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The White wines of Piemonte

Today we will close Piemonte. It has been a long journey into this fabulous region, one of the most prestigious one in Italy. Keep in mind that Piemonte was where the Kings of Italy resided before the government moved to Rome after 1870. So their wines were known to the courts of Europe. I mentioned in the first blog that Nebbiolo and particularly Barolo was the Wine of the kings and the King of the wines.

Today we turn the page to the whites, less known and less appreciated but nevertheless great wines. One of them: Arneis is one of my favorite whites.

So lets start with that, lets talk about Arneis.


In the 1980s, Arneis made Italy’s most popular dry white wine, mainly on the strength of Ceretto’s iconic, beautifully labeled and bottled Blangé bottling. The name Arneis derives from Renexij, the ancient name of the locality Renesio di Canale: in time this morphed into Arnesio (used at the beginning of the twentieth century), and finally, Arneis. It’s not by chance that a high-quality cru for this variety is Bric Renesio, a specific site first described in 1478. Interestingly, in Piedmontese dialect, the word arneis is also used to describe rascally individuals, those who tend to get on everybody’s nerves.

By the 1960s, Arneis had been reduced to only a few rows of vines in the Langhe, and it was only thanks to two producers, Alfredo Currado of the Vietti estate in Castiglione Falletto and Bruno Giacosa of the eponymous estate in Neive, that it didn’t disappear altogether. How ironic that a Piedmontese white wine would be saved by two of the region’s most famous Barolo producers! In reality, Arneis was at the same time also being replanted and studied by Giovanni Negro in the Roero region. Interestingly though, Arneis has always had ties to Piedmont’s most famous wine: in fact, it used to be called Nebbiolo Bianco, as it grows tall and erect just like Nebbiolo. In centuries past it was also very common to add a little arneis to Barolo and even to barbera, both high-acid wines, to soften things up.

There is not just one Arneis wine, but many. Despite this wine’s reputation as a simple, everyday tipple, there is more to arneis: complex, site-specific arneis is there to be found, especially in the Roero. There, geological differences can translate into huge differences between wines. A very adaptable grape, Arneis seems at its best in the Roero’s white, friable, porous soils where layers of sand and chalk are intertwined with small amounts of marl, typically found near the town of Monteu Roero. On clay-rich soils, such as those near Castellinaldo, wines tend to have more body and extract, though lesser examples have less interesting aromas, coarser flavors, and are generally shorter lived.

Arneis can be one of Italy’s most delicious white wines, exhibiting a thrilling range of aromas and flavors of surprising if subtle complexity. The wines are delicately straw-green, with aromas of white flowers, chamomile, white peach, and apricot and flavors of citrus, ripe pear, apricot, and sweet almond. Softly scented and surprisingly creamy on the palate, a good arneis can be utterly irresistible; versions that lack this creaminess and are more herbal are not as thrilling. Usually produced in a fresh, crisp style, some estates produce gently oaked versions, though oak can be overpowering for the delicate aromas and flavors of arneis. Though rare, there are also sparkling and sweet arneis. These two wine styles are risky with Arneis, a cultivar notoriously low in acid.

Arneis is mostly produced in the light soil of Roero, it did not get any recognition until Bruno Giacosa and Vietti began to produce small quantities. A few years later Ceretto joined the cause and became even more instrumental in transforming Arneis into a highly reputable grape capable of producing truly distinctive wines.

Bruno Giacosa - Arneis of Roero

The knowledge, passion and wisdom that Bruno Giacosa brings to his work as producer of fine wines is the fruit of the dedication of three generations of wine makers.

The family interest in vine cultivation began during the constant search for the best vineyards from which to buy the grapes necessary for wine making. The next step, naturally, was to acquire some of the same vineyards for the family business – and the one after that, to specialise in the Nebbiolo grape and the grand wines made from it.

That Bruno Giacosa is a perfectionist is obvious from the meticulousness with which he applies his craft. This is the story of his wines.

Roero Arneis D.O.C.G. Dark, straw-yellow colour. Intense, fine and elegantly fruity bouquet reminiscent of peach, apricot, citrus, fruit and acacia flowers. Fresh and fragrant flavour with soft plentifulness.

Vietti Roero Arneis

Designation: Roero Arneis DOCG

Grapes: 100% Arneis

Winemaking: The grapes are selected from vineyards located in the middle of the Roero area, in Santo Stefano Roero. The vineyards are approximately 25 years old and are planted with 4.500-5.000 vines per hectare. Harvest starts around mid-September and the grapes are first pressed and then clarified. Alcoholic fermentation occurs in stainless steel autoclave at lower temperature (10-12°C, 50-53° F) to preserve some natural CO2 from the fermentation.

Aging: Wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation to preserve acidity and freshness. The wine is held in stainless steel tanks on fine lees until just before bottling.

Description: Pale straw yellow color with fresh floral, citrus and melon aromas with hints of almond. An unoaked, dry, medium bodied white wine with crisp acidity, the Arneis is well-balanced, elegant wine with good complexity and a lingering finish.

Food Pairings: As an aperitif with light hors d’oeuvres, crudités, seafood, salads, light soups, simply prepared veal, pork, chicken and creamy cheese

Cortese - GAVI di GAVI

Cortese is one of Piemonte's principal white grapes. It has been grown in the region since at the least the early 17th century. By its nature Cortse has a retrained and subtle character. It is a very productive grape and requires restricted yields in order to balance its high acidity with body and fruit. The grape performs well around the town of Gavi. It is one of the most known white wines of Piemonte. The town of Gavi lies in the southeast corner of Alto Monferrato in the Alessandria Provence. Here Piemonte and Liguria merge, creating a fascinating landscape of alternating hills and valleys. with the majestic Ligurian Apennines as the backdrop.

The wines made from Cortese began to enjoy popularity in the 60s and 70s thanks to the bottling by the modern Gavi pioneer, La Scolca.

The success of the wine drove to a decrease of quality during the 80s and 90s as high yields produced high acidity and neutral wines. In cool years Cortese may fail to achieve sufficient sugar levels, in this case the disciplinary allows the use of MCR ( Most Concentrato Rettificato. Gavi is marked by refreshing crisp acidity and subtle aromas. The wines are delicately scented with fresh citrus and almond notes with underpinning mineralogy. The best wines are the ones produced in warm to hot vintages where the wines have enough body to balance the acidity. In cooler years the wines are quite austere.

The best wines made with the Cortese grape are labeled Gavi di Gavi or Gavi di Tassarolo. Unfortunately, there’s an almost disheartening number of disappointing, neutral Gavi di Gavi wines made, and even more such wines simply labeled Piemonte Cortese. So I suggest you concentrate your attention on producers you know or wines also carrying the Rovereto designation, which means the grapes were culled from this specific subzone, known for powerful, more concentrated wines. Bigger structure is key for Gavi, as counterbalance to its naturally high acidity. In and around Rovereto, and to an extent in and around all of Gavi, soils contain chalk, guaranteeing wines with a level of finesse and depth unattainable elsewhere. By contrast, the nearby area of Tassarolo contains higher percentages of clay, and its wines have a richer, less mineral structure, though they can also be excellent. In fact, the terroir of the Gavi area is far more complex than I have suggested. Even within the boundaries of Rovereto, there are notably different soil structures. Those vineyards located on the Rovereto area sloping toward Tassarolo grow on gravel-rich, clay-marl soils loaded with a high iron content, while the Rovereto portion sloping toward San Cristoforo is less rocky and has looser, much less compact soils.

WINES TO TRY: Castellari Bergaglio*** (Rovereto Vignavecchia and Rolona are excellent; the entry-level Salluvii is a steal given its quality and price; the Fornaci is the best Gavi di Tassarolo made by anyone today; Pilin is their oaked Gavi, but too oaked for me); Bruno Broglia/ La Meirana*** (Bruno Broglia and entry-level Gavi); Castello di Tassarolo** (La Spinola, Vigneto Alborina, both are Gavi di Tassarolo), Chiarlo** (Rovereto), La Giustiniana** (Montessore, Lugarara), La Raia** (Pisé), Le Marne** (Marne Bianche), Morgassi Superiore**, Stefano Massone** (Masera, San Cristoforo, both excellent), Franco Martinetti* (Minaia, an oaked Gavi, too oaky for me), La Toledana* (Raccolto Tardivo), Nicola Bergaglio*, Villa Sparina* (Monte Rotondo).


Legend has it that the fairy Albaluce blessed the townspeople of Caluso with Erbaluce as her gift, hence the variety’s name. An ancient cultivar already known in the seventeenth century (as Elbalus, first described by Croce), its pale hue as well as that of its wine explains why Erbaluce is also called Bianchera, Albaluce and Ambra; the pale yellow-green color of this variety’s berries when not fully ripe recalls pale dawn light.

Even though it’s a high-acid variety, Erbaluce is usually trained in canopy systems (called topia in the Canavese region where Erbaluce grows), so as to have a thick wall of leaves protecting the hanging grape bunches from hail, always a risk in this northern part of Italy. Clearly, grapes trained in this manner see less sunlight too, so proper vineyard work has to be done, with selective deleafing in order to allow enough sunlight. From a viticultural perspective, and for a variety of reasons, Erbaluce is not the easiest variety to work with.

The most famous wine is the DOC Erbaluce di Caluso (Piedmont’s first white DOC wine, named in 1967), right around the bucolic hamlet of Caluso, but Colline Novaresi Erbaluce (or Bianco) and Coste della Sesia Erbaluce, also DOC wines, can be just as good-note that these Erbaluce wines, produced outside the official Caluso DOC zone, cannot be labeled di Caluso. Caluso is a uniquely blessed area for Erbaluce because of its nutrient-deficient, sandy-gravel soils, rich in potassium and phosphates.

Erbaluce wines can be still or sparkling, but all are dry wines, though an excellent DOCG dessert wine, Caluso Passito, is also made with Erbaluce; there are also wonderful, sweet Erbaluce wines that are not DOCGs. Sweet wines would seem to be a logical choice for Erbaluce, as the berry’s thick skins are ideal for air-drying: in fact, Mas and Pulliat documented that this part of Italy once used to make vins de paille in the French manner. Today, sweet wines from late-harvested grapes are made (with pleasant if delicate aromas and flavors of apricots, peach, and acacia honey) but are rarer, given the region’s climate. The air-dried sweet wines, with their resiny, tannic quality and bittersweet chestnut honey, almond, dried fig, and saffron flavors that linger on the long sweet, tropical-fruit aftertaste.

Though nobody will ever mistake a wine made with Erbaluce for a blockbuster, when well made these wines are a marvel of balance, with minerally, crisp, white flower and fruit aromas and flavors combining hints of chlorophyll and apricots. It’s true that poor examples can be marred by eye-watering acidity, but this same high natural acidity has given us sparkling wines in increasing numbers. Made either by refermentation in the bottle in the manner of Champagne or by the Charmat method like Prosecco, these can be marvelous wines, and are underrated in my view.

WINES TO TRY: Cieck*** (Misobolo, Brut San Giorgio sparkler, and Alladium Passito; the latter made from air-dried grapes but less sweet than you might expect), Ferrando*** (especially the two sweet wines: Cariola, a lighter-styled late harvest, and the Passito, thick and rich, from air-dried grapes; their La Torrazza sparkler is also good), Proprietà Sperino***, Tenuta Roletto***, Favaro-Le Chiusure** (13 Mesi, a rare erbaluce aged in barrique, and Passito Sole d’Inverno), and Orsolani** (Erbaluce di Caluso, Brut Tradizione). For Colline Novaresi, try Rovellotti** (Bianco, Passito Valdenrico). For Coste della Sesia, try Antoniolo** (Erbaluce).

Moscato Bianco and ASTI DOCG

How can we say goodbye to Piemonte without mentioning its Moscato Bianco and its association to Asti DOCG ( the biggest wine producing appellation in Italy) and Moscato d'Asti DOCG.

Asti DOCG was founded by Carlo Garcia, he was raised in a Barolo winemaking family. In 1848 he left Turin for Reims and he learned the techniques of Champagne production. When he returned to Piemonte he was determined to produce a traditional method sparkling wine using Moscato Bianco. Gancia labeled it " Moscato Champagne". It became a commercial success.

With the introduction of the thank method also called in Italy Martinotti method, allowed to produce the wines at lower costs and also preserving the aromatic characteristic of the Moscato Bianco grape.

The wines are very pale in color with a dense mousse composed of tiny bubbles , the nose shows pronounced floral and fruity aroma of orange blossom , rose, acacia, wisteria, elderflower, linden, stone fruits coupled with spice, musk and honey. The wine is sweet, moderate in acidity and low in alcohol (7%). The wines must be consumed young.

Another version of the wines is also called Moscato d'Asti DOCG. Produced with the best grapes. They are refined sweet wines made with a single fermentation method ( Asti Method) achieved by chilling the wines when it reaches the 5%-6& abv. A small amount of CO2 is produced which makes the wines slightly fizzy. Unlikely Asti DOCG, Moscato D'Asti is bottled with a normal cork and must be vintage dated.

It is a refined and a good dessert wine with intense aroma of orange blossoms and flowers. They sow more fitness compared with their counterpart ASTI DOCG. It is more artisanal and crafted by small, scale producers, compared by the man producers of ASTI DOCG. He can also be produced as Vendemmia Tardiva ( late harvest) in this case it is shown on the label.

Well this finally ends our Piedmont blogs. It has been a long journey in one of the most exciting region in Italy.


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