The scene: Luca and Carolina’s cantina in Roero, northern Italy (Piedmont). Their fermentation tanks were painted bright yellow, and a table sat in the middle of the room, with two chairs and bottle of moonshine. This was evidently where the big decisions got made. Cut to: Their tasting room (their home’s kitchen), where they would show their Arzigh for the first time to American buyers in person.
Luca (thick Italian accent): Wine is meant to be drunk, not talked about – but I want to make wine that makes an impression, not something meaningless.
American buyer #1 (even thicker American accent, to nearby associate): It’s really heavy for Arneis, it doesn’t seem typical does it??
Luca: (ignoring the quiet commentary, maybe not even hearing it) This is a gastronomic wine, meant for food for sure.
He holds the glass up at an angle, the golden color playing with the afternoon light pouring through the window over their kitchen sink. My heart does an approving flip at all of the colors in the room, how my Kelly green notebook matches the mid-century palate of their label.
American buyer #2 (under his breath, while Luca is still talking): I just don’t know how sellable it is.
American buyer #3 (agreeing with neither question nor statement): Yeah, it’s pretty expensive.
Luca: Caro designed the label, it’s a reference to something being broken, like the breaking the old idea of Arneis. That is what ‘Arzigh’ means – it means ‘risk’ in Piedmontese.
American buyer #3 (not listening): I mean you can get a slightly better than average Burgundy for that price.
Me (at the top of my lungs, standing on their kitchen table): This wine is a fucking steal for what it is you imbeciles! These people are hosting us in their HOME and feeding us cookies!! People spend four times as much on poorly made, mass-produced wine and you can’t find a reason to sell this?? TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY HERE!! TAKE A RISK! Pun absolutely intended.
*I did not actually say any of that, but I wanted to, so badly. These old buyers were asking stupid Somm-y questions about residual sugar and soil composition, talking sales to people not only who had tilled the soil for generations but who were also hosting us and feeding us cookies. People who had just walked us through their own vineyards and let us pluck grapes from the vines and pop them in our mouths. Talking about cost percentages and the curb appeal of a label!
A label, by the way, which was objectively beautiful and designed by Caro herself. She elaborated on Luca’s statement about the intention to convey something broken – a break from the past, the confines of what Arneis had been pigeon-holed into (a table white at best, made quickly and consumed quicker). It was as study in modern and traditional at once, like a timeless mid-century armchair, like their wine.
I was outraged. This was like asking whether the Eames lounge chair reclines at a perfect 45-degree angle.
Instead of yelling, I quietly turned toward the wine, tasting it and loving it instantly as much as I loved this winemaking couple. It was rich, aromatic, and layered. Textured, honied bliss unfolding across all my senses, blooming with fennel and thyme and golden flowers! It reminded me of Chenin Blanc or an aged Austrian white somehow, all of this unexpected depth. The texture of the wine was never-ending, the golden color uplifting and not heavy at all.
Some wines are excellent and just taste very good; fewer are moving and make you feel something the way a song can, or a familiar scent, carried by an anonymous breeze from unknown source. This was the latter.
I was so inspired by their wine, but also their home, their relationship, their ease with each other and effortless charm, all of which was evident in the glass. Luca is hilarious. He joked throughout the tasting often, about how he is his wife’s worst client, never paying on time for design work. Unaffected by any remarks he may or may not have heard regarding sell-ability, he knows only hospitality and a love for the land of his family. Carolina is a DJ and a designer. They are young, and ultra hip, in love and happy. They laugh and she cuts him off telling him what she really means if he tries to speak for her. In between bites of some kind of biscuit cookies made by a friend of theirs up the road, which were the most delicious cookies ever, and which they shared with us all, without hesitation.
I love this wine so much. It is rich and generous and complex. Most people I meet are inclined to spend money on bigger ticket bottles from Bordeaux or Burgundy, but hesitant to explore something unknown. This wine and these people were one of the greatest wine discoveries of my career. There were only 90 bottles made of their Arzigh, and I contemplated keeping what I got it for myself entirely. But Luca and Carolina would both agree that wine, like good cookies, is meant to be shared.
THE CHEAT SHEET
THE WINE: Valfaccenda Arzigh Roero Bianco, Piedmont, Italy 2013
THE GRAPE: Arneis
HOMETOWN: Roero, in Northern Piedmont
TASTES LIKE: The color gold, hay and honey, fennel and thyme, abundant with texture and herbs and everything that grows in Roero.
GOES DOWN EASY WITH: This is a wine with so much to it - you should experiment – it works with grilled cheese and Spanish octopus equally well. This wine is about the freedom to explore and the unexpected.
NERDY EXTRA CREDIT: The golden color comes from some skin contact during fermentation, and a year of aging in the bottle. There is no new wood used.