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.
“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.
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.