Intensely aromatic wines are the bee’s knees for me. I simply can’t get enough of wines that display heavy floral and spice aromatics, which usually is more prevalent in white varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Torrontés, etc. I was able to expand my repertoire of aromatic reds with an introduction to an obscure grape variety from Italy’s Piemonte.
Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato is a recent addition to Italy’s DOCG family, hailing from a small cluster of villages in the province of Asti in Piemonte. At the center of this appellation is a somewhat mysterious red grape variety that displays floral and spice aromatics and varying tannin levels, depending on winemaking decisions and oak treatments (or lack thereof). In the vineyard, Ruchè is purported to ripen in areas that even Barbera will not fully ripen. Communes of production include Castagnole Monferrato, Montemagno, Grana, Portacomaro, Refrancore, Scurzolengo, and Viarigi. DOCG rules allow for up to 10% Brachetto to be blended into the wine. Only 123 ha on Ruchè are cultivated, though this number has been increasingly steadily, but slowly, so maybe there will be more Ruchè available in the export market.
Cantina Sant’agata specializes in wines made from the Ruchè grape. With four different examples in their portfolio, they are able to represent the different aspects of this wonderful grape. The particular example that I tried is the ” ‘Na Vota” Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato. It was fermented in 100% stainless steel, which helped to preserve the aromatics and helped to develop a complementary fruity character. Aside from the flavor and exoticism of this wine, I absolutely love that there is a small booklet attached to the back of each bottle that explains the history of Ruchè, the region, the vinification methods, and some producer background. Any effort to further educate the public is always a plus in my book, and this little tidbit of information was rather informative for an obscure wine and was replete with romantic vineyard photographs of Piemonte.
Visually, this wine was ruby colored with medium-plus concentration. There was a bit of fizz on the wine, which I have seen in other bottles of this same wine. I don’t think that they were supposed to be there, but it did give the wine a frothy, lambrusco-like quality (not quite frizzante, but you know what I mean) that didn’t seem to detract from it. It did, however, make the cork extremely difficult to extract. On the nose, aromas of dried violets, rose petals, incense, and allspice dominated the fruit character of candied red cherry and pomegranate. The palate showed a little more balance between the fruit and the floral, but the floral and spice components held through the bottle, lending a very mild bitterness that is fairly common in phenoic-driven wines like this one. The wine was light- to medium-bodied, with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins, and medium alcohol content. Overall, I loved this wine and can’t wait to try other examples of this floral-driven red grape.