A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato - Piedmont, Italy

Today marks Fringe Wine's fifth foray into the wonderful region of Piemonte and we have plans for at least five more posts on grapes from this region in the not too distant future.  More so than any other region in Italy, Piemonte really delivers the goods not only in regard to the breadth of varietal offerings, but also in regard to their quality as well.

Today's wine is from a grape called Ruchè (sometimes spelled Rouchet) which, like quite a few obscure grapes, has a bit of mystery surrounding it.  Some people believe that it is native to the hills around the town of Asti while  others believe that it was brought down from Burgundy in the 18th Century.  I can't find any definitive genetic or ampelographical studies done on the grape, so at the moment, it seems like it's a mystery awaiting further evidence to solve.  The former explanation seems the most likely to me because as far as I know, the grape is not cultivated anywhere outside of this tiny area within Piemonte, though the alternate spelling "Rouchet" does give me a little pause, as it looks a little French to my eyes (the grave mark over the e [è] is a product of the Piemontese dialect and if it went the other direction [é], would be from the French, according to a conversation I had with Randall Grahm on Twitter). The Oxford Companion to Wine champions the latter explanation, so feel free to draw whatever conclusions you want.

Where ever the grape is actually from, it finds its home today on about 40 hectares of land around the Italian village of Castagole Monferrato in the Asti province of Piemonte.  The Oxford Companion to Wine describes Ruchè as "relatively obscure," which seems like a bit of an understatement given the paucity of land devoted to it and the fact that there are only about 22 producers who make wine from the grape.  It does have its own DOC, which was established in 1987, but due the scarcity of plantings, the production figures here are very low.  The DOC regulations do allow for the addition of up to 10% Barbera or Brachetto, but that doesn't really help to stretch the juice that much.  Interest in the grape has traditionally been a local phenomenon but a few examples are starting to make their way over to US shores.  You'll still have to do some pretty serious hunting to track down a bottle, though.

The natural inclination one has when presented with the unusual is to try to compare the unusual object to a more common object in order to frame it in some sort of context that one already understands.  The interesting thing about Ruchè is that the comparisons people try to make seem to be all over the map.  There are some people who compare it to Nebbiolo due to its intense, flowery aromatics.  Some compare it to Pinot Noir because of its supple character and intense aromatic profile while others point to Dolcetto as the closest analogue thanks to its friendly, fruity nature.  The grape it most closely resembles for me is actually Lacrima di Morro d'Alba.  Both of these grapes are explosively, almost overwhelmingly floral on the nose and both have soft, ripe fruit as their defining characteristics on the palate.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2007 Vigna del Parroco Ruchè di Castagnolo Monferrato for about $26 from my friends at Bin Ends.  In the glass, the wine was a medium ruby color that was pretty steady all the way to the rim.  The nose is very aromatic with baking spice, black plum, stewed tart cherry, rose petals, violets and a kind of vegetal/herbaceous flower stem aroma.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with acidity on the higher side of medium and medium tannins.  There were flavors of tart cherry and spiced plum, baking chocolate and espresso and, oddly, a kind of floral taste to it as well.  I can't say as I've eaten a lot of flowers but sometimes if I'm in the presence of very strong ones, I get a kind of funny bitter taste in my mouth and that's what I was reminded of here.  This wine was extremely good for about the first hour, but as it sat, the floral aromas and flavors got much stronger and started to turn much more bitter and vegetal.  By the second day, this kind of tasted like what I imagine chewing on a geranium stem would be like.  I would definitely recommend this wine with the caveat that you want to work your way through bottle as quickly (and responsibly) as you can before the vegetal notes in this have time to really take hold.  When this wine was good, it was very very good with really lovely plummy spice and just enough perfume to keep your imagination active.

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