Gypsies, Tramps, Thieves — and Arneis

By Jamie Gabrini
The Wine Chicks

arneisGiovanni Almondo, 2003, Roero Arneis, Bricco delle Ciliegie

In ninth or tenth grade, our English Literature teacher began a lecture on authors she termed as bohemian. Our class stared blankly as she droned on and on and I doodled on a blank piece of paper in front of me, no doubt embellishing the Mead College Ruled page with band logos and flaming crosses. Someone ventured a hand and said “Miss? What’s a bohemian?” Our teacher stopped long enough to try to explain, “Well, a bohemian is a term for an artsy person, someone who’s creative and interested in avant-garde topics…” She looked down at me, decked out in ropes of necklaces and suede boots. “Someone like Jamie here,” she said to illustrate her point.

It’s true. I love gypsies, tramps, and thieves. I gravitate towards free spirits and eccentric characters. My tastes in wine, you’ve surely noticed, run towards the eclectic as well. So it was really only a matter of time before I reviewed a wine named after the rascally rogues I love in life.

The Arneis grape is native to the Piedmont area in Italy. The name “Arneis” means “little rascal” in the local language, and while the name refers to the difficulty involved in the cultivation of the grape, I like to think that it also refers to the grapes colorful medley of flavors. I’ve been a fan of Arneis since first sip — I loved the light orange-water aroma and blossomy taste. It was delicate and refreshing, but had a snappy bit of greens on the finish - just enough to leave an impression.

You can imagine my thrill when my boss handed me a bottle of Giovanni Almondo 2003 Roero Arneison last week with a simple “Let me know what you think.” My interest was further piqued by the vintage. 2003 was, as we know, very hot, resulting in atypical wines throughout Europe. While I’ve enjoyed it for some grapes (like Altesse and Gamay), I’ve despised it in others (Chardonnay and Riesling… yeee-ikes!). But an Arneis from ‘03 seemed even more unpredictable and I once again found myself following the siren song of rascally behavior.

But what to pair with it? I ran through a gamut of possibilities. To work with the sweet orange water characteristic of this ‘03 Arneis, I turned to an eclectic recipe I’ve made several times in the past when I’m trying to keep it light and healthy: a Middle Eastern style rice salad. Make about two cups of wild rice (yes, in the rice cooker… I done told y’all they were worth the investment!). While the rice is gurgling, juice a lime and finely chop a handful or two of cilantro and a pinch of fresh mint. Add olive oil, the cilantro and mint, a dash of nutmeg, and fresh ground salt and pepper (to taste) to a bowl and whisk it all together until it’s well blended. Let it hang out a bit so the flavors really meld. In the meantime, coarsely chop dried apricots and pecans. Once the rice is fully cooked, let it cool slightly, but add the lime juice dressing while the rice is still warm and mix it in well. Add the dried fruit and nuts and combine it completely. If you’re feeling really ambitious, add a tangerine salad. Peel about four or five tangerines or clementines, making sure to peel away as much of the white pithiness as you can. Thinly slice the peeled fruit and add thinly sliced scallions and more chopped cilantro and mint. Sprinkle the greens over the fruit, add some olive oil and a dash of dried red pepper, and stir it all together. Serve a small portion next to the rice salad for an interesting contrast of flavors and textures.

The Arneis rose to the occasion. Fuller than is typical, there was sweet fruit - still leaning to the orange end of the citrus spectrum, and the impressions of sweet quickly gave way to white floral notes, stony acidity, and a touch of sage-greenness. The colorful map of flavors matched well with those of the meal: the nutmeg and apricots extracted the sweet notes of the Arneis grape, while the pecans, rice, and herbs pull out the earthy greenness. It was indeed a flavorful combination; different nuances became evident with each bite and sip.

Like the little rascal it is, Arneis refuses to be categorized with a simple flavor profile and instead had me excited to try another sip, another nibble. Ill happily stay off the beaten path if all pairings work this well.

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