2018 Castello di Perno, Barbera, Nizza DOCG, Piemonte, Italy.
I absolutely fell in love with this 2018 Nizza DOCG by Castello di Perno, who are mostly known for their cru (Perno) Barolo, and tasting it blind I almost thought it too was Barolo or Nebbiolo, such is the unique personality and elegant power in this 100% Barbera. This finely balanced, but firmly structured 2018 has lovely rose and subtle violet aromas to go with an earthy and sultry bouquet that transfers to the palate with black raspberries, damson plums, brandied Italian cherries and red currants leading the way on this medium to full bodied wine, along with hints of leather, sandalwood, wild herbs, licorice and a touch of loam and briar spiced underbrush. This is an enthusiasts Barbera that drinks like Burgundy, with concentration and depth, but with a lighter saturation of color, this wine is a thrilling bottle with a fine tension between opulence and savory elements. Nizza is Piemonte’s sole Barbera DOCG only cru area and this wine, with its distinctive charm is perfect example of why you need to discover it! An ancient Castle in the hills above Monforte d’Alba, Castello di Perno was a lesser known property in Barolo, but after Giorgio Gitti purchased it and the estate in 2012 from the famous Einaudi family things started to get exciting and these wines are great discoveries. Nizza, near Monferrato, which was promoted to DOCG status 10 years ago in 2014, a hilly region that sees good exposures and that originated from the lifting of the ancient seabed and has prime calcareous soils with sandy-clay marls and stratified sandstones, all the better to make rich and complex wines from the Barbera grape.

For their Nizza DOCG Barbera, Castello di Perno does 100% de-stemming of the berries, then does a 48 hour cold maceration and spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tank with the maceration lasting close to 25 days at controlled temperatures to preserve crisp details and aromatics. After the fermentation the Barbera is then aged 14 months in French oak Tonneaux, but then before bottling the wine does a short period in concrete vat to harmonize the finished wine and then settles at least 6 months in bottle before release. Interestingly, a few years back now, the officials in Asti decided to call their best Barbera zone “Nizza” and giving it a full DOCG, elevating the tiny region up, above the Barbera di Asti designation and with a higher set of standards in the production. The rules say, Nizza DOCGs must be a minimum of 13%, but usually you’ll see them closer to 14.5%, along with farming to lesser yields and strict aging requirements, 6 months in wood in the normale and 12 moths for Riservas, which are super rare, though this one qualifies. Then wood elevage helps smooth out the acidity, which Barbera, like Pinot Noir, is known for, and in a year such as this, it makes for version that reaches otherworldly seductive quality. Admiringly I am nuts for a good Barbera, especially those by Luca Curado (formerly of Vietti), Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta and Giuseppe Vajra, so when I found this one in my glass recently Became very happy and smitten with it and highly recommend Castello di Perno, for this Nizza and the Nebbiolo bottlings as well, especially the Perno Cru Barolo, plus their rare Nascetta, which is an indigenous white varietal that you don’t often here in states.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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