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• Inviting floral aromas laced with honey comb, toasted almonds and a thread of citrus. It offered flavors of pears, baked apples and a touch of lime zest. As it opened up, it presented more complexity with touches of apricot, almonds and a light smokiness.
In a land of passionate red wine producers—with millions of equally enthusiastic red wine consumers around the world—a white wine grape gets kicked to the curb. That was the case in northwestern Italy’s Piemonte region during the 1970s. With only two serious producers and merely a few dozen acres of vineyards, wine lovers faced a future without wine made from the arneis grape.
Arneis not in your wine drinking lexicon? No surprise, as this little white wine that could is still making its way up and out of the valley of extinction.
The land of arneis is located in the sandy soils of the Roero region, northwest of the more famous towns of Barolo and Barbaresco. As prices escalated in the 1970s and 1980s for nebbiolo grapes, which go into the iconic Barolo and Barbaresco wines, Roero grape growers naturally wanted a piece of the action. They were more than happy to bump up nebbiolo production for their winemaking neighbors across the Tanero River at the expense of arneis.
It wasn’t always this way. In this sea of red wines from nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto grapes, arneis was once held in high regard. Ardent arneis admirers, the ones who are left anyway, refer to arnies as Barolo bianco, or white Barolo, according to Jancis Robinson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine.
With beguiling aromas of candle wax, gun metal and chalk-like minerals and flavors of ripe cantaloupe, toasted almond, dark spices and honey comb, it is not hard to understand why arneis would be compared to the wines of Barolo, otherwise known as the wine of kings and Italy’s king of wines.
With just about 2,000 acres planted today, almost exclusively in Roero, arneis is creeping back into the consciousness of curious wine consumers. Several makers are distributed in the Georgia market, but you might have to charm your neighborhood wine retailer to get him or her to stock this noble wine. Names to look for: Albeisa’s Pertinace ($16), Brovia ($29) and Bruno Giacosa ($32).
Due to its depth, complex flavors and medium body, most arneis wines could be paired with just about anything, from grilled salmon with a tart mango chutney to roasted pork loin stuffed with ginger-spice apples, pears and golden raisins. Your guests will wonder what food-and-wine classes you’ve been taking, but in reality it is uniqueness of the wine that makes such pairings sing so harmoniously.
In a world of thousands of chardonnay makers, it somehow seems right that we allow ourselves time to explore lesser known, but not less interesting, grapes.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from thumbs down, one thumb mostly up, one thumb up, two thumbs up, two thumbs way up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.)