Spring has sprung, at least where I live. Time calls for an odd, snappy white.
The grape in question is Arneis: roughly translated, it means “little ass”. Either the vine is a pain to manage, or the resultant wines tastes just as prickly. Etymology aside, the grape comes from NW Italy’s Piedmont.
Folklore claims Arneis drew birds away from the prestigious Nebbiolo vines of Barolo and Barbaresco. It made for a decent white. But once wines became 100% Nebbiolo, Arneis disappeared.
While Arneis declined in Italy, the Seghesio family left the Piedmont and started planting Californian vines in 1895. By 1992, Pete decided to plant Arneis. He had started to up their game with hand-harvesting and small lot batches. No longer jug wine, Seghesio’s Zin and Sangiovese were garnering respect. But Arneis was a risky throwback. 26 vines remained more than any in the US for years.
Today, 8 acres of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County real estate fill our glasses.
The Russian River garnered fame for vibrant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Why? Because chilling, wet, coastal fogs swoop up it at night, slowing ripening, and pushing harvests into October (while the rest of California prefers August). Grapes from cool climates, like Italy’s Piedmont, should do well here.
Let’s see what the slightly warm-ish 2012 produced.
APPEARANCE: It looks a clear, pale, lime color, with a slight pearl of effervescence.
AROMAS: White flower aromas pour from the glass, as do white pear, almond, and honeydew melon. Apricot, hay, and salt hide a layer beneath.
PALATE: The palate feels taught and dry yet voluptuous. Bright apple acids cut into a pillow-ripe melon of medium body. It is confusingly pliant yet serious.
FLAVORS: Flavors layer one atop another like strands of different-colored silk: again white melon, almond, and pear. A prickly undercurrent of citrus pith and slate-like mineral makes this serious stuff. Then somehow, young strawberry shows on the finish. The length is long and insistent.
Seghesio’s Arneis is very very good stuff (4 of 5). It tastes complex and intriguing, yet remains dangerously appealing. For around $20 or under, Spring has already arrived.
Now yes, like many Californian icons, in the face of global competition and future inheritance taxes, Seghesio sold to Crimson Wine Group in 2011. But luckily, Crimson kept their fingers out and have allowed the family to remain entrenched in vineyard management and wine making. The wines remain stellar and unaffected.
We haven’t tried many American Arneis, in part because the Italian ones are so reasonably priced. I’ll look for this one!