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Wine of the Week for week ending 21 Oct 2007
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Coopers Creek SV 'The Little Rascal' Arneis 2007
Gisborne, New Zealand

Here's something new and exciting. It's called Arneis. It's an old, old grape variety from Piedmont in Northern Italy and in some respects its story is a little like that of Viognier. It's an ancient and almost forgotten white grape variety that's now making a comeback.

The history of Arneis is rather vague but it's traced as far back as the 1400's to the hills of Roero, when it was possibly known as Renesio. The grape was named after a place with the dialects changing the name to Ornesio and later Arnesio, or Arneis. The Italian source for this little snippet gives all the information.

It's not the first time I've talked about Arneis on I 'discovered' it a little over two and a half years ago in Clevedon, in South Auckland where it grows on the north facing Clevedon Hills. But because the quantities were so tiny from the first crops, the Arneis was blended with Chardonnay. It was first produced in 2002 but the tasty blend that I came across was the Clevedon Hills Chiara 2004, and is possibly the best under that label that's yet been made.

The Clevedon Hills winemaker, Enzo Bettio, who has his own Vin Alto vineyard further up hill, has a passion for Italian grape varieties. He was responsible for importing Arneis into New Zealand. It is likely cuttings from his imports formed the bulk of the Arneis plantings in New Zealand. Now there are other imports as well and plants can be ordered from grapevines suppliers such as Corbans or Riversun. A report in Cuisine Magazine earlier this year says that growers include Trinity Hill, Herzog, Forrest Estate and Pernod Ricard.

But the only 100% varietal wine made from Arneis so far is from Coopers Creek in their 'Select Vineyards' (SV) range. 2006 was the first release but it was a tiny production wine with just over 1,000 bottles filled. Now the 2007 vintage has been released and the crop has increased dramatically. 2007 was a dream vintage, perhaps the best in 30 years, and the maturing vineyard in Gisborne had twice the number of vines for Coopers Creek to harvest.

The Coopers Creek SV 'The Little Rascal' Gisborne Arneis 2007 is delicious. It's aromatically scented and smells of nuts and flowers and herbs and spice while the flavours are breezy and bright with apricot and lemon/lime/tangelo to the fore. The acids are soft and the texture is warm, rich, fleshy and rounded. It's young, it's fresh and just a little savoury with a citrussy spice ( like Sumac) and the zesty flavours in abundance with the tang of tangelo peel infused into a syrupy orange Madeira cake. It's bright, it's fruity, it's dry, it's savoury, it's spicy, it's full-bodied, and it's different and exciting. It's Arneis and it's delicious. I love it. I'm hooked.

Had I tasted it blind, I would be in a quandary as to what it was. Beautiful aromatics like Riesling but lacking Riesling's acidity. Soft creamy flavours like Pinot Gris and an apricot brightness and purity, like Viognier.

It's called 'The Little Rascal' because that what its name means in the local Piedmont dialect.

Harvested in two picks and fermented separately, the finished wine has 14.5% alcohol, 5.9 grams per litre of acidity and 6 grams per litre of residual sugar.

Winemaker Simon Nunns says it is perfect to match to salted cod - and in fact all seafood. I wanted to match it to sushi but couldn't find any, but it went beautifully with the freshest prawns, flashed quickly in a hot pan, and individually fried whitebait in a salty floured crust.

Find out more about Coopers Creek SV 'The Little Rascal' Gisborne Arneis 2007 from the Coopers Creek website. This wine will set you back $23, at the cellar door.

© Sue Courtney
15 Oct 2007

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