Arneis: a grape worth saving (and savoring)

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky then good, even if we’d like to think we’re both.

I was having lunch last week with a Piedmont winemaker and mentioned that I had heard that there was one farmer who, back in the 1960s, basically had saved the arneis grape from extinction.

“The farmer was my father,” said a beaming Luca Currado of the Vietti winery. He then recounted the saga of Alfredo Currado:

“We don’t make international wines; we make traditional wines. My father in the 1960s wanted to make a white wine — not chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. He remembered a white grape that had made a sweeter wine like moscato and a rosé. It was not popular, and it was not good. In fact, it was called ‘the wine of the mother-in-law.’

“So my father collected enough vines in 1968 to make a dry version. He took cuttings and got just enough. Then all the other farmers took cuttings and the university took cuttings to select the first clone. My father was very, very proud. Now we make 3,000 cases in Roero, and the region produces more than 9 million bottles.

“I am happy because we don’t know who made the first Barolo or the first Barbaresco, but we know this.”

In addition to the ample and growing production in Piedmont, arneis has found its way to Israel (try the Golan Sion Creek White blend) and California (both the Seghesio and Graziano are delish).

But arneis still finds its fullest expression in its homeland. Currado’s Vietti is an exemplary effort, with jolts of minerality and salty lime flavors that glide across the palate and linger in lovely fashion. The Bruno Giacosa is a bit flintier and livelier, the Cereto fruitier and less minerally. Malvira’s arneis is “stony” in two ways (wet-stone texture, stone-fruit flavors). Paitin and Pertinace also make worthy wines from this grape.

Arneis used to be grown primarily to blend into Barolo and Barbaresco in order to soften nebbiolo’s tannins. Thanks to Alfredo Currado, this grape now proudly stands on its own.

2 Responses

  1. ed constantini

    Bill, are the Arneis wines (Vietti, and Giacosa) available locally and what is the price point. Thanks

  2. Bill Ward

    Vietti is $24, Giacosa about $35. Both are available locally. The latter in particular fits an unfortunate pattern: Italian whites tend to push the limits of what I’d like to spend on them. These are delicious and worth the price, but just barely in the Giacosa’s case.

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