Featured Wine Grape: Italian Arneis


So disappointed was I by the Colli Perugini I bought for my Forza Azzurri World Cup Final post that I almost immediately picked up a different Italian white wine to convince myself it had been an aberation. This time I ignored the vast mid-country wine regions and went straight to the Langhe DOC in Piedmont, arguably Italy’s finest wine region.

Turns out this bottle would have been perfect with that France-Italy final. Not just because it represented the best of Italian white wines, but because the uniquely Italian Arneis grape can so readily be compared with the perfectly French Viognier. Just as, in the Rhône, Viognier has historically been blended with Syrah to create the delectable Côte Rôtie, so Arneis was typically grown right alongside and then blended with Nebbiolo in Piedmont, to soften up the typically tannic Barolo. And just as Viognier had almost disappeared from its Rhône homeland until but a few decades ago, so Arneis was on the very verge of extinction until some noble Barolo producers bottled the grape on its own in the 1970s, inspiring not so much the grape’s revival as its very rebirth.

The Cristina Ascheri Arneis: A classy version of a fine Piedmont grape

The similarities don’t end with the history lesson. This Cristina Ascheri Arneis emitted a honeyed perfumed aroma, leading into a wine of minimal acidity, considerable body, and a long penetrating finish – the same descriptions one readily associates with my beloved Viognier. The almond-dominated nutty note ultimately declared its Italian stock, but a look at the map of Europe reminds that Piedmont is not far from the Rhône anyway. While the World Cup Final was marred by Zizou’s mad headbutt of Materazzi, you canyt help but think that the two could have solved their disagreement a lot more peacefully by debating the merits of their finer white wines which, thanks to a new generation of producers, importers and consumers, are no longer languishing on the subs’ bench, but are increasingly declaring their star power as part of their home countries starting line-ups. Viognier has already been declared an international celebrity; Arneis has some catching up to do, but in time, it might find similar acclaim. It certainly deserves more than a supporting role.

MUSIC? It’s classy, it’s solid, it’s got summer written all over it, it’s somehow both old-fashioned and new, and it’s white as can be. Drink it with History Will Never Hold Me by The Hourly Radio.

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December 2021