I was able to attend an historical wine event on May 17th – it was the first wine seminar and tasting in New York City specifically devoted to the Roero wines of Piedmont. Roero is an area of Piedmont that is known for sandy soils, which are said to produce lighter, even sometimes more aromatic wines. Today, their signature variety is Arneis, a white grape, even though fifty years ago it was considered a throw away grape whose main purpose was to protect the more valuable Nebbiolo and Barbera red grape varieties from birds and insects.
In the past, and some may argue even today, red wine was much more valued than white wine. Historically, with the small exception of some sweet wines, red wine has always received much more respect and money. And so Piedmont, like so many other wine regions, considered their top reds, such as Nebbiolo and Barbera, significantly more valuable than any white. Early ripening Arneis grapes would be used to attract the birds and the bees, with its intoxicating aromatics, away from the red grapes – its existence was solely to sacrifice itself for the health of other grapes.
Piedmont is certainly considered a blessed Italian wine region, especially considering the fame and investment they have received compared to other wine regions in Italy. But that good fortune only accounts for a small percentage of well known Barolo and Barbaresco producers. The Roero area, which lies north of Alba on the left bank of the Tanaro River, was an area that wasn’t even given its own official wine designation of DOC until 1985, with the highest qualification DOCG given in 2005. It is still an unknown area today and one of the last strongholds in Piedmont offering high quality wine at an incredible value.
It is interesting to think how Arneis, a grape that was considered of little value, ended up being the potential shining star of this area. They could have easily kept to selling Nebbiolo and Barbera and allowed the world to either never hear of the Arneis grape or to only know it in its lesser quality designation of Langhe Arneis – allowing it to stay an underappreciated grape variety.
In part, that is what built America, and especially New York City, the need for underappreciated people from various parts of the world wanting to be given a chance. It didn’t matter if a person lacked birthright or title; if an immigrant had potential and wasn’t afraid of hard work, then they were given a chance. Arneis, just like so many hard working people, just needed a chance.
Make Piedmont Great Again
The producers in the Roero area realized the true value of the Arneis white grape, grown on their particular soils, and they are investing in it; and that same appreciation seems to be desperately needed for many hardworking people around the world. It is a great lesson that spending more time on appreciating what is special about our own garden, and spending less time on focusing if the grass is greener on the other side, is always the best way to go – and in an ideal world would allow everyone to flourish. But, of course, the world has become a very complicated place and so the answers are not so easy. For now, I commend the Roero producers for coming together and for not taking for granted what is so unique about their part of Piedmont.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2015 Marco Porello Roero Arneis “Camestri”, Roero DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($14 for current vintage 2014): This wine is a great example of how such high quality Arneis, as well as Roero as a wine area, is undervalued by the US market – a beautiful, seductive white wine at such a great price. A wine that had an explosion of lively flavors of peach and honey from a single vineyard called “Camestri”. It would absolutely be perfect with prosciutto.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2015 Cantina Malabaila Roero Arneis “Pradvaj”, Roero DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($18 for current vintage 2014): For only a few dollars more one can get this more terroir driven, linear wine. This single vineyard “Pradvaj” is from the middle of the hill which gives it ideal sunlight and drainage. The sea shells found in this vineyard came across in the wine with an intense mineral and saline finish, which was long and precise.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
1998 Matteo Correggia Roero “La Val Dei Preti”, Roero, Piedmont, Italy (not available on market but the quality of an over $50 wine that was served in a magnum format): The 1998 had layers of complexity with espresso, toffee and classic basmati notes with a rich body and good amount of weight on the palate coating the mouth with stewed blackberry flavors and velvety tannins. This vintage is not available on wine-searcher.com but it showed the ageability of Roero Nebbiolo wines which now use the designation Roero DOCG, even though they used the more general designation of Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC during the bottling of this 1998. 2010 was a great vintage for Nebbiolo in Piedmont that, overall, produced aromatic and structured wines ideal for aging – the 2010 vintage of this bottle is available for $25 through wine-searcher.com – it would be worth it to buy some bottles for consumption now and a few to hold onto for later. Matteo Correggia is a very well respected producer among Nebbiolo enthusiasts, and there is even a photo of Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam fame, at the Matteo Correggia Winery (and on their website) holding up a bottle of Matteo Correggia Roero Rosso at a concert at Wrigley Field in Chicago.