• Richard Murff

Drink Like a Roman


Sometime before society melted, I found myself up in New York’s iconic Union Square Café, having lunch with some literary swells when one of my social betters took the imitative and ordered this until Italian white wine that he’d discovered mooning around northern Italy with a more profitable client: it was a roero arneis.


Write that down, it’s hard to find but worth remembering.


I realize that they are fashionable right now, but there is something about being a man my age and simply not caring, but those Italian reds need to come with a word of warning. It’s mostly that savgiovese grape –which requires a big loud bolognaise with lots of tomatoes whatever gets kickstarted on the palette back into balance. I also am aware that in the last generation or so, Italian winemakers have stepped up their game with massive overhauls in both pre-Risorgimento equipment and technique.


The whites, however, are another story. Enter the arnies – a grape varietal that is commonly found in the hills of the Roero - that was all but extinct when it was rediscovered in the 1980’s, or more precisely, in 1976 wherein the Francophile wine establishment inadvertently ranked Californian wines higher than French ones. The aftershock was that if great wine could be made in California, then where else?


Turns out, in Italy’s historic Piedmont region. It is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, what my sister-in-law calls “maybe France, maybe Italy.” It is famous for its bold reds like the barbera or nebbiolo. I’m still a little gun-shy, but part of the miscommunication is cultural. The Italian tend to drink these wines at the table while Brits and most of their Anglophone cousins will stand around quaffing the stuff. When they’re looking for an aperitivothey go with something lighter.


The arneis is a dry subtle grape with a fantastic aroma. It has become one of the stars of the region over the thirty or so years, but because it is a low yielding vine, it’s not likely to unseat the high-volume (and often excellent) pinot grigio. Roero arneis is a wine with hints of those famous Peidmont white peaches, as well as crisp green apple and almond.


One of the innovations in the renaissance of Italian wines, is the scrapping of concrete vats for stainless steel, which in this case preserves some of the minerality of the roero arneis. That’s wine-speak for “tastes like a rock.” But picture the sort of stone God might have as a pet-rock. I mention the minerality because it is so much part of the profile that some winemakers, like Giovanni Almando, label theirs “vigne sparse” in reference to the dry, sandy soil in which its grown in the foothills of the Alps.


And the Romans drink it like water, or soccer moms with chardonnay. it’s worth checking out. This one of those really perfect summer wines Or at least that’s what I was told at lunch. And being a Southerner, I tend to believe anything I’m told in lower Manhattan.


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