Have you had an Arneis? If you’ve been trolling the middle rows of the supermarket, you might assume it’s the Other other Piedmont white, neither as full bodied as Gavi, nor as sweet as Moscatto, perhaps you’ve had a little and it seemed like an acceptable alternative to the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc someone told you was so last week. If it was fine, then fine. We’re all fine. But underneath Arneis’ friendly crisp exterior beats the heart of a warrior grape who would not go quietly into the night when so many other varieties succumbed to the yawning abyss of obscurity.
Arneis is a wine of versatility and breeding; bright with aciditiy, generally medium bodied, and aromatic. The grape was first recorded in the fifteenth century in a Roero vineyard. For all its manifest virtue, in the 1960s Arneis nearly went extinct. Piemontese winemakers and winedrinkers have traditionally given much more time and effort to red wines; from the towering Nebbiolo wines of Barolo and Gattinara and Barbaresco and Ghemme and Lassona and, well, most places in Piedmont, to the friendly Barberas from all the other places in Piedmont and humble (but increasingly interesting) Dolcettos from all the other other places in Piedmont; it’s easy to understand why a grape – even one as excellent as Arneis – might get lost in the shuffle, especially when the Grignolinos and Fresias and Pelevergas of the region are also looking for their voice in the choir. Arneis spent centuries as a complementary vine – co-fermented with Nebbiolo to soften tannins, or, even more ignominiously, as an aromatic alternative for birds to feast on in place of more valuable red vines nearby. Relatively few winemakers thought to make wine out of it; partly because it’s a pain in the ass to grow – it loses acidity quickly after ripening and it’s susceptible to rot, so as long as the vintage is neither cool nor warm it’s fine – partly because it commits the cardinal sin of not being red. Thankfully, Arneis had a handful of true believers who believed – as I do – that the wine drinking public does eventually respond to wines of undeniable quality. Here are a couple examples.
Matteo Corregia Roero Arneis
This is a relatively straightforward Arneis. Clean and fresh and crisp. Bright lemon and lime flavors complement that oh so fuzzy word minerality, which you might call the taste of acidity. Nothing I’ve said is exactly groundbreaking, and a lesser wine of this sort would be as noteworthy as a glass of water, but this wine happens to be perfect. The key element in this wine is balance. The bright acidity doesn’t overwhelm the weight of the wine, the tart fruit never threatens bitterness; the wine hits that unassuming, ephemeral sweet spot of purity that is so often sought but too rarely achieved.
Very few producers in Roero can claim the same dedication to either Roero or Arneis as Malvira’. Since 2005 they’ve owned the Renesio vineyard, which is where Arneis first appeared in the Middle Ages. They make a single vineyard Arneis from that vineyard. It is an extraordinary wine. It is rich and creamy yet wrapped around an electric core of acidity. It is filled with peaches and herbs and flowers on the nose. It is drenched in fruit and it is savory and oily and endlessly complex on the palate. It is the opposite of pure – it is the all-encompassing Arneis, like the vinous reflection of a fractal pattern.
People go to BevMo or Total Wine and spend twice as much money on wines worth half as much. Those people make my brain hurt.
Find a wine shop. Find my wine shop. Find an Arneis.