Sunday, February 24, 2019

My long history with Ruchè

Sometime around the late 1990’s I was working with an Italian importer and one of the owners brought up the subject of alternative red wines from Piedmont. We’d ventured into Barbaresco with La Ca’ Növa, in Barolo with Cascina Bruni and Cordero di Montezemolo, and in Gavi with a wine from Roberto Bergaglio. As well, we had a steady producer of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Arneis and Freisa from Cascina Cheirello. But this new red wine, this Ruchè, from Crivelli, was a different beast.

Look, selling Italian wine in Texas was like selling Italian wine in Paris. There were a lot of hurdles to jump over. The first one was that nobody was looking for such a wine, this being a time before Instagram and “influencers” of the trendiest and most esoteric wines from grapes that nobody had ever heard of. What I most often heard was, “I haven’t gotten any calls for Ruchè, or whatever you call it.” Which translated as “I’m not that curious or interested. Besides, did it get 90 points from Parker?”

Thankfully these days are more enlightened, even if we have to contend with the instant expertise of social media wine mavens. And Ruchè has become an enduring, as well as an endearing, red wine from Piedmont, for myself, as well as many more wine lovers.

This past week I was in Italy for Collisioni and their food and wine offshoot, Gastronomix. Held in the Canavese and Monferrato area, clustering around Ivrea, Vercelli and Asti, we were guests of Ian D’Agata and Filippo Mobrici and their Collisioni team as well as the Consorzio Barbera D’Asti e Vini del Monferrato and Consorzio per la Tutela e la Valorizzazione dei Vini DOCG di Caluso e DOC di Carema e Canavese. The Italians love long titles. Somewhere in there Ruchè was part of the deal.

And a great refresher course it was for a wine I haven’t seem much of in these parts, flyover country USA.

My entry point into Ruchè in the last century and millennium was via a small producer called Crivelli. Proprietor Marco Crivelli was (and still is) an eccentrically wonderful chap. I really think the air that circulates around his person is of another ilk than the rest of us. It probably has to be if one specializes in wines from grapes like Ruchè and Grignolino, when nearby neighbors are farming Nebbiolo and making premium and much sought-after wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. But Italy, if it is one thing, it is a place dedicated to celebrating the antipodal in nature. Sure, one could farm in a place like Cuneo and make a nice life, living off the fame and garnering a fortune from Barolo. But money, and fame, isn’t everything. And resuscitating a once lost wine from a grape like Ruchè has been a calling to folks like Crivelli.

Mind you, he isn’t alone in this obsession.

I sat with Luca Ferraris, winemaker and the president of the Produttori del Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG at a dinner in Asti last week. Luca’s family was also very instrumental in bringing Ruchè back to life. Luca’s great grandfather went to the new world in the mid 1800’s and found his way to California just in time for the Gold Rush. And he was one of the fortunate ones to strike gold. Rather than build a life in America, he took his fortune and went back to Castagnole Monferrato where he bought an old estate and started growing grapes. Luca told me that after WWII, his grandfather Martino would take his wines, on horseback, to Turin and sell them to merchants. These are some of the pioneers of the Italian wine renaissance which ushered in the Golden Age of Wine we now bask in.

Ruchè is largely here because the local parish priest, Don Giacomo Cauda, made wine for the village (and for the Mass). When he vinified the Ruchè grapes apart from the more prevalent Barbera, not wanting to waste anything, for that was a sin, he discovered after a few years ageing, that the almost extinct grape, Ruchè, had developed into an interesting wine unlike any other on the Monferrato area. The Ferraris family makes, from the original parish priest's vineyard, Vigna del Parroco, a flagship wine honoring the priest, who passed away in 2008.

These days there are over 20 producers who offer a Ruchè in their portfolio.

I happened to pull out an older bottle of the Crivelli, a 2001, from the wine closet, which has been there for almost 20 years. Thinking its time was past, I asked Luca Ferraris what the possibility for ageing Ruchè was. And he answered that in a good year, Ruchè could go 10-15 years. 2001 was a good year. So, I will report back once it stands up and settles, at it appears to have thrown some sediment along the walls of the bottle.

Meanwhile, Ruchè is delicious when young, like a good cru Beaujolais. And it can serve in similar situations as the fabled French wine made from Gamay grapes. Not the same, but kindred. And both very enjoyable.

2017 and 2016 Ruchè wines are drinking quite well these days. Labels recommended are from Crivelli and Ferraris as well as Tommaso Bosco, Montalbera, Massimo Marengo, Bersano, all which were among some of the Ruchè wines we were exposed to and enjoyed over the five days we spent with chefs, sommeliers, journalists and winemakers at Gastronomix.

Ian D'Agata with the Ruchè producers at Gastronomix

Produttori del Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG
The story of La Vigna del Parroco in Italian
Consorzio Barbera D’Asti e Vini del Monferrato
Consorzio per la Tutela e la Valorizzazione dei Vini DOCG di Caluso e DOC di Carema e Canavese
Gastronomix photos: HERE and HERE

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My formative experience with Ruchè was with a 1998 bottling from Scarpa in Monferrato consumed a couple years ago. That wine made the case for Ruchè's ageability for me. The purple floral aromatics that I associate with young Ruchè survived, but the fruit had mellowed and taken on a delightful savory edge.

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