When you think of great wine from Piedmont, you probably think of Barolo and Barbaresco and not much else, right? I mean, really. What else is there?
Well the zones called Barolo and Barbaresco are located within the geographical location called the Langhe. The Langhe is within the political province of Cuneo. There are other provinces in Piemonte: Torino, Biella, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Vercelli, Alessandria, and Asti. Most of the other Piemontese provinces produce high quality and distinctive wines too, but many of those wines don’t leave their local area so the rest of us wouldn’t know. (They keep all the good ones for themselves!)
You could easily be confused by the name “Asti” because not only is it the name of a politically-defined province, it is also a city and a geographical wine region. In fact, the wines called Barbera d’Asti and Moscato d’Asti are just what their name implies, “Barbera from Asti” and “Muscat from Asti.” These are quite possibly two wines you know already.
Barbera d’Asti achieved an international reputation right around the same time as Barolo and Barbaresco. The best Barbera d’Asti wines are terroir-driven and benefit from long aging. All three of these DOCG-status wines started to hit the international market at roughly the same time: the 70’s and 80’s.
Moscato d’Asti is fairly popular in the US these days. It is the same thing as Asti Spumante, except that fermentation is halted earlier in the production process and therefore Moscato d’Asti has less effervescence, lower alcohol, and a higher sugar content compared to its spumante (“fully sparking”) counterpart. Asti Spumante enjoyed its fame in the US in the 70’s and 80’s but now the sweet version, Moscato d’Asti, is a go-to wine at dessert time.
So is there really anything else in Asti?
Yes! There is a ton! It is a truly diverse zone, offering many unique and autochthonous wines. But outside of the region, people just don’t realize how much great wine there is! As for me, I’m partial to one of its most unique grapes: Ruchè.
Ruchè in its most prized form comes from the Monferrato zone, which stretches throughout and around the villages of Castagnole Monferrato, Montemagno, Portacomaro, Refrancore, Scurzolengo, Grana, and Viarigi. The wine-growing zone of Monferrato extends (confusingly, I know) into both the Asti and Alessandria provinces. The area is roughly delimited by the grey area on the following map.
Within these confines, Ruchè enojys both a DOC and DOCG status. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOC can have a little bit of Barbera and or Brachetto blended in (I don’t think percentages are clearly defined) and most commonly is not aged in oak at all. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, or just Ruchè DOCG, must be made with a minimum of 95% Ruchè grapes and a maximum of 5% of other red grapes of the area. The DOCG wine has specific yield, aging, and alcohol percentage requirements. It is also not commonly aged in oak.
In addition, Ruchè grows throughout the Asti and Alessandria provinces, outside of the ‘Ruchè DOCG’ and ‘Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOC’-defined zones. It is made both on its own or blended with many of the other red grapes indigenous to the area: Barbera, Freisa, Grignolino, Brachetto, occasionally Dolcetto, and even Syrah. It can be a simple blended table wine aged in concrete, stainless, or neutral casks, made into a more modern style wine where it is blended and aged in oak of some sort, or made in a traditional style where it rarely ever sees any oak aging and is only blended with the more indigenous varieties at about 5-10%.
Ruchè has a distinct floral nose of sweet roses with black pepper, dark autumn spices, and intense fruit ranging from strawberries to black plums, depending on exact locale of the vines and winemaking techniques.
It is a grape unique to the Asti zone and to date, as far as I have read, has a genetic profile unrelated to the grapes of the surrounding zone. This is strange to me because other grapes of the area have such similarities to the aroma and flavor profile of Ruchè. For exmaple, Brachetto, made as a still wine, can be intense with plum fruit and have a distinctive rose quality in the nose. Even when made as a sparkling and sweet wine, Brachetto maintains a gorgeous rose-floral quality on the nose, as does Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo, the king of all grapes in Piemonte (and the grape which makes up 100% of Barbolo and Barbaresco wines) often expresses rose on the bouquet. Ruchè is even similar to Grignolino in flavor profile, but it is more intense. Perhaps these traits are from the soil and surrounding environs. Barbera del Monferrato does have a distinctive floral and mineral quality, similar to Ruchè in my opinion, which you can’t find in Barberas from other zones. So while the flavor and aroma profiles between Ruchè and other indigenous grapes are so similar, I understand it could indeed be terroir-driven, and not genetic.
There is speculation Ruchè came from Burgundy, France. The House of Savoy had control of Piemonte and surrounding areas off and on in the 1700’s and 1800’s. If the ampelographers find it more related to Burgundian varieties, then perhaps the Burgundian theory could hold true. To me Ruchè seems more similar to Rhone varieties but I say that based only on flavor profiles alone.
The origin of the name, Ruchè, is also uncertain. It probably comes from a variation of the word “rock” in the French or Italian language. Roche in French means “rock,” and in Italian roccia is “rock.” But also in Piemontese dialect, rocche, means “rocks” or “sharp cliffs.” You will also find the spelling in Piemontese dialect with one “c,” roche, which has the same meaning, but serves to further confuse everyone. Also there is, rocca, which means “fortress” in Italian.
And if I’ve still got your attention, and if you haven’t all thrown your arms up in exasperation by now, you should know one more thing. Ruchè has alternative names: Rochè, Rouche and Rouchet.
Allora! Ne assaggeremmo! Che se ne frega che si chiama? (Well! Let’s crack some bottles open and try some! Who cares what it’s called?)
dal 25 marzo, 2012 (Vinitaly)
Gatto Pierfrancesco is my favorite Ruchè producer right now —although I think that has remained true for past two years! Signore Pierfrancesco Gatto makes intensely wonderful wines, true to variety character and tradition, but with a fresh and concentrated modern twist. He makes Ruchè truly shine.
Caresana 2011. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG. Ruchè 100%. Highly floral, aromatic bouquet. Blackberries, raspberries, geranium, with mellow tannins. Very young but also very distinctively Ruchè. Pierfrancesco has about 3 hectares of Ruchè in and around the village of Montemagno. The Caresana comes from 4 different vineyard sites in this location, which all have white tuffaceous soil and range from 5 to 35 years old. The wine sees no oak and gains its complexity and intensity from the grape itself. This wine was extremely young when I tried it (harvest date was September 1, 2011) and it still had some months before official release. ★★★
Other wines from Gatto Pierfrancesco that I tried that day:
- Montalto 2011. Grignolino d’Asti DOC. ★★
- Prambarola 2010. Barbera del Monferrato DOC (Barbera vivace, a slightly sparkling style). ★★
- Robiano 2010. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. ★★
- Vigna Serra 2009. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. ★★
- Iolanda 2009. Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG. ★★
- Percento 2009. Monferrato Rosso DOC. Ruchè 50%, Syrah 30%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Albarossa (a cross between Barbera and Nebbiolo) 10%. I’m normally a blending traditionalist but there is something magical about the blend of Ruchè and Syrah. ★★
(Hey! maybe Ruchè is related to Rhone varieties —not Burgundy!)
As far as I know, Gatto Pierfrancesco has no US importer. There might be one in Colorado called Elizabeth Imports.
dal 26 marzo, 2012 (Vinitaly)
Scarpa, a producer from the town of Nizza Monferrato, is most regarded for their Barbera d’Asti (3 of them), but their portfolio is wide and representative of the area. They follow a more traditional winemaking pattern with open top fermenters, longer macerations (14-21 days), and aging in larger barrels.
‘Vigna Briccorosa’ Rouchet 2007. Vino da Tavola Rosso. This Ruchè is from the hills of Nizza, within the Asti zone but not technically classified as Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOC or Ruchè DOCG. Even though the label doesn’t say it, it might still be classified as Monferrato Rosso DOC because I think it qualifies. (But I’m uncertain at this point in time.) Ruchè 100%. The vines were planted in 1994. Highly perfumed and fresh with an intense rose bouquet. An elegant wine with refined dark and red fruits plus clove. Refined one year in bottle. ★★☆
‘Vigna Briccorosa’ Rouchet 2008. Vino da Tavola Rosso. A more concentrated wine: highly perfumed and dense. Also one year younger so probably just needs time.
Other wines from Scarpa that I tried that day:
- Casa Scarpa 2008. Barbera d’Asti DOC. ★★
- I Bricchi 2006. Barbera d’Asti DOC. ★★
- La Bogliona 2006. Barbera d’Asti DOC. no rating
- Bric du Nota 2007. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. ★★
- Tetti Neive 2007. Barbaresco DOCG. ★★
- Tettimorra 2005. Barolo DOCG. ★
- La Selva di Moirano 2009. Monferrato DOC. ★
Scarpa may have an US importer in New York but I don’t know who they are.
dal 12 ottobre, 2011
Montalbera makes 4 Ruchè: L’Accento (“the accent”) and L’Impronta (“the impression”), La tradizione (“the tradition”), all of which are Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, and a passito of Ruchè.
L’Accento 2009. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG. Ruchè 100%. Highly perfumed with an equilibrium of dark spices and cologne on the nose. Dark plum and cherry. Concentrated. Temperature-controlled fermentation and maceration on skins takes about 12-14 days. The wine is further fined in stainless steel and bottled for a total winery aging time of about 12 months before release. The grapes come mainly from the estate. ★★
Montalbera makes a selection of wines both typical and adventurous for the zone. They produce a nice, dry Grignolino, a few different Barberas (d’Asti DOCG, del Monferrato DOC, and d’Asti Superiore DOCG), a Barolo, to be released this September, a white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Viognier, and some really fun sparkling wines. The first one, Roseus, is a sparkling Grignolino, and the the Leykos, is —of all things!— a sparkling Barbera! It’s wonderful. I surprised a group of 12 people, half of which were Barolo and Barbaresco winemakers, with the Leykos at a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot noir dinner I planned last fall in Piemonte. In Piemonte it is the norm to start dinner off with sparkling wine so I brought this one to get them warmed up. Boy! Was that funny! This is wonderful wine to give “blind.” No one will ever guess it. Regading the Roseus, I discovered Montalbera via the Roseus, which I tried on the very first night of my fall 2010 Piemonte trip. It hasn’t let me down since! They also make a Moscato d’Asti and a Ruchè Grappa.
Montalbera appears to have an US importer in New York, possibly called Farmer Wines.
dal 20 luglio, 2012
I decided to open my last bottle of Crivelli Ruchè a few weeks ago to pair with an arugula-fig-prosciutto–chevre pizza, and I’m glad I did. It was a fantastic combination and the wine had improved over the course of two years!
Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2008. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOC. Ruchè 100%. Ruby and watermelon color; fairly clear. Black pepper, rose, strawberry, cut grass, wet stones, and a tiny touch of acetone —but not bad. Spicy cinnamon on the palate with a tart, cranberry finish. Highly drinkable; lots of minerality and fresh herbs. I think I hit this wine at its peak (unless it will get better!). But it was more intense and balanced than I recall from nearly two years ago. I would not recommend aging this particular wine for many years but I’d say 2-3 years (maybe 4?) in the bottle will yield really good results. ★★☆
As far as I can tell, Crivelli may have an US importer in New York only but I don’t know who it is.
Other producers of Ruchè:
- Luca Ferraris. I visited Luca Ferraris in October of 2011 on the same day as my visit to Montalbera. I wasn’t impressed, unfortunately. They were very nice but the bottles in the tasting room had been open for many many days and nothing was fresh. I have liked his wines in the past, however. www.lucaferraris.it
- Cascina Tavijn. Their US importer is Louis Dressner.
- La Mondianese. www.lamondianese.com
- Cantine Sant’Agata. www.santagata.com
- Tenuta dei Rè. www.tenutadeire.it
- Piero Bruno.
- Another place to find a lot of Ruchè from different producers is the Cantina Sociale di Castagnole Monferrato. www.cantinasocialecastagnolemonferrato.it
I know it’s not easy to find but I hope to have at least piqued your interest and motivated you to seek out a Ruchè to try. Wonderful as a food wine, but because of its ephemeral qualities and intense rose-floral bouquet, it can be a perfect meditative wine as well. The area of Monferrato is fun to visit, especially if you like one-on-one, personalized tastings. If you are in the city of Asti, but cannot get yourself out to the Monferrato hills, go visit the wine shop called:
Wine Farmer Enoteca at Viale Pilone 3, 14100 Asti.
The friendly and knowledgeable owner has a lot of the mentioned Ruchè for sale. If you’re reading this from the US, and don’t live in New York City, searching for Ruchè from the producers above on www.wine-searcher.com will lead you to many retail shops (mostly in New York City) that will probably ship to you directly.
Then you can discover what really is the grape they call Rochè, Rouche, Rouchet, and Ruchè!
‘… O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.’
— Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare