Arneis: Italian White Wine is Piemonte's White Barolo

When one thinks of dry wines from Italy’s Piemonte, they are usually red wines.  There is a white wine though that should be on everyone’s radar. I am speaking about Arneis.  It is the perfect white for transitioning from summer to autumn.  Arneis is both the name of a wine and the grape from which it is made.  The name means “little rascal” in Piemontese dialect, so named because it can be difficult to grow.  Historically that difficulty was because the better situated vineyards were planted with the “more important” red nebbiolo grape leaving the “lesser” sites for Arneis.

While it is grown elsewhere in Piemonte, Arneis is grown most famously in the district of Roero named after the family which ruled the area long ago.  Roero is a district in the northeastern section of Cuneo, a province that lies between Bra and Alba in south central Piemonte.  It is a heavily forested area known for having sandy soils.

Roero became a DOC in 1985 and was elevated to DOCG status in 2006.  The whites are labeled as Roero Arneis and must be made from 100% Arneis grapes. 

The reds, on the other hand, must be made from 95 to 98% Nebbiolo with the remainder being the white Arneis grape labeled simply as Arneis.

Traditionally, this white grape was planted more in an effort to attract birds and bees away from the red grapes rather than for its actual quality for drinking.  It was also, however, added to the nebbiolo wines of the region to soften their harsh tannins.  This earned Arneis the nickname Barolo Bianco or white Barolo.  In recent times, the trend for reds became 100% Nebbiolo and Arneis grape production shrank so low that by the 1970’s, the grape was on the verge of extinction.  It was saved from that fate by a few producers including Ceretto, Bruno Giacosa and Alfredo Currado (Vietti) who began bottling their own wines.  The decade of the 1990s saw an explosion of interest in this grape and production quadrupled.  Today, there are many producers making Arneis with over 1,500 acres under vine.  They are taking advantage of modern techniques and knowledge to create a wine of interest and class.