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05/11/2020

Arneis, Erbaluce, Nascetta and Timorasso: Four Piedmontese Survivors.

Today we’re looking at four native varieties brought back from oblivion, all white and all from Piedmont. And all hard to grow and hard to make good wine from. When you open a bottle of one, you’re drinking the dedication of a handful of people.

Let’s start with Arneis. It’s been around since the mid-1400s but the difficulty of growing it meant it lost popularity until the 1980s. It’s disease-prone and a bit of a cliff-hanger variety when it comes to harvesting: one day it won’t be ready to pick, two days later the acidity level has fallen too far to make good wine. That means dropping everything to harvest it pronto, instead of making much easier-to-sell red wines like Barolo, so its unpopularity is understandable. But get it right and Arneis, with its white peach, apricot, pear and almond flavours and subtle creaminess, is utterly delicious.

Erbaluce was apparently gifted to the people of Caluso by the fairy Albaluce; the name means “dawn light” and it was also one of the variety’s synonyms. Erbaluce is made both dry, in still or sparkling versions, and sweet, made either by air-drying the grapes before pressing them (passito) or by harvesting the grapes late. Dry versions (which both of ours are Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2017 and Parcella 40 Colline Novaresi Bianco DOC 2018) are delightfully floral, with green apple and citrus notes, while sweeter ones develop honey, apricot and spicy-nutty characters.

You’ve heard of a one-horse town? Well, Nascetta is a one-town vine. The town is Novello, where Nascetta has been grown and largely ignored for centuries. Now a dozen or more wine-makers around Novello and Serralunga d’Alba have taken this low- and irregular-producing variety to their hearts and are making wines that have herbal, orange and ginger aromas when young, ageing to a fascinating honeyed, balsamic, minty character over 5 years and more.

Finally, Timorasso. This unpredictable vine was famous in the late 1400s. At one time it was the most-planted white variety in Piedmont, and was also grown right across north-west Italy. In the late 20th century it was saved by just one producer in Piedmont’s Colli Tortonesi, which is now the only area with serious plantings. Global warming means it ripens more reliably, making it much easier to work with; “it’s an ill wind”, and all that. With its intense dry, mineral/citrus/herb character and very persistent palate, it’s capable of long ageing.

To try these extraordinary revivals and see for yourself why the producers thought they were worth another go, give us a call. We’d be delighted to introduce you to them.