More than any other wine region I know, Italian wines were destined for food. Very few, if any, are wines that pair with a glass. These are wines that come alive when their flavors mingle with a meal.
This month’s “Wine Pairing Weekend” is pretty exciting – Arneis. What, you don’t have bottles of Arneis lying around the house? We don’t either and we cannot recall tasting one before. Yet, we were still able to create a pairing without tasting first and we will teach you our tricks.
Arneis is a white grape grown in NW Italy’s Piemonte in the Langhe and Roero zones. It is neighbors with the more widely known Nebbiolo grape used for the tannic ageable red wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Our bottle came from Roero where the grapes were grown on sandy hillsides in a continental climate. Arneis translates “little rascal” and is reputed as difficult to grow.
Why might this grape be unfamiliar? Well, there are over 1000 wine grape varieties in Italy so it is hard to keep up. There is a little bit of Arneis grown in California, but Italy is the only place with a meaningful volume. Even its Italian claim was tenuous for a bit.
The little grape had a tough row to hoe. Often it was given the land that wasn’t good enough for Nebbiolo. For a while it was even known as Barolo Bianco because it was blended in small amounts to soften Barolo. The grape almost disappeared in the 1970’s and was kept alive by two houses Viette and Bruno Giacosa. In the 1980’s the folks in Piemonte were hankering for more nice dry white wine and production increased.
Arneis is typically made in stainless steel, does not undergo malolactic fermentation, and is meant to be consumed young.
Our bottle of 2013 Roero Viette Arneis had mineral and herbaceous notes on the nose. It smelled like really fresh sweet peas and had lots of acidity. It was good in the glass, but not what we would consider quaffable. Once the meal was finished we did not linger and polish of the bottle but stored it for the next night.
Ah, here is where Arneis shines. We paired it with hand rolled pasta, tossed in an Asiago cheese sauce, and topped with shrimp, fave beans, leeks and fennel. Fava beans are meaty and savory. Shrimp has a certain salinity. Asiago cheese is pungent and fennel has that anise bite. By comparison the wine was softer and fruitier. Any wine with less acid and more fruit would have flattened like a pancake next to this savory, herbaceous dish.
How did we know what to pair with this wine without tasting it first? A lot of white wines from Italy are herbaceous, citrusy and acidic. We did not want to make assumptions though. We used our resources and asked the store owner who ordered the wine about their experience with Arneis. A quick peruse of well informed websites, including the producer’s, suggested herbaceous seafood pairings. The Vietti site also told us how the wine was made – offering clues to the style.
The real trick was, we thought about what people eat in Northern Italy. Pairing wine and food from the same region almost always works. We knew Northern Italian dishes were lighter and more minerally than their tomato sauce laden cousins to the south. We also knew that Piemonte is known for eggy pasta noodles and people there love anchovies. Anchovies were once a form of tax evasion. Salt was taxed, but not anchovies. In a rather fishy scheme, salt was hidden under one layer of anchovies making it appear salt boxes were full of tax free fish.
Our goal was not to run around town shopping to duplicate a dish, but to use our local ingredients to approach a flavor profile. Thus our salty, minerally, pungent dish made from this week’s farm share basket. If you make food and wine pairing too hard you will seldom do it. (Plus we can only get gross anchovies in a jar here.)
- Pasta noodles for two
- ¾ lb. shrimp
- ¼ cup fava beans, blanched and peeled
- 2 Tbs. chopped fennel fronds
- ½ cup chopped leeks
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. flour
- ½ cup white wine
- ⅓ cup grated Asiago - we like Willamette Valley Cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh lemon
- Make a roux: Melt 1 Tbs. butter in saucepan. Add flour and stir. Gradually add ½ cup white wine, stirring to make a thick sauce. Remove from heat. Add cheese, fennel, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Caramelize leeks in remaining butter. Add shrimp to leeks and cover pan to steam.
- When shrimp are done add beans and replace cover.
- Cook pasta and drain reserving some cooking liquid. Toss cooked pasta with cheese sauce, adding liquid as needed.
- Divide pasta between to plates. Top with shrimp and veggies. Garnish with lemon juice and more cheese if desired.
Check out these other recipes from our adventuresome wine pairing friends.
- Esplorando Arneis con #WinePW, Dracaena Wines
- Summer Arneis Food Pairing: BBQ Chicken in a Citrus Butter Curry Sauce, GirlsGottaDrink
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara for #SummerOfArneis #WinePW, Curious Cuisiniere
- Kale Pesto Tortellini Paired with Arneis, Cooking Chat
- Shrimp and Fennel Risotto with Arneis, FoodWineClick
- Arneis through the Eyes of Malvira, Vino Travels
- Heritage Grain Risotto with Roero Arneis, Wine Pass
- Damilano Langhe Arneis Paired with Dungeness Crab and Pea Purée Crostini, Pull That Cork
- Maltagliati con Sugo dei Porri e Trotte alla Salvia, Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Italian Arneis Wine for #WinePW (yum – linguini and clam sauce!), A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Summer of Arneis on #WinePW, Rockin Red Blog
- Shrimp and Cheese Grits with Vietti Arneis, Enofylz Wine Blog
- Shrimp, Fennel, Fava Bean Pasta with Vietti Arneis, Tasting Pour