The Outer Limits: Sizzano, Italy (pop. 1,452)

The Parish Church of Sizzano; photo by Alessandro Vechi (via Wikimedia Commons)

Located in the province of Novarra—about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Turin—you’ll find the wine-producing comune of Sizzano (current population: 1,452).

Sizzano, one of the smallest DOCs of Piedmont—is tucked away in an area often referred to as Alto Piemonte. Wine lovers will recognize this term as it applies to a small strip of vineyards that includes the slightly-better-known Gattinara and Ghemme DOCGs—in addition to the equally-obscure DOCs of Fara, Lessona, and Boca. The Alto Piemonte is stretched alongside the Sesia River—a tributary of the Po— and set in the foothills of the Italian Alps (the alto in the name refers to its relatively high altitude).

This string of small towns was once planted with more than 40,000 hectares (98,000 acres) of vines and was among the most impressive producers of Nebbiolo-based red wines in Italy. However, beginning in the late 1800s, phylloxera took its toll. Later, a post-World War II population exodus—towards the new industrial jobs in the cities—completed the decimation of the area’s wine industry. At present, there are just over 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of vines in the entire region.

Of these, a mere 5 hectares/12 acres are located in Sizzano. The DOC—approved for only one type of wine—typically produces a mere 900 cases of wine a year from vineyards situated at a minimum of 200 meters/656 feet—and no more than 350 meters/1,150 feet—of altitude.

Location of the town of Sizzano within Piedmont; map via Google.com.maps

Sizzano DOC is a dry, tannic-yet-elegant red wine based on 50% to 70% Nebbiolo—here often referred to as Spanna. It may also contain up to 10% of the loosely-defined “non-aromatic red grapes suitable for cultivation in Piedmont.”

In addition to the Nebbiolo, 30% to 50% of the blend is required to be composed of Vespolina and/or Uva Rara grapes. Vespolina—a progeny of Nebbiolo— was once widely grown throughout Piedmont, but post-Phylloxera is mostly found in the Alto Piemonte as well as in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese DOC (where it may be known as Ughetta).

Uva Rara—literally “rare grape”—is used in many appellations of Piedmont and Lombardy (albeit in small amounts) to soften Nebbiolo-based wines. The Uva Rara of Piedmont is also known as Bonarda Novarese; but is distinct from the much better-known and far more widely-planted Bonarda Piemontese.

The Sizzano DOC was approved in 1969, making this—along with Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barolo—one of the oldest DOCs in Piedmont. According to the disciplinare, the wines of the Sizzano DOC are “ruby red with garnet reflections” and have aromas of red fruit and violet flowers. As the entire DOC produces less than 1,000 cases of Sizzano a year, it may be necessary to travel to the Alto Piemonte in order to try some.

Road trip, anyone?

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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