Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato is one of Piedmont's newer DOCG titles, introduced during the extensive administrative revisions of 2010 and 2011. This followed the interest that was first piqued in 1987 when the Ruche grape, a relative obscurity until that point, was awarded a dedicated DOC among the Monferrato hills.
The catchment area for the title covers seven communes in the Asti province: Grana, Montemagno, Portacomaro, Refrancore, Scurzolengo, Viarigi and the Castagnole Monferrato which gives the DOCG its name. All these are found in the rolling hills just north-east of Asti town. The altitude at which vineyards sit varies due to the topography, but the average lies somewhere between 600ft and 700ft (180m and 215m) above sea level.
All Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato wines must be made from at least 90% Ruche grapes; the remaining 10% is left open to any combination of Barbera and Brachetto. This produces a fragrant, slightly floral wine whose pale-red color belies its tannic profile and depth of flavor when well made. Notes of tart berries and sweet spices are also associated with the wines. This up-front style is complemented by tart acidity, which the grape variety is able to retain in all but the very hottest of growing seasons.
The Ruche grape, which is also sometimes named Rouchet or Roche, is something of an enigma even in Piedmont. There are conflicting tales of how it arrived in the region's vineyards: some say it is an indigenous vine, some believe it was brought there from France. Whatever the truth, Ruche vines have been grown and used to produce wine in Piedmont for hundreds of years, although the wines have only just begun to make their way outside the Monferrato area. At the dawn of the new millennium there were just 125 acres (50ha) of Ruche planted, making this one of the most exclusive wines made under any Italian wine title, DOC or DOCG. No doubt the economic incentives from the promotion to full DOCG status will lead to a resurgence of Ruche vines and their wines, but only time will tell whether the vine will be enduringly successful.