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Revival of Ancient Italian Grape Varieties: Arneis, Malvasia, and Ruchè

The vineyards of Italy are a testament to an ancient lineage of viticulture dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. Among the myriad cultivars that have graced these soils, three ancient grape varieties stand out: Arneis, Malvasia, and Ruchè. These are vintages so steeped in antiquity that they teetered on the edge of oblivion, only to be resurrected and continue their existence as rare vestiges of a bygone era.

From the northwestern region of Piedmont, Arneis was popular in the Middle Ages. It faced near-extinction by the 1970s due to its reputation for being difficult to cultivate. However, the last few decades have seen a surge in its popularity. Today Arneis is known as the “white Barolo.” Translated as “little rascal” in Piemontese, Arneis produces wines with excellent structure and acidity. It is cherished for its crisp, floral wine which perfectly capture the terroir of the Roero hills.

Malvasia, a red grape that first surfaced in ancient Greece, has been a fixture of Italian winemaking for centuries. It came perilously close to vanishing during the 20th century due to its low yields and the popularity of international grape varieties. However, dedicated vintners resurrected this aromatic grape, cherishing its ability to produce a range of wines from dry whites to rich dessert styles, bringing Malvasia back from the brink of extinction.

Finally, Ruchè, forgotten for hundreds of years. It was a local priest in the 20th century who saved this red variety from obscurity, recognizing its potential for creating fragrant, spicy wines. Ruchè wines are known for their intense bouquet of roses and violets, with a subtle spiciness. They are often medium-bodied, with a good balance between tannin and acidity. This unique balance and aromatic profile set Ruchè wines apart, making them a sought-after rarity among wine enthusiasts.

The survival of Arneis, Malvasia, and Ruchè is a testament to the enduring power of ancient viticulture and the dedicated vintners committed to preserving Italy's unique winemaking heritage. These grapes may be rare, but their narratives echo across vineyards, resonating in every bottle produced, preserving a rich past while promising an intriguing future.

Try all three in a specially prepared wine flight during MozzarellaFest (through the end of July). And, learn more by watching Jill’s two minute tasting video on Instagram.