Italian Wine Week got off to a rousing, if somewhat obscure, start last night with this 2007 Cantine Sant’ Agata “‘Na Vota” Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato ($19.99). This is my first encounter with Ruchè, a variety found in Piedmont, in the northwestern corner of Italy. It’s made in tiny quantities, primarily throughout a handful of villages not far from Asti. Piedmont is home to some serious red heavy hitters–most notably Nebbiolo, the grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as Barbera–so my first instinct was to feel sorry for poor little Ruchè.
But if this wine is any indication, Ruchè doesn’t need my pity. Or yours. It’s not a big wine in the conventional sense: ruby-colored, medium-bodied, with 13.5% alcohol stated on the bottle, the ‘Na Vota doesn’t exactly scream at you. But pay attention to the nose and the palate and there’s a lot going on, including dried herbs, dried orange peel and a whole lot of pepper. Like, a lot. There’s an underlying sharpness that reminds me of Cinsault, a French variety that’s commonly grown in the Languedoc. (Sorry, Italo-philes for the French connection…although there’s apparently a theory that Ruchè is descended from an unknown French import that was brought to Piedmont who knows when.)
I get some bitterness, too, beyond the regular astringency that comes with tannins. But there’s a chance that could just be my own prejudices talking. I believe that no one does bitter better than the Italians. There’s espresso, of course, as well as amari, the bitter digestivos that make the perfect end to an Italian feast. And do I even need to mention broccoli rabe, chicory, escarole, and any number of sharp, peppery greens?
I project this Italian=bitter theory on many Italian wines I taste. (I know, it’s patently ridiculous to generalize so broadly about a country’s wines, especially when that country has such a rich and varied winemaking tradition. It’s also ridiculous to spend $400 on a pair of shoes, root for the Mets, and enjoy the oeuvre of Mark Wahlberg, but that’s never stopped me from doing any of the above.) Of course, if I drank more Italian wines, I’m sure my thinking on the matter would be much more nuanced. But is it this perceived bitterness that keeps me from drinking more Italian wines? Hmm. A question to keep asking myself–and perhaps answer–as the week goes on.