The morning of July 14th began with a round table discussion in the Costigliole d’Asti Castle for an hour’s reckoning and reflection on Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Astia Nizza Monferrato. Our triumvirate educatori rispettati, Progetto Vino panel of Michele Longo, Michaela Morris and Monty Waldin were looking for answers and for truth. Not just comments on the quality of the wines but resolutions so as to move forward, to progress, to offer a better Piemontese experience and to bring better barbera to the world.
Barbera d’Asti had concluded the previous evening with dinner at Locanda del Boscogrande in Montegrosso d’Asti and in advance of travelling to Barolo for the Collisioni Festival came the arrival in Castagnole Monferrato. We were welcomed by Luca Ferraris, President of the association of Ruchè producers. First there was a walk in the vineyard and then lunch at Cantina Bersano with ruchè, grigolino, freisa and the vintners. An afternoon speed dating session at Mercantile Hall in Castagnole Monferrato would change my mind’s experience about ruché’s varietal place in Piemonte and the world. A study in Ruchè is an unavoidable headfirst dive into phenolics, climate change and choices. Tasting these wines provides for one of the most transparent and palpable presentations in the understanding of ripeness, much like Garnacha in Campo de Borja, Cariñena and Calatayud.
Ruchè develops its sugars and alcohol quite early, often reaching a potential of 14-15 degrees by late August, early September. The temptation is to pick early and in many cases it is both justified and necessary, especially in vintages with little precipitation and heat through summer. Like garnacha and as they found out this past summer with sangiovese in Toscana, picking small, desiccated berries too early might yield sugar and alcohol but the question is whether or not there will be sufficient support by phenolic ripeness. Waiting on the trust that some rain will come and also extended season warmth is often the key to such development, but Ruché is different and in some vintages the development happens lightning fast. Picking times are crucial in every agricultural region but hyper-sensitive here. Growers might pick early and find ideal ripeness and yet others might produce jammy wines with bitter, green and astringent tannins. It’s a fine line everywhere but in Ruché the vintage really, really matters.
The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status for Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato was granted in 2010 out of the region Asti-Piemonte. The general terroir is apprised by silt, clay, sand and limestone soils at elevations between 120-400 masl. Plantings on northern slopes from 2010 onwards may not be used in DOCG wines. The maximum yield allowance is nine tons per hectare, minimum alcohol 12.5 and there are no ageing requirements, nor are there any for vigna-designated wines though all must be composed from at least 90 per cent ruché, with barbera and brachetto often used to blend.
The producers of Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato as a rule have figured out their picking schedules to coax the most out of their fruit. Slope position is the key to knowledge here and the higher up you farm the more likely you’re going to need to wait before pulling off those grapes. The surprisingly refreshing relative absence of barrel use is another reason that this tiny appellation is on the road to glory so early in its DOCG existence. The grape is fortuitous for its ability to create structure without needing the over-stimulated couverture of new French oak. Some stainless steel and concrete-rasied examples display the ability to age on their own. Time and experience will allow more additions of wood élevage but for now the wines show purity, clarity and honesty just the way they are. I tasted 21 wines from 15 producers that day in July. Here are the notes.
Bava’s ruché combines the freshness of grignolino with the brooding of barbera though in a decreased state of acidity. The fruit is strawberry-raspberry, fresh-picked and a bit leafy-savoury in contrast, marking this middle of the road-toned red and its ripe phenolics. Thoughtfully and thankfully round for early and clear comprehensible drinking in complete control of the vital energy it’s capable of harnessing. No astringency here and a very correct to ambassadorial example of ruché. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017 bavawinery @ @bava.winery
Privilegi is much more floral than many of its ilk but also riper, concentrated and deeply pressed. It’s clearly designed for international/marketing appeal with an expressed coffee calculation and a drift into the seriousness of Piemontese territory. It tries quite hard to impress and in the end you can take the ruché out of Castagnole Monferrato but you can’t take Castagnole Monferrato out of ruché. The variety can’t help but act like itself so trying to press its round character into a square hole leads to disconnect. The end result is more tannin and therefore astringency in a wine that started out with tremendous fruit potential. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted July 2017 tenutalafiammenga #lafiammenga La fiammenga
Tasted with Marco and Alessandria Marengo, here ruché is bred in argiloso soils (mainly clay) and from a more than intense vintage. A year in which rising alcohol levels went reaching for a crescendo but the variety will last longer in its hold out for phenolic ripeness as compared to those in sandy soils. So here we have the powerful and structured ruché, picked by September 20th, which is now these days the average. Brings dark red fruit and intensity, violets and plums, lots of pepper, with a vintage full on with dry extract. This is regal and chewy, with fortuitous fortitude, absence of oak and it will certainly be a longer lived example. The tannic structure will not handle new French barriques so its stainless steel only to do the job and the trick. And it’s 15 per cent alcohol. Brilliant. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted July 2017 #massimomarengo Massimo Marengo
San Pietro Realto Ruché is completed with a one pick harvest at the end of September, at the same time as barbera. Sees only stainless steel and the current vintage production is 100,000 bottles. The liquor-liquorice-syrupy ruché was released in late March, early April, from calcareous soil at the top of the hill and argil at the bottom. Very fluid and silky ruché, refined and of a density by layering and tart compression. It’s clean and modern, with liquid smoke and pepper. It is aided by anteprime temperature control (48 hours), to preserve florals, the perfume and the acidity before fermentation. Very grown up and 21st century. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2017 bersano1907 profilewinegroup valentinacasetta @ @ @Bersanowine Profile Wine Group
San Pietro is the name of the estate where the rolling stone ruché is farmed and this look back takes us into what I believe was the 17th year as a recognized DOCG. There is an abundant wealth of wild, wild horses secondary and tertiary character here, more into dried fruit and much less, though still intact acidity, naturally and in evolution as compared to the more recent ’13 and ’16 examples. It’s a pretty country and western sort of rock ‘n roll ballad that could indeed drag me away. You can feel the alcohol and the earthy, ante demi-glacé, liquid gritty and distinct. A heartfelt thanks goes out to enologo Roberto Morosinotto for the generosity and opportunity in curiosity. “Childhood living is easy to do.” Drink 2017. Tasted July 2017
San Pietro 2013 is possessive of more spice, florality, cooler and savour direct injection. The liquid velvet transparency and clean lines are the same as you see fast forwarded to 2016. I see more ageability in this 2013s, but also perhaps a bit more rusticity. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017
From Francesco and Marco, Caresana is the cru, in front of Castagnole, loosely translated as “dearest,” I would think. Vines aged two to 30 years old and fruit picked early, September 4th and 5th, before dolcetto. Mostly calcareous and some sandy soil, very perfumed, the deep smell of fresh plums, just picked from the tree, sliced, juicy, running ripe and warm. Again here is the liquid purity of the ruché liqueur, classic, somewhat traditional but easily slid into the current climate and decade. Carries more acidity than some in the sides of the mouth climbing in a back and forth way. Really plummy and so bloody varietal but no iron, just white limestone in this soil. Very drinkable, that mineral liquified and rendered, ready to go, best to drink young. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted July 2017 #gattopierfrancesco Pierfrancesco Gatto
From Luca Ferraris this varietal ruché is lower in alcohol than many peers because this is not a top exposure but the varietal obviousness is so bloody so. Ruché stripped down, laid bare, naked to the world, From both white and red soil, with elegance and some grip. It does not get much fresher or direct than in this bottle. Unlock the simplest secrets of Castagnole Monferrato and read the dictionary entry through the lens of this example. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017 lucaferraris1979 @ Luca Ferraris
The Clàsic ruché draws inspiration from 54 hL botti after a slow (20 day) maceration and stays in the big casks until bottle. There is some racking (now using some open top fermenters), no punch downs but some pump overs, all in the name of breathing. Ruchè ripens as early as any red in Piemonte and in Castagnole Monferrato it’s likely in the first ten days of September. Sugars accumulate quickly, acidity is often low but it manages to maintain a healthy level of malic acid. And so as per the varietal expectation this is richly aromatic, textural, crisp and possessive of a strong concentration of polyphenols. Solid structure with an eight to 10 year potential results. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted July 2017
Opera Prima per il fondatore comes from a single-vineyard at the top of the hill. It is Riserva level ruché in honour of Luca Ferraris’ grandfather Martino. The vineyard is steep, with loose calcareous soil that is poor in nutrients and so it carries a history of yield reduction. The vigour control combines with late ripening so structure is first developed in the vineyard. Luca is looking for longevity and ages Opera Prime for 30 months in tonneaux so such a young ruché is not surprisingly reserved, of course, not quite giving, immature yet primed for aging, like Barolo but also Rioja Gran Reserva. This because it comes across as really spicy, smoky and savoury. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017
Vigna del Parroco is the driest in town and was planted by the first local agronomist. The property is now owed by Ferraris, with this being the first vintage. Élevage is 20 per cent in tonneaux and the rest in big botti plus stainless steel (depending on what’s available). This is the original, massale selection vine/plant, young and intense with some of the area’s highest acidity. Only 1000 bottles were produced. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017 #vignadelparroco vignadelparroco La Vigna del Parroco
Tenuta Montemagno is the ruché child of Alberto and Eliza, raised on a plateau of calcareous clay with white argilo, rich in seabed fossils and minerals. The ’16 was picked mid-September, went to soft crush-press, fermented on native yeasts and dropped into stainless. The effort is as natural as possible, all hand worked, with no filtration and pumpovers. There is some tannin, more than others in the form of a liquid grainy texture, firm but also that ruché juiciness and the first to offer some late beneficial bitters. Organically styled though certification is not their thing. Alberto notes that 2013 was a great vintage, after ’11 and now ’16, Seems to say with fair warning “here’s to your thin red line I’m stepping over.” It’s serious Italian fat city address styled ruché. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017 tenuta_montemagno @ @
Here is very traditional, classic ruché, from no blending, the varietal is just purely expressed. Located in Portamaro Stazione, just outside southeast of the area, though the vineyards are within the area. Liquid ruby, more tart edges but soft ones, typical, balanced and perfectly charming. Really lingers with a light grainy calcaire chalkiness to it, from the grey limestone-argilo soil. So much like other once sweet wines that a producer decided to let go dry. Like mavrodaphne or even more, mavro kalavryta. Picked at the end of September, a decision that is later than most, almost into overripe character though there is no wood. This will turn to dried fruit and oxidative quite quickly. So old school. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017 @CalderaVini @ViniCaldera
Cantine Sant’Agata was conceived in 1992 by brothers Claudio and Franco Cavallero on 1.5 hectares of Castagnole Monferrato land, now seven hectares in total. ‘Na Vota (the vote) is achieved without oak, all stainless, from four vineyards and just in bottle now. Shines with the highest acidity there can be from ruché, with the sandy layer bringing a dried rose note and the calcaire violets. It’s rich, dense, thick, of the most extract, so tart and juicy. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted July 2017 #cantinesantagata #cantinesantagata Cantine Sant’Agata
It was the excellence of the 2000 vintage that convinced Franco Cavallero to up the game and put he and his brother’s money down on a premium cuvée and the result was the first Pro Nobis, “for us,” meaning them, and us. Now an altered and evolved ruché the 2014 shows that some wood is here in support of a selection of grapes from old vines. The process opts for plenty of délestage on a late September pick, for structure and a dark cherry, leathery juiciness. This also carries the unique Agata acidity, so tart, like aged Rioja or even more, like a child of Chianti Classico Riserva sangiovese and Nizza barbera. The offspring is nothing if not a wow factor Piemontese outlier that is also so very traditional. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017
Founded in 1926 by Evasio’s grandfather, ruché may not be Garrone’s centre of varietal or appellative attention but these 1991 planted vines are surely in one of the area’s sweet spots. As it happens they were the first in the village of Grana, on white clay with some gypsym (geso) chalk. The soil impart leads and leans towards a really red liquid ruby, fresh, bright, lithe and beautifully fresh ruché. Third week of September picking but it’s not overripe and actually just there. A fineness of ruché like a naive melody so this must be the place. Fruit saw a 7-10 day maceration, oxygen controlled and here with a bit of a spicy note, but so very tempered, relaxed, not exceptionally elevated in acidity, A true terroir-driven, textural wine. Yields are crazy low (3,500 bottles produced from one hectare) and so there is no surprise to find talking heads fruit speaking in tongues. It’s clearly a labour of love to make such a pure, honest and beautifully balanced ruché. Really tells a story, “never for money, always for love.” The export price would be 5.5 euro. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017 #garroneevasioefiglio @vinigarrone
Tenuta Dei Re is Paolo and Filippo on an estate from the 1870s but started with grignolino. Their votes grow in surround of the cantina, all estate fruit, no export, all cellar door. The tanks are all cement and stainless steel, with 10 months of aging, for stability and freshness, from three hectares of ruché, plus grignolino and barbera (also vermentino). The sandy hills are not overly variegated though by clay so the poor, fine soils don’t gift as much structure. This means the aromatics need to be kept, by slow, low-temperature controlled fermentation; tops at 24 degrees. After 14 days on the skins this doles out quite an old school red but the clarity and varietal character is more than preserved. The pick is really early, late August to early September, partially a climate change reaction, especially at the top (250m) and 150 at the bottom. No machine work so “molto dificile,” working like billy goats. this just has that deep acid liqueur, savour, verdancy, A bit smoky and stinging. There are 5000 bottles at an export price of 5.5 euro. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017 tenuta_dei_re #tenutadeire Tenuta dei Re
From Livio e Daniela, (Amelio is the surname), Primordio is a perfect moniker for this darker and richer ruché, one km away from Grana. The vines are at the base of a hill on argilosa, bianca calcaria and some darker sandy and clay. This is the definition of osso intenso! Dense and liquid cherry-leather liqueur, from a warm vintage so it all adds up to lots of character and layers. Picked around the 15th of September, but this is very early for them and 6,000 bottles are made, sold only in Italia., Such a small production, traditional and spicy, some structure, from only one hectare so good yields in 2016, which is 70 per cent more than some others. A seven day fermentation as with everything in this wine it’s quite middle of the road. Primordio, in the begginning, for the girls, Daniela and her sister. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted July 2017 #livioamelio Daniela Amelio @ameliolivio
Poggio Ridente’s San Marziano is one of the few 2015s in the speed tasting and stands alone for its temperament and style. This is Cecilia’s baby, the only one labeled biologico (organic), from red clay soil, 14 per cent alcohol and noted because you can really sense the heat on the nose. The wild ferment is a very aromatic, high toned, no wood, deep red sensation. The vines were planted in 2001 and this is the first to act quite bretty and volatile, the natural one which will have some serious fans but I would imagine this is a local outlier. Picked in the first week of September I really believe this could be great but the warmth of the day and serving temperature does not do it justice and and so the alcohol really stands out. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted July 2017 poggioridente.bio Poggio Ridente Az.Agricola Biologica
Cecilia Zucca’s 2014 carries the benefit of an extra year in bottle but from a vintage with much less heat and more cool savour it really shines at this time. Still an outlier for the Ruché di Castagnole ideal, this ’14 is so much more fragrant, honest, pure, precise, transparent and you can really tell that attention was paid to this vintage. Very true to 2014 not just as a ruché but for greater Asti as a whole. This particular moment in natural winemaking time is so well-adjusted, spicy, floral, fine and good. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2017
Crivelli Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato is the remarkable work of Marco Crivelli. His grapes were harvested during the last week of September and bottled in February. Done up in inox vats, under temperature control (25-27 degrees) with a combination of yeasts. Two weeks of maceration and here the suggested wait time is one year in bottle. Moving on from technical geekdom this starts with flowers and spice but you are to imagine that a year will bring some secondary character. This seems to be in the middle, at the crossroads of all the wines, a combination of everything or perhaps outside of it all. Rich liqueur, red velvet leather, syrup but not sticky, freshness leading to matrurity. It’s quite mature, not evolved, but the acumen is obvious. The plot is five hectares yielding 7,000 bottles per. It’s a good yield. More made here than most, this is the pioneer and the leader, with Crivelli and his more than 28 years of experience. His first commercial vintage was 1988. When he gets there the final planting ratio will be sixty per cent ruché, thirty barbera and 10 grigolino on one third each soils of sand, white clay and limestone. If I’m an Ontario agent and buying one Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato it would be this from Marco Crivelli. There will be younger, risk-taking, natural and experimental producers who will usurp his crown but for now Marco is the man. His price is eight euro ex-cellar. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017 #marcocrivelli @ Marco Maria Crivelli
Good to go!