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Michele Chiarlo: Old Barbera Vines Nurture the Future of Nizza DOCG

Stefano Chiarlo presents the latest vintage of Nizza DOCG Montemareto and introduces the AGEBA project. Michele Chiarlo, an advocate for the Barbera grape and a pioneer of the Nizza DOCG denomination, continues to push boundaries in the wine industry, bridging the past with the future. As the ten-year mark since the establishment of the new specific designation of origin for Nizza approaches – acknowledged starting from the 2014 harvest – Michele Chiarlo presents the latest vintage of Nizza DOCG Montemareto 2021, unveiling a fresh perspective on sustainability for the Barbera grape: studying old vines, analyzing their genotypes and selecting those best adapted to climate change.

The AGEBA project, a study on the resilience of old vines

The Barbera grape, a cornerstone of winemaking in Piedmont, boasts a rich history intertwined with the region’s winemaking traditions. It has shown remarkable resilience to climate variations, particularly among its older vines. Yet, its narrative extends beyond tradition to embrace innovation. As an advocate for the Nizza denomination and a champion of Barbera’s reputation, Michele Chiarlo actively participates in the AGEBA project. Led by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, this initiative focuses on identifying and studying vines with robust genetic resilience, which offer promising prospects for the future of viticulture.

“The AGEBA project is a fascinating study that delves into old vines with the most resilient genetic heritage. While examining vineyards, we select samples deemed healthy, free from viruses or Flavescence dorée, and proven to withstand 80-90 years of various climatic conditions, from hot and cold to dry seasons, or even capable of producing lower alcohol content.” states Stefano Chiarlo, winemaker and co-owner with his brother Alberto. 

“By analyzing the genetic makeup of each old vine, the project aims to pinpoint the specimens most resilient to climate change or new diseases, providing material that can be shared with nurseries for future replanting. We began with Barbera because it’s an area that has been widely affected by climate change and prone to issues like Flavescence dorée. However, it would also be interesting to expand this research to Nebbiolo in the future, as it’s always intriguing to delve into the history of old vines. Additionally, this study has unearthed several other intriguing discoveries, such as the rediscovery of abandoned rootstocks from wetter and colder decades, which didn’t perform well back then but could be useful now.”

The AGEBA project, a study on the resilience of old vines of Barbera. Michele Chiarlo Nizza DOCG Montemareto 2021: Vintage and Tasting Notes.

Michele Chiarlo Nizza DOCG Montemareto 2021

Renowned for its ability to produce wines of extraordinary quality, the hill of Montemareto sits in the municipality of Castelnuovo Calcea, in the province of Asti, not far from the vineyards of La Court, towards Mombercelli. It’s a majestic ridge that rises over 300 meters in altitude, steeply sloped, with an excellent southeast to southwest exposure that ensures sunlight from morning till evening. The Barbera vines grow in soils composed of Sant’Agata Fossili calcareous marls alternating with layers of light-colored Asti sands, rich in microelements, particularly magnesium and calcium. 

Montemareto is a vineyard with unique characteristics. The Nizza DOCG produced from this cru boasts a significant structure, maintains remarkable freshness and stands out for its notes of violet, small red and black fruits, as well as a light, sweet spiciness. Extremely low yields and significant thinning allow for the harvest of only five to six bunches per plant. This approach aims to emphasize the wine’s rich structure, which is supported by a robust acidity that is typical of the Barbera grape. 

A delicate traditional aging involves one year in large oak barrels to maintain the true essence of the original grape variety. The resulting wine unveils notes of dark fruits and rich aromas that hint at substantial longevity. 

2021: Vintage and Tasting Notes

“Snow has finally fallen. The earlier part of the year has seen rain and snow, which piled up to a height of 60 centimeters. March has not experienced rain and temperatures have always settled above average, prompting an early start of vegetation. Such conditions led us to expect another early and hot vintage, but we would be proven wrong. April and May were cooler than usual, slowing down the vine’s vegetative development. In mid-May, the vintage seemed to be a late one: the vines were growing slowly, temperatures were quite low during the night and the wind was always cold”. 

“In the first week of June all varieties were in full bloom, with some Barbera grapes already forming. The last two weeks of the month had been hot, characterized by temperatures within seasonal average and storms that brought 20-30 mm of rainfall. June marked the beginning of a long, hot (but not torrid) and dry summer that lasted until September, which was distinguished by milder temperatures during the day. The last two weeks of August were dedicated to the thinning of the lushest vineyards”. 

“Harvest was carried out during the usual period (September 22/23) yielding healthy and outstandingly ripe grapes that reached utterly perfect yet extremely rare conditions. Despite the significant climatic variations experienced in spring, 2021 turned out to be an outstanding vintage thanks to the excellent weather conditions that followed.” says Stefano Chiarlo.

The wine boasts a rich and vibrant ruby red hue with hints of violet. It offers a generous and sophisticated aroma profile, showcasing an array of red fruits like cherry, sour cherry and blackberries, all wrapped in a distinct floral bouquet of violets. A subtle touch of spice adds depth and complexity to the overall experience.

On the palate, the rich flavors of red fruits and floral hints shine through, delivering a bold and profound experience. The balanced blend of freshness and the velvety tannin finish perfectly embodies the unique terroir of Montemareto.

The wine’s acidity reflects its varietal integrity and enhances the overall drinking experience, making Nizza DOCG Montemareto 2021 an intriguing yet approachable choice. It pairs excellently with dishes like pasta alla norma, fish soup, pepper steak and lamb.