Malcolm Jolley has an affinity for a signature white wine of Piedmont.
Sansilvestro Roero Arneis Sabbié DOCG 2016
Piedmont, Italy – $15.95, LCBO# 541482
The Piazza Michele Ferrero is named after the famous chocolatier, and is a proper square in shape, with an open side to the south facing a busy roundabout and a small opening on its north side to the narrow and crooked streets of medieval Alba. There are a number of caffé’s and restaurants that face out onto the piazza, and in the springtime sunshine on the terrace seating of one, a few years ago, I had memorable lunch on my own. I was in the small cathedral city for Nebbiolo Prima, the annual release and tasting of the region’s famous red wines, Barolo and Barberesco, and after a morning of blind tasting young big reds, I needed a break and a salve for my palate. I found it in a dish of potato gnocchi made green from stinging nettles served in a cheesy cream sauce, a large bottle of sparkling mineral water and a glass of Arneis. I was restored after the first bite and sip.
Arneis is sleep white wine grape of Piedmont, traditionally outshadowed by Muscat for Moscato d’Asti and Cortese for Gavi. Arneis was grown around Alba as a blending wine for Barolo and Barberesco, and was known as ‘Barolo Bianco’ because of that. In the 1980’s as the twin, and related, forces of the Barolo and Barberesco renaissance and Slow Food movement came to the fore (which I have written about previously on GFR here) in the hills around Alba, winemakers decided the region needed its own dry white wine and started getting interested in Arneis as table wine in its own right. Not that they were ripping up their Nebbiolo vines in Barolo and Barberesco; instead they picked the mostly sandy soil region north of the Tanaro river, which flows through Alba before its confluence with the Po, called Roero. A generation later, Roero is making its own reputation for its Nebbiolo wines, but has also found renown and established its own DOCG just for Arneis.
I wonder if we are at a sort of consumer sweet spot for Roero Arneis. It has by and large become uniformly good, and some bottles are starting to get up into the $50 bottle range. But outside of the wine geek world, it’s still relatively unknown outside of its home region and there are bargains to be found like the 2016 Sabbié made by the large-ish Barolo producer Sansilvestro. It is about as well balanced a white wine I have found for under $20 in a long time. Arneis is supposed to be a low acid wine, but the Abbié has plenty of lemon-lime zip in its attack, which then gently disolves into a round and viscous feeling on the palate. Piedmont was once, of course, part of the Duchy of Savoy, which stretched across parts of modern Italy, Switzerland and France, and of the great and varied spectrum of Italian white wines, I think Arneis reflects a bit more Gallic flavour, especially from the Rhône. The Abbié Arneis ought to pull through a casual lunch, maybe of a light pasta, eggs, or soup. Because of its roundness, it also does very well on its own, or with whatever snacks are at hand, as an aperitif… with friends or maybe by oneself dreaming of a piazza somewhere in Italy.
Click here to find this wine at an LCBO near you.