I first encountered Arneis while working at Adelaida Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, my very first job in the wine industry. We used to do monthly wine tasting sessions with our team to explore different wines from around the world. My friend Tony, an older gentleman who had worked at the winery for years and was a wealth of knowledge, brought in a bottle of this intriguing white wine. It was a 2016 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis DOCG and for me it was love at first sip.
Fast forward three years later, I found myself savoring Arneis amidst the verdant rolling hills of Roero. This time around I made a new discovery about this Italian white wine while tasting at the stunning and ever hospitable Angelo Negro. What discovery, you ask? ….drumroll….
…Arneis ages beautifully, too.
The Variety: Arneis
This white variety first staked its claim in Piedmont during the 15th century. Yet by the 1960s, Arneis was on the verge of extinction. As a low-yielding variety, highly susceptible to powdery mildew, viticulturists found it difficult to cultivate. This Italian grape also struggles to retain acidity and easily becomes overripe if harvested too late. Consequently, growers replaced many plantings with more profitable international or local varieties.
Thankfully, in a fortuitous twist of fate, one of Piedmont’s most celebrated producers worked to recover this native variety. When Alfredo Currado married into the Vietti family in the mid-20th century, he carried his deep-seated dream into the family wine business. Currado longed to produce a great dry Italian white wine which Piedmont could call its own.
At this time, there were only around 4,000 vines of Arneis planted throughout the region. Moreover, these plantings were meant to feed the birds. Rows of Arneis were planted between each Nebbiolo row. The Arneis grapes would ripen first, attracting hungry birds, and protecting the late-ripening Nebbiolo grapes until they could be harvested.
Alternatively, Arneis was blended into Barolo wines to soften Nebbiolo’s harder edges and aggressive tannins.
Early research suggested this native grape might be a genetic mutation of Nebbiolo. Cluster shape, leaf size, and stubborn mentality in the vineyard hinted as much. Though this theory hasn’t been backed up by genetic research, it’s still embraced by some in Piedmont.
In the late 1960s, Currado and his wife enlisted the help of a local priest to source grapes for their first Arneis vintage. The priest sourced from several growers each with a very limited number of Arneis vines. Subsequently, Vietti produced just 3,000 bottles of the rare variety that vintage with grapes sourced from 35 growers.
Vietti gave Arneis, named little rascal in local dialect, a new life. Today, the winery continues to produce some of the most refined, noteworthy Arneis in Piemonte.
In the Glass
Arneis wines are medium bodied with moderate acidity. They feature luxuriously fragrant aromas of pear, apple, tangerine, stone fruits, white florals, and almond. This Italian white wine is typically unoaked and vinified in stainless steel vats. However, limited oaked styles are also produced. Oaked Arneis tends to be fuller bodied with a creamier texture and less floral aromas.
Roero Arneis DOCG
Most premium Italian wines made from this rare variety are produced under the Roero Arneis DOCG.
First established as a DOC in 1985, Roero Arneis was elevated to a DOCG in 2004. The designation encompasses 843 hectares as of 2009 and requires the wine to be composed of a minimum of 95% Arneis. These DOCG wines must age for a minimum of 4 months before release with a 16-month minimum aging requirement for the Riserva specification. Spumante sparkling wines of at least 95% Arneis are also included in the designation.
The Roero DOCG covers rosso wines made from Nebbiolo as well.
Roero rests on the north bank of the Tanaro River opposite the town of Alba. The landscape is full of vineyard covered undulating hills. In large part, these hills were the result of Cattura del Tanaro, or the Tanaro River Capture. Around 100,000 years ago, the river changed its course unveiling an ancient seabed several million years old and formerly known as the Golfo Padano. Consequently, layers of mainly limestone, clay, and sand form a patchwork of soil types in Roero. The best examples of Roero Arneis grow on the north-facing slopes of this hilly landscape. In this exposition, the grapes are somewhat cooler, shaded from the afternoon sun, and can develop a full aromatic profile and refreshing acidity.
Angelo Negro was one of my favorite wineries we visited while in Piemonte this summer. The family’s passion for their craft is palpable in every inch of the winery and every single one of their exceptional wines. Each family member that was physically at the winery came to speak with us during our visit. That level of hospitality demonstrates how visiting Azienda Agricola Angelo Negro equates to visiting the family’s home. I can’t recommend this winery enough. Plus, their wines are so fairly priced making them accessible to most wine lovers. You can read more about the winery’s history and family story here.
In addition to the wine below, we also tasted the Angelo Negro Sette Anni Roero Arneis DOCG 2013. This was my first time experiencing an aged Arneis and I was blown away at how well this aromatic wine can age. Through seven years aging in bottle, Arneis develops more almond flavors with white floral notes and even more complexity.
Angelo Negro ‘Perdaudin’ Roero Arneis Riserva 2019
- Brilliant yellow in the glass with green reflections.
- Fragrant exuberant aromas of honeysuckle, jasmine, pear, juicy pineapple, tangerine spritz.
- Aromas are elegantly layered revealing themselves one upon the next to form a captivating symphony of scents.
- Medium bodied with balanced, refreshing acidity (m+) with green apple, ripe pear, and zesty citrus on the palate.
- Beautiful texture on this wine; mouth filling but not in an overwhelming way that’s excessive with these concentrated aromas and flavors.