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Tasting Wines of Roero – Arneis & Nebbiolo
If you’ve read my Northern Italy Overview and, more recently, my Diploma WSET Theory and Tasting—Piemonte, you’ll note that (for good reason) the primary focus is on the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, Dolcetta d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, and to a somewhat lesser extent my personal fav—Gavi di Gavi.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn and taste through the wines of Roero, located on the western side of the Langhe region, just below Asti on the map. The tasting and master class was provided by the The Consorzio di Tutela Roero. Founded in 2013, the Consorzio di Tutela Roero aims to protect and promote Roero Docg Bianco and Rosso through the synergy between vine growers and winemakers in the area. According to the Consorzio, the Roero appellation, a DOCG since 2004, covers a total surface of 1,158 hectares of vineyard, of which 889 are planted with Arneis vines and 269 with Nebbiolo vines. Out of an annual production of about 7 million bottles, just over 60% is exported.
And so was our focus of the tasting—the Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes, which can produce a variety of wine styles dependent on specific terroir.
According to regulations, Roero DOCG is reserved for Roero Bianco made from Arneis grapes (minimum 95%) and Roero Rosso made from Nebbiolo grapes (minimum 95%). The DOCG also includes the Riserva typology—16 months of ageing for the white wine, 32 months for red.
In 2017, the Consorzio added provisions for MGA (or single-vineyard/site-specific plots that can be named on the bottle labels). There are 135 MGAs and our tasting focused on producers creating expressions of either their Arneis or Nebbiolo grapes from their specific MGAs.
Another interesting thing about the Roero terroir is that it is home to steep slopes with high percentage of sandy soils (in addition to clay and marl) along with salt deposits, from its prehistoric underwater past.
In the white Arneis wines, there was a clearly consistent wet stone/mineral note I picked out in each of the wines; the Nebbiolos were lighter, and slightly more lifted aromatically (even a bit more ‘approachable,’ I’d say) than their Barolo or Barbaresco counterparts.
Clearly an indication of terroir.
Further, all the winemakers who spoke indicated that they are either hold a sustainable certification or, at the least, practice sustainability in the vineyard and in the cellar in order to “safeguard the health of the producer, the customer, and of course the health of the soil,” as one producer said it. The Consorzio is also in the process of banning all herbicide use.
A brief overview of the two grapes (based on DipWSET information):
- “Tar and roses,” is the common descriptor for the wines produced from this fickle grape
- First to bud, last to ripen, it’s susceptible to all the environmental threats known to Piemonte’s continental climate: thunderstorms, hail fog, frosts and late-autumn rains.
- The vines themselves are quite vigorous, thus canopy management is essential to avoid shading
- Vines have to be pruned high because the first few buds are infertile, thus more buds are needed (and again canopy management/cluster thinning essential for vine balance)
- Mass selection preferred for new vine propagation; the goal: vines with low vigor, open bunches, and small berries
- Best wines are said to come from vineyards planted calcareous marls on south, south-west facing aspects
- Arneis means “little troublesome.”
- Most Arneis is, indeed, grown in the Roero area.
- said to have light (but complex) aromas, typically including white flowers, chamomile, white peach and lemon
- medium (–) acidity, as the grapes are known to drop acidity fairly quickly, thus proper picking time is essential
- described by Jancis Robinson as “Piemonte’s scented and full-bodied signature dry white.”