Ruchè’s Revival: Meet the secret darling of Piedmont


Among the tapestry of royal reds like Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera in the Italian region of Piedmont, a lesser-known gem has been appreciated for centuries in the gentle hills around the village of Castagnole Monferrato.

In the province of Asti, where the famous alpine peaks of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn rise in the distance, Ruchè has warmed the hearts and minds of the inhabitants. Often reserved for happy occasions, the varietal was traditionally used to create sweet wines and was also blended in limited quantities with more popular varietals from the region, such as Barbera, Grignolino and Dolcetto.

But in the 20th century, Ruchè’s future was bleak, as cultivation was reduced to a handful of vines throughout Monferrato.

“Fifty years ago, we had no variety, we had good, bad, red and white,” explains Franco Cavallero of Cantine Sant’Agata.

Cavallero described life in the hills of Monferrato at this time as simple and economically challenged, until a new parish priest arrived at Castagnole Monferrato in the late 1960s. Don Giacomo Cauda came from a family of winegrowers and fell in love with Ruchè, believing it to have qualities unlike any other grape in the region.

An aerial view of the Bersano Castagnole Monferrato vineyards. / Photo by: Tino Gerbaldo

Cauda was known to quickly change his Sunday clothes to work in his vineyard. He selects and multiplies the old vines, refines the wine from sweet to dry and becomes the first in the region to bottle it. While his wine sales paid for church restorations, his enthusiasm and craftsmanship reinvigorated the entire wine region and inspired a rebirth of this almost forgotten indigenous grape.

“We said, ‘Why don’t we try once to make wine like the priest? “said Cavallero.

So in 1990 Cavallero and his family produced a bottling called ‘Na Vota, which translates to “once upon a time” or “once upon a time” in Piedmontese.

Faithful to the example of the priest, other producers followed. Finally, Ruchè’s gentle style went pure, dry and reflecting the terroir.

“I loved watching the priest make wine,” says local winemaker Luca Ferraris, who remembers growing up in the area. “But I never thought I would buy his vineyard later [in life]. “

Ferraris produces a range of Ruchè, including Vigna del Parroco (priest’s vineyard) Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), grown from the original vineyard of Cauda. True custodian of the grape and its history, Ferraris is today president of the association of local producers and is committed to promoting the Ruchè while protecting and preserving its history.

While Ruchè’s deeper story depends on storytelling from generation to generation, DNA analysis confirms its roots as a cross between Croatina, a tannic and rustic black grape, and the almost extinct white Malvasia Aromatica di Parma, with a muscat flavor, which probably contributes to the aromatic qualities of Ruchè.

“Ruchè differs from other Piedmont reds above all by its intense floral aromas, namely crushed rose petals but also fragrant purple flowers and sometimes geranium which mingle with pronounced notes of white and black pepper”, explains Wine lover Italian publisher Kerin O’Keefe. “It’s not as racy as the other reds in the region, but it’s still fresh and energetic, with good tannic structure.

An image of Beehive grapes at the Castagnole Monferrato Bersano vineyard
An image of Ruchè grapes on the vine at the Castagnole Monferrato Bersano vineyard. / Photo by: Tino Gerbaldo

Ruchè’s many styles, from fruity and easy-drinking to complex risers, make it easy to pair with a variety of dishes, from the famous local agnolotti del plin (pasta palettes pinched with meat) to regional dishes from around the world.

“Thanks to its juicy berries, spicy flavors and structure, Ruchè is remarkably suitable for food,” says O’Keefe. “It works well with typical Piedmont dishes and mature cheeses but also with spicy foods, especially Asian cuisine.”

“It is also a workhorse in the markets which are not yet used to the acidity and the typical tannins. of native Piedmontese wines ”, explains Francesco Davico, export manager of Bersano, which produces San Pietro Realto Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato.

Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato was designated DOCG in 2010. The region is a UNESCO recognized site producing one million bottles from seven small towns of Monferrato: Castagnole Monferrato, Scurzolengo, Grana, Montemagno, Portacomaro, Refrancore and Viarigi. About 35% are exported, mainly to the United States and Asia.

An image of Montalbera Cellarin Monferatto, Italy
An image of the Montalbera winery in Monferrato, Italy. / Photo courtesy of Montalbera

“We hope that this growth will also continue in new geographic areas,” said Franco Morando, owner of Montalbera. He affectionately calls Ruchè the “Red Prince of Monferrato”.

Morando and other producers have created experiences rich in hospitality to invite visitors to get acquainted with Ruchè, from luxury wine suites at Montalbera to cozy agriturismos and lavish lodges and tasting experiences at Tenuta Montemagno.

Formerly below sea level, today this area is dominated by clay-limestone soils, fossils and sand, and is a playground for local tasters. Many microclimates further diversify the territory and its reflection in the wine.

As the sign at the entrance to the village indicates: “If someone hands you a glass of Ruchè in Castagnole Monferrato, they like you.”

About Michael Brafford

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