Roero Arneis, given the proper care, can be a refined, elegant, and even an age-worthy white wine. I'm not saying all Arneis is going to blow your mind, but some of them will. You just have to know where to look, or where to go so they can find you.
Seven years ago I happened to have put myself in the perfect place for a fabulous Arneis to discover me. It was my first night ever in the Barolo region and there I was, standing in a little wine bar in the village of La Morra, talking with four German guys I'd never met before. One of them picked out a bottle of Giovanni Almondo Bricco Ciliegie, and we all shared it.
Earlier that day, from the city of Torino, I had called the winery of Enzo Boglietti to make an appointment. I was your usual English-speaking tourist back then and didn't speak a lick of Italian. Since Enzo didn't speak any English, he decided to hand the phone off to someone in his tasting room who did. This person was a German guy with perfect English and he gave me instructions to get to La Morra. So there I went, with just a paper map, scribbled instructions, and the hope that everything would be just as he said it would be. Needless to say, it was. They haven't let me down since.
The Giovanni Almondo Bricco Ciliegie is a wine I'll never forget—not only because it was the first wine I ever shared with my German Barolo Boys, and the first wine I ever drank in Barolo, but the label is gorgeous and memorable, and it is one of the best Arneis out there.
As time marched on, I saw the Bricco Ciliegie here and there but for whatever reason, never drank it again. So when I found myself last October at the winery of Giovanni Almondo, sitting in the tasting room with Stefano Almondo, and a bottle of Bricco Ciliegie staring me in the face, I felt like I was suddenly reunited with an old friend. In fact I was! The Bricco Ciliegie was just as amazing as ever.
One of the things that makes Arneis so interesting is how it is produced. Some wine makers leave the must of the grapes sitting on their skins for varying amounts of time (usually hours) in order to extract particular aromas and flavors from the Arneis skins. This has actually become a fairly common practice in several white wines of northern Italy, Piemontese Timorasso and Alto Adige Sauvignon blanc, to name a couple. In recent years a few Piemontese white wine producers (Matteo Correggia, Angleo Negro, and a few others) have teamed up to experiment with different wine making techniques. Maceration on the skins is just one of them. Other techniques include using indigenous yeast versus other yeast, early picking time versus normal picking, and different pressing and aging methods.
The current energy and enthusiasm around Arneis is really exciting. When you go to Piemonte, do yourself a favor and take a jaunt to Roero to see what these wine makers are up to. The following are my favorite Arneis producers, and notes from my visits in October of 2012.
Vigne Sparse 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. Arneis 100%. On the nose honey, acacia, and lime with minerals. A bright wine with flavors of lemon and a sleek finish. Stefano told me the wine had been open a few days but it didn't taste like it at all. I've experienced this with other fine whites from Piemonte. I think a strong minerality creates the structure upon which wines like this one can thrive for a long time.
Bricco Ciliegie 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. Arneis 100%. Five percent is fermented in barrique (French barrel). This one balances the sweetness of baked pears and vanilla with the tartness of star fruit and an exquisite bouquet of white flowers and herbs. Polished and lovely.
Camestrì 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. About a third of the Arneis in each harvest undergoes maceration on the skins for 12-18 hours at a low temperature. This method adds complexity to the bouquet that, for me, often plays out like a Fino or Amontillado sherry. I also get a lot of sweet apple, caramel, and a touch of hay. In the mid-palate it is full and round but maintains an unmistakable minerality.
Recit Roero Arneis 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. Recit is Piemontese dialect for "little king." This wine is aptly named since Arneis is the white sidekick to Nebbiolo, the king of Italian reds. Coming from a mix of vineyards throughout Roero, Recit expresses the overall personality of the region. Almost clear in color with some effervescence; quite refreshing. Floral with notes of dried grass, d'Anjou pear, and river rock.
Cecu d'la Biunda 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. Cecu was the nickname of the family's grandfather, Francesco, who initially planted the family's Arneis vineyards. This wine is named after him. Cecu d'la biunda is dialect meaning, "Francesco of the white (grape)." The vines are in Vezza, where they grow on soft hills of limestone, and Canale where the vines live in a rocky soil. In the nose: intense but fresh. Vanilla and limestone lead with clear minerality on the palate. Any tartness is balanced out with a full, smooth, mouth-filling texture.
Roero Arneis 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. Their Canale vineyards are sandy with some silt and clay. Aromas of white flower and Asian pear. In the mouth. Full and fleshy with a bit of honey texture. A small percentage of the fruit undergoes maceration on the skins.
Serra Lupini 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. This delicate wine offers little resistance. Aromas of dahlia blossoms, flavors of sweet vanilla and apricot. Light and balanced.
Perdaudin 2011. Roero Arneis DOCG. The vineyard, Perdaudin, is named after a great grandfather of the family, Audino. He planted some of the first Arneis in Roero. It is a vineyard rich in limestone and sand, and sprinkled with fossils and shells. A complex soil such as this gives this wine a lot of character. There is no shortage of a bouquet in this wine and it has more structure and complexity than the previous Arneis. Unctuous flavors and textures of caramel and stewed apples round out the wine's luminescence.
Gianat 2009. Roero Arneis DOCG. Fermentation and fining in barrel, 15% of which is new. The soils are mostly limestone. This one expresses, as did the Camestri, the unmistakable Sherry qualities: toffee, nuts, moss, orange marmalade, a beam of metal. Smooth in mouth. Most interesting of the three. Aging potential is close to seven years.
Marcella Newhouse is a certified sommelier and wine writer with over 12 years of experience in all facets of the wine industry. While she appreciates the diversity of wines across the globe, her specialty is in Italian wines. She speaks Italian, works the harvest in Piedmont each year, and writes about all types and styles of Italian wines on her blog, enotecamarcella.com. She has also written for www.altoadigewinesusa.com, Sommelier Journal, and has many more new projects coming up in 2014.