Rediscovered within the last two decades, it has now made the transition from a blending grape used to soften Nebbiolo-based wines to a varietal of distinction. First noted in the 15th century as Renesium, Arneis is a native grape of the Roero hills, an area near the town of Alba in the region of Piemonte, famous for its white truffles. Arneis was first produced as a commercial varietal in the 1970s by noted Barolo producers such as Bruno Giacosa and Vietti. Its name means “rascal” in the local dialect and was so named because of its unpredictable nature. Some admirers occasionally refer to this wine as Barolo Bianco, a reference to both the region where the grape is grown and its blending heritage. Although plantings of Arneis are still fairly limited, production has been rising since D.O.C. status was granted in 1989.
More structured and complex than most other Italian whites, Arneis offers consumers something other than the omnipresent Chardonnay, delivering a light aroma, fruity flavors and a touch of almond. Despite some critics’ comments that it is not a wine to age, its popularity continues to grow, as most wine drinkers are not purchasing white wines in order to save them for the next decade’s imbibing. Wine critic Robert Parker characterized Arneis thus: “a rich, gloriously fruity, mouth-filling wine that is soft, even unctuous.”
This unique wine, rescued from oblivion but with a promising future, is one reason why Italy is perhaps the leading innovator in today’s world of wine.