Arneis is a white-wine grape from Italy's much-respected Piedmont 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 1500 acres (605ha) of Arneis vines in Piedmont, 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 aroma belies the wines' relatively full body and generous flavors – 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 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 catalyzed by renewed interest in Piedmont wines in general, which shows little sign of abating.
There are various possible explanations for Arneis' decline in the 20th Century. Piedmont 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 Rhone 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 Piedmontese word meaning 'little rascal'.
Synonyms include: Bianchetto, Nebbiolo Bianco.
Food matches include:
Europe: Spaghetti all'aglio e olio (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil); sardines escabeche
Asia: Satay sotong (grilled squid skewers); soba noodles topped with cucumber
Americas: Waldorf salad
Australasia/Oceania: Snapper sashimi drizzled with grapefruit vinaigrette