Just to the north of the town of Alba, across the Tànaro River lies a hilly region referred to as the Roero. Unlike the Langhe hills to the south, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, the soil here is much higher in sand content and there for less humidity is retained. What this means for red wines, especially those based on the local nebbiolo varietal, are softer wines with less tannic structure and longevity but nonetheless pleasantly perfumed. For white wines the story is quite different. The relatively obscure Favorita grape is considered to show its best stuff in these soils, but the arneis grape, nearly extinct 15-20 years ago, has found its milieu here.
The DOC Roero, with no reference to varietal, is traditionally nebbiolo, sometimes blended with a little arneis. Roero Arneis is, of course, purely varietal, and certainly the most visible wine in our market.
Arneis is a curious varietal that should be more popular than it is here. Italian wines are often criticized for being tart or high in acidity yet they are this way because it is so seldom that Italians drink wine without food. The acidity is there because it creates a length that best enables the wine to work with food. Arneis, as the name suggests, (Arneis is dialect for rascal, due to the fickle nature of the vine) is a bit of a bugger to work with. Growers will tell you that as the grapes are approaching ideal ripeness acidity can drop off with nearly no notice. This explains why the varietal was as near extinction as it was. What use has the Italian for a wine that won’t compliment the food they are eating? In recent years there have been a number of producers that have been dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s in the vineyard to create arneis wine with pleasant brightness and soft tropical fruit flavors that, when at their best, have a haunting hint of smokiness that comes without the use of oak. Arneis will (or at least should) never command the prices of the great white wines of the world, yet can be a fascinating alternative to the humdrum pinot grigio we so love to quaff at cocktail parties. The better examples are excellent accompaniments for freshwater fish, including smoked trout. Thee are so many producers to recommend I will probably be missing a few, but look for Malvirà, Marco Porello, Giovanni Almondo, Vietti (who, while being more based in the Langhe, is largely credited with resurrecting the varietal from its near extinction), Poderi Alasia (look for their Solilaria single vineyard bottling), Matteo Correggia, Cristina Ascheri, Filippo Gallino and Monchiero Carbone.
As for red wines, Barbera does extremely well here, but it is hard to know when you have one from the Roero because most of them are labeled under the DOC Barbera d’Alba, as are many of the nebbiolo wines (under Nebbiolo d’Alba). There are many exceptions to the above rule of Roero nebbiolo being less than serious wines, these coming from individual plots of land with more favorable terroir, creating wines of greater density and structure. Notable examples are the Trinità bottling from Malvirà, Audinaggio from Cascina Ca’Rossa, and especially the Rocche d’Ampsej vineyard of Matteo Correggia.
There are also sparkling versions of Arneis, as well asPassito takes that can be pretty good, but these are a bit fewer and further between.
Throughout the month we’ll be featuring Arneis and some sorta red Roero by the quartino so I look forward to seeing you here at the restaurant and pouring some for you!