Arneis

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Arneis is a white wine grape variety from Italy's much-respected Piemonte wine region. In a story shared by several renascent grape varieties (most obviously Viognier), Arneis has been rescued from the verge of extinction and is now enjoying something of a revival. By the 1960s, just a few hectares of Arneis vines remained, and only a handful of producers were making the wine. There are now more than 1,500 acres (605ha) of Arneis vines in Piemonte, and small quantities are also grown in California, Australia and New Zealand.

In the past couple of decades, Arneis has become synonymous with the wines of Roero (despite the district producing a fair quantity of red Nebbiolo). There, it produces floral-scented white wines, whose delicate aromas belie the wines' relatively full bodies and generous flavours – typically of pear and apricot rounded out with a creamy hint of hazelnut. Produced just across the Tanaro River from Barolo, these white Roero Arneis wines have earned the nickname Barolo Bianco (white Barolo).

The Arneis variety's survival is due in part to the efforts of one winemaker, the late Alfredo Currado, a member of the well-regarded Vietti wine family, which produces some of the world's most sought-after Arneis even today. From 1967 onwards, Currado devoted a great deal of time and effort to this then-endangered variety. His work was catalysed by a renewed interest in Piemonte wines in general, which shows little sign of abating.

There are various possible explanations for Arneis' decline in the 20th century. Piemonte was, and still is, a region best known for its red wines. White wines have traditionally taken a back seat there, and white wine varieties were often relegated to less-desirable vineyard sites. Arneis vines were sometimes planted next to Nebbiolo vines, but largely as a form of protection; the Arneis grapes' stronger fragrance distracted hungry birds and insects away from the more highly prized Nebbiolo. In the winery, Arneis held an equally ancillary role and was added in small quantities to Nebbiolo or Barbera wines in order to soften their robust tannins. (A similar relationship was established by winemakers in the northern Rhône Valley, who developed the Syrah-Viognier blend).

Finally, Arneis has a reputation as a rather troublesome variety; it is low-yielding and susceptible to powdery mildew and, in warm seasons, struggles to retain useful levels of acidity. All of the above supports the theory that the variety's name is derived from a Piemontese word meaning "little rascal".

Outside Roero, varietal Arneis wines are made in the Langhe hills immediately to the south and in the Terre Alfieri to the northeast (near Asti).
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