Jay Whiteley finds a new favourite grape in Piedmont.

I was a Ruchè rookie.
I was unaware of the Ruchè bouquet.
But now, I’m screaming Hooray for Ruchè!

Not only does this native Italian grape variety produce some exceptional wines, it also comes with a marvelous story. Like all grapes, there is a birthplace. We know that Cabernet Sauvignon originated in Bordeaux, a region of about 300,000 hectares. Or that Pinot Noir’s home is in Burgundy, a region of about 30,000 hectares. And the most likely birthplace of Tempranillo is La Rioja and Navarra, with a combined total of around 73,000 hectares. However, imagine being able to stand in the vineyard where a grape originated and is still made today? Such is the case with Ruchè.

Piedmont is a region rich with grapes, and a few are most common there. However in the province of Asti, in a small commune called Castagnole Monferrato, there is 1.7 hectare vineyard which is considered to be the official birthplace of Ruchè.

In the book Native Grapes of Italy, Ian D’Agata writes, “Ruchè has always been held in high esteem locally; the wines made from it were reserved for special occasions.”

And so, like a gift from a higher power, along came Don Giacomo Cauda.

In 1962 Cauda came as a priest to the parish. Though his faith with clear, it was his passion for the vine that helped the world come to know Ruchè as we know it today. He had noticed that his wines were not as he thought they should be and saw that this this unfamiliar grape was messing up his beloved Barbera. He started asking the locals and they pointed out that a special grape called Ruchè was the culprit.

The following year, he picked the Ruchè a little early and made what he could from the single grape and, like some divine intervention, he knew that he had to do something special with this wine.

In 1964, grafting and replanting began. In 1967 the first mono-varietal bottling was produced and by the the early 1980’s there was just over 30 hectares planted. In 1987 the Ruchè Di Castagnole Monferrato was given DOC status and in 2010 it was awarded the DOCG distinction. Today there is currently 162 hectares grown and about 20 producers, collectively making 400,000 bottles of wine.

For many years, Vigna del Parroco, or vineyard of the priest, was considered to be the best example of this wine, and now the there are many examples to choose from. Since 1993 The Vigna del Parroco wine has been made by Francesco Borgognone at Luca Ferraris winery. The grapes are from the original 1.7 hectare vineyard and around 13,000 bottles are produced each year. A true custodian of the grape and the history of the wine.

Ruchè is a lightly coloured, yet widely tannic grape with generally low acidity. The wines are highly perfumed, a beautiful mix of floral and spice, often over aromas of fresh red berries.

On a recent trip to Castagnole Monferrato, I was part of a speed tasting, where I was able to spend 15 mins with eight producers making a wide range of wines. Most of the producers highlighted the grapes perfumes, while others seemed to work the acidity levels more. Some oak aged the wines, others used stainless steel. While Claudio Cavallero from Cantine Sant’Agata produces a wine where the grapes are left to dry in wood boxes before five years in barrel.

Clearly producers are still exploring with styles, but the truest form of Ruchè will remain floral and bright.

Of the eight I met, three of the producers are represented in Ontario:

Missing from Ontario is Dacapo’s wine Magoli. Can someone please bring this in?

Jay Whiteley keeps a website at jaywhiteley.com.