Literally “little rascal” in the local dialect, Arneis is a rather finicky grape variety originating from Piemonte, still largely restricted thereto, apart from pockets of cultivation in the New World. It demands chalky and sandy soil, easily loses acidity under heat, is low-yielding and prone to powdery mildew, but given care and skill, it can produce instantly charming wines for short- and mid-term drinking. Fleshy, floral and fruity best describe this variety, whose signature pear-y phenolics remind one of poiré (perry) and even Calvados-Domfrontais.
The majestic Nebbiolo traditionally occupies the finest sites in Piemonte, followed by the likes of Barbera and Dolcetto, leaving only the offcuts for white varieties such as Arneis. In the not-so-distant past, Arneis was at best auxiliary to Nebbiolo, and at worst served as cannon fodder for the latter, as both were planted alongside each other, so that the more aromatic and earlier-ripening Arneis would fill the stomachs of heartlessly hungry birds. Whatever was left was added to Nebbiolo, not unlike Viognier to Syrah in Rhône, so as to soften the prima donna’s temper (acidity and tannins), hence its alias – Barolo Bianco.
The history of Arneis in Piemonte dates back to at least the 15th century, but in the 60s and 70s of the last century, there were by some accounts only a handful of hectares of it left in Piemonte, indeed the entire world, cultivated by an equally minute number of producers. Situated northwest of Alba just across the Tanaro from Barolo, Roero has always been the standard-bearer of Arneis.
Roero attained DOC and DOCG status in 1989 and 2006 successively, thereby kick-staring the Arneis renaissance, although this variety remains less well-travelled than Viognier. Arneis from Roero is indisputably one of the two premium white wines form Piemonte, the other being Cortese from Gavi, although it is also grown in Langhe DOC and Terre Alfieri DOC.
Established in 1864 in the heart of Barolo, the 14ha Azienda Agricola Giacomo Fenocchio is renowned the world over for its single-vineyard expressions of Nebbiolo in the traditional style. Apart from Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, it also produces the lesser-known Freisa and Arneis, the latter being the only white variety in its portfolio.
Rich citrine with shimmering golden reflex, the attractive nose furnishes lime, pear, peach, seashell and Chinese lily. Braced by ample acidity, palpable minerality, the pristine palate supplies lemon, Fuji apple, mirabelle, wet stone and fresh herbs. Medium-bodied at 13.5%, the bright entry continues through a vivacious mid-palate, leading to a clean finish.
Bright citrine with luminous golden reflex, the airy nose offers lime peel, apple, peach, seashell and paperwhite. Anchored by lively acidity and articulate minerality, the elegant palate delivers lemon peel, pear, mirabelle, fleur de sel and jasmine. Medium-bodied at 14%, the composed entry continues through a fleshy mid-palate, leading to a minerally finish.
* Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages