Sunday, October 21, 2007

Single Blind Arneis Tasting


This past Thursday night my tasting group met at the usual spot, Chez Mark in Oakland, for a single blind tasting dedicated to the little rascal, the proverbial Pacherenc to the Piemonte's Nebbiolo, Arneis. Before going any further, I'd like to thank Mark Middlebrook for once again hosting the group, and for organizing what might have been the most educational of our tastings to date. Mark, who has been to Piemonte on numerous occasions, is a passionate advocate of the wines, food and people of the Piedmont. In particular Mark loves the Roero, which came through in Mark's stories about some of the winemakers with whom he has visited, helped with harvest and spent much quality time in the past 7 or so years. To go with the wines, there was some basic Mortadella, a meatier Fra Mani Mortadella (I preferred this one), Fra Mani salametto, Piave (delicious cow's milk cheese from the Veneto, not the Piemonte), a Piedmontese goat cheese (Bra tenero, I think), good bread and Piedmontese styled sardines with parsley, olive oil, lemon and garlic. Perfect for Arneis. Mmmm - it does go well with the sardines. Delicious again, Mark.

Here are the wines, seven in all, listed in order of service. We tasted everything single blind (i.e. we knew that each wine would be an arneis, but did not know the producer or vintage):

Fillipo Gallino Roero Arneis 2006 - A very impressive start. Clean, crystalline and vivid, with good length and purity in its appley fruit. This was my #2 wine and was in most people's top 3. At about $11 it's a killer value.

Cascina Val de Prete Roero Arneis 2004 - This one was richer, with golden delicious apples and lemon curd on the nose. Mario Roagna apparently ages 1/3 of the wine in new oak (not sure for how long) and there is extended skin contact prior to fermentation. No wonder given the wine's richness. Somehow I found this to be OK, in the middle of the pack. Not so with other folks, as it was ranked last.

Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2006
- Relative to the other wines, this one struck me as being richer, with a fatter, more rounded mid palate. Also more spice and a slightly sweeter pear/apple fruit profile. After re-visiting the wine on its own (after the line-up), accompanied by the sardines, it definitely was tastier and not as ponderous. We ranked this one 6th.

Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis 'Vigna Sparse' 2006 - Ar-NIIICE! (delivered in the Borat style). A ton of mineral opens to very discreet citrus and lemongrass on the nose, which then leads to one hell of a nervy, racy, squeaky clean wine. With tremendous minerality and focus, this one really reminded me of a young Nigl Gruner Veltliner. Others mentioned Chablis and Muscadet. This was clearly the WOTN for me, though it was ranked second by the group. Mark was explaining that Domenico Almondo, who now makes the wine here, is mentioned by everyone in the Roero as making the most serious Arneis in the region. This wine is clearly not dumbed down with any Chardonnay like some of the other wines in this line-up. Get it if you can find it. Good luck finding it.

Ceretto Roero Arneis 2006 - Nose a bit funky, and very distinct from the others. Starfruit and gentle citrus fruits on the palate. I am embarrassed to say that it somehow squeaked into my #3 spot, as this is a fairly softened style of Arneis, and further as it is an LVMH product, Oh well. On behalf of my palate, I'm pleading temporary insanity. Though it's not an archetypal Arneis, I must admit that the wine is soundly made and agreeable. Someone mentioned that the wine reminded them of Vermention; someone else thought the wine to be leesy.

Vietti Roero Arneis 2006 - A bit closed on the nose, at first this arneis seemed a bit clumsy. After opening up a bit there was more freshness and classic Arneis appley fruit and snappy, biting finish. Upon further review, this would have been my #3 wine. I typically really enjoy Vietti's Arneis for its typicity and overall deliciousness, and look forward to it each summer when the new vintage arrives in the States.

Cascina Val de Prete Roero Arneis 2006

This one was darker in color than their '04. In fact I thought that this wine was an '04 or '05. Given the advanced color and very mature aromas, as well as the flabbiness of this wine, I showed little mercy in calling it 'over the hill,' and reminiscent of two-year old Godello that should have been drunk already. Easily my least favorite wine, though others ranked it 4th. Viva la diference. Though the wine recently arrived from Italy and might have been bottle shocked, this was just part of the problem. There is a lack of life, acidity and varietal character that is disturbing for an '06 white wine. Maybe it was cooked en route?

After all these whites, Mark brought out a Roero red, a 2004 Mateo Corregia Val dei Preti Nebbiolo d'Alba made by Mateo Corregio. Apparently everyone in Roero congregated around Mateo, who was only in his early 40's when he died of a tractor accident in the vineyards. He was serious about his craft and other vintners sought him out for his opinion (often times brutally honest) on their wines and what they should do to improve their quality. The wine, composed of 100% nebbiolo, is modern, tamed slightly by some new oak, but not over the top, with pretty, pure dark fruit. Not quite as firm, nuanced, or haunting as young Barbaresco, Barolo, or even really good Langhe Nebbiolo, but very tasty all the same.

Thanks again to Mark for organizing this great tasting and doing such a good job with it. It made me want to visit the Piedmont.

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