There are thousands of grape varieties from which wine is made. But only a relative handful find their way to the international wine markets. Robert Parker and others have argued that there is a good reason why most varieties are obscure—they don’t make good wine. Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc. are popular for a reason. That may be so, but unearthing neglected varieties is a worthwhile task because their may be gems among the discards.
And indeed I discovered one this weekend at a meeting of the San Diego Wine Society. The grape is an Italian varietal called Ruché that hails from a small DOCG wine region of about 100 acres near the town of Castognole Monferrato in Piemonte. 10% Barbera or Brachetto is allowed in the blend.
One sip and it will have you thinking of the poets and their flowers:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
~William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” 1804
Luxuriant, perfumed floral notes leap from the glass but strawberry jam and candied fruit lie in the background and grace the palate, which also displays intriguing orange zest flavors, unusual in red wine. Just short of medium weight and dry, the texture is gentle though it doesn’t quite caress like the best Pinots. But the acidity is bracing and the finish is propelled by surprisingly vibrant tannins that have a sparkling quality, and residual bitter notes that mark it as Italian. There really is not another wine quite like this.
This combination of intensity and tenderness is why I drink wine. This with a pork rib roast basted with a light orange rosemary glaze would be a slice of heaven.
If you haven’t tried this grape, drop what you’re doing, jump on the Internet, go to Wine Searcher and buy a case. The production is very small and when word gets out I cannot imagine this wine not exploding in popularity. Of course, it will not please everyone, but if you like intensely aromatic wines with soft, textures and strong acidity along the lines of a Pinot Noir you will really enjoy this.
The Italian wine critic Luca Maroni gave it 99 points. I’m not prepared to go there. But any wine that puts me in mind of Wordsworth is worth a 93.