2021 Montalbera, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG “Laccento” Piedmonte, Italy.
I usually begin by saying, the rare and beautiful Ruché, native to the Piemonte region, is a grape that produces one of the most perfumed red wines in the world, and the Montalbera is especially aromatic with layers of flowers and incense leading to a medium bodied palate of cherry, strawberry and bitter dark chocolate with hints of anise, pepper and candied fruits. The nose is like bathing in rose oil while rose petals shower you like the poster from American Beauty while a touch of mineral and truffle play in the background. This 2021 vintage of Montalbera’s Ruché is much the same, but a touch bigger, structured and expressive in the mouth, almost Nebbiolo like and definitely riper in fruit density. Montalbera’s Ruchè, which I love, is more high profile and has more availability stateside and maybe setting the standard for quality, at least in what I’ve tasted so far. For most of its history in Piemonet, the Ruché grape has been cultivated in relative obscurity, but now the secret is out and there plenty of excitement for it at home and even abroad, like here in California, where excitingly, ex Bonny Doon founder Randall Grahm is planting some Ruchè for his Popelouchum estate in San Juan Bautista and a few other people have planted a few acres. Montalbera’s Morando Family has been passionately making wine from their grapes and vineyards in the Monferrato and Langhe for three generations, crafting this bottling with 80% regular picks and 20% late picks to add some depth and intensity as this Laccento shows.

Ruchè is a mysterious grape once believed to have originated in the hills northeast of the town of Asti and I haven’t encountered too many notable versions, as noted, here in the states, especially as it is made in very low numbers and not imported often, though when done right it can be exceptional and very memorable. It is without question best from Castagnole Monferrato and that is highlighted with its full DOCG status there. The Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato terroir is similar to Barolo and is up at about 200 meters with classic limestone soils with some hardened clay, sand and mineral sediments all of which add to the complexity and balance here. The fermentations are tricky with Ruché, which is quite the diva grape, and that was almost its downfall, though now it is very much appreciated for is unique qualities. The exact originsof Ruchè, as mentioned, are still unknown with ampelographers holding different theories, with two most prominent theories, one being it an indigenous Langhe grape, always been native to the Piemonte region or that it originated in Burgundy and was brought to Piemonte sometime in the 18th century, though that idea seems a touch far fetched, in my view, as I have yet to see a grape similar in character in that part of France. The best way to express Ruché is through clean and cool stainless steel fermentation and aging with it having very little use for oak, and then bottled within 8 to 10 months, as seen here. I first had the Montalbera Ruché 10 vintages ago, and it is still one I’m always looking forward to.
($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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