Like Tuscany, Piedmont is predominantly a red wine region. Piedmont is almost a nation unto itself with regard to red grape varieties, with household names like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, all the way down to the ultra-obscure vines like Avana`, Avarengo, and Doux d’Henry and everything in between. Piedmont is undoubtedly a treasure trove of great red wine grapes that grow nowhere else. Not so with with white grapes.
Piedmont’s most famous white grape, Cortese, is far less famous than the appellation that makes the most use of it, Gavi. There’s also Favorita, which is simply another name for Vermentino which was likely brought to Piedmont from Liguria, and northern Piedmont’s Erbaluce, and not a great deal more, save this evening’s subject, Arneis (ar-NEIGHSS).
By the mid-1960s, the Roero region’s Arneis was nearly extinct. And it should come with little surprise that this was the case when one learns that that the word “arneis” in Piedmontese dialect roughly means “little difficult one” which is a reflection of the high level of trouble the vine gives the grower in the vineyard and the cellar alike. Its yields are low, it’s susceptible to all manner of diseases, and has difficulties with fertility which means in some years it produces almost no fruit at all. And if all this weren’t enough, the grape’s juice (must as it’s known in the business) is naturally quite acid-shy, which means it is prone to making somewhat flat and flabby wines.
All that said, round about the same time, a few growers, despite all of these issues with the grape, still believed that Arneis could make really good wine, began a program to better understand the vine in an effort to prove their point and save the vine from oblivion. Over a couple of decades, and lots of painstaking hands-on research into all of the variety’s clones and preferences in terms of soil and climate, this brave and tenacious group of producers were able to overcome almost all of Arneis’s pecadillos to arrive at a truly viable clone and regimen of vineyard methods to make really good Arneis. Likewise in the cellar, innovative techniques were developed to boost Arnies’s acidity to make a more stylish and less rustic product. Tonight’s bottle is an example of all of the hard work of this proud handful of growers who championed this once nearly forgotten variety, and in my opinion, it’s one of the very best ones too…
As usual, I dished up a Piedmontese menu to match this oh-so-Piedmontese grape: fettuccine with a creamy walnut and garlic sauce, and a main course of grilled shrimp (which should have been crayfish, but alas none were at hand) in a roux-based sauce of aromatic veggies and herbs with lemon zest and white raisins, and a side of braised carrots.
Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis 2012
Very pale “white gold” color. Clean and pretty nose of pear and apricot fruit with a hint of lime, followed by clear notes of powdered ginger, sweet herbs, hazelnut, minerals and pine needles. In the mouth the wine is medium-full with an unctuous but still quite crisp and fresh body with very elegant flavors of applesauce, baked quince, and subtle notes of fresh-sliced frying peppers. Long and nimble tonic water finish.