend to be broad, muscular, and quite tannic in their youth.
Winemaking is traditional – no chemicals in the vineyards, fifty days maceration for Barolo, little or no fining, and no added yeasts. Nascetta spends 6 months in large oak casks (30%) and stainless steel (70%). The Barolos, instead, age in 15 hectoliters in Garbellotto casks. Walter Fissore loves to describe his entry-level Barolo Cascina Nuova as “post-modern”, meaning that this wine is at once traditional and quite approachable in its youth. I heard a similar statement regarding Damilano’s Lecinquevigne when I visited that estate a couple years ago. Guess what? Cogno and Damilano share the same consultant: Beppe Caviola.
Langhe Nascetta 2018
The 2018 Nascetta is more extrovert than the previous vintages I’ve tasted. The nose offers clear cut aromas of lemon curd, grapefruit, botanical herbs, candied ginger, and a touch of flint. On the palate, it enters taut, razor-sharp, mineral-inflected, and then offers slightly richer flavors of guava and yellow peach on the medium-long finish. I find it difficult to compare Nascetta to any other grape, but in this case, I would name Riesling for the freshness and herbal quality. And just as Riesling gets better with time, I’m convinced that this will age well for at least three to five years, too.
Langhe Nebbiolo Montegrilli 2019
Cogno’s entry-level Nebbiolo undergoes carbonic maceration, and spends six months in stainless steel before bottling. You get very sweet – but not candied – aromas of strawberry jam, crushed raspberries, and Gamay-like hints of violets, dried herbs, and black pepper. This wine is very light-bodied, and boasts a refreshing herbal complement to the juicy flavors of tart cherry and pressed flowers. It’s nothing but an easygoing quaffer that should also match seafood dishes.
Barbaresco Bordini 2017
Sourced from a 1 ha plot in one of Neive’s best known Crus, the 2017 Bordini Barbaresco already show some signs of evolution. Note of rust, mint, cedar, pot-pourri mingle with dark cherry and lavender on the nose. Slightly drying tannins underpin a medium-bodied palate that boast well-integrated acidity, and dusty minerals that echo on the medium-long finish along with subtle flavors of cranberries and wild roses. I recommend sipping this wine in the medium run.
Barolo Cascina Nuova 2016
Sourced from the younger plot in the Ravera Mga, Ravera is the estate’s entry-level Barolo. Aromas of rust, game, tar frame a core of ripe dark berries, chinotto, and violet pastille. Mouth-coating tannins camouflage the ripe, luscious flavors of dark cherry and cassis, as a rusty mineral vein slowly emerges and dominates the medium-long, savory finish. I find this wine to be less approachable than it should be according to what Valentina says, and I guess it’s because of the 2016 vintage, which gave austere, age-worthy Barolos even on the lower end of the spectrum.
Barolo Ravera 2016
Sourced from a 60-year-old vineyard plot mainly planted with Lampia and Michet, the 2016 Ravera opens up to mineral-infected aromas of flinty dark cherry, mint, liquid rocks, a hint of tobacco, and a faint touch of faded flowers. The palate is rich, full-bodied. Fine-grained tannins provide support luscious, textural flavors of brambly black fruit and cassis, as hints of pencil shavings and blood orange emerge on the focused, savory finish. Forget it in your cellar.