2020 I. Brand & Family Winery, Arneis, Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County.
The crisp and pretty 2020 I. Brand & Family Arneis shows fresh lemon/lime and melon fruit along with orange blossom, white licorice/fennel and light leesy almond note, adding some stone fruit fleshiness and opulence with air. Arneis is an extremely rare grape here in California, originally from the Piedmonte region of Italy, where it has seen a remarkable recovery from an almost extinction in its native land, with only a few acres planted in the state, so it was a brilliant surprise to find a bottling so close to home. Even better, because it was made by Ian Brand, who’s wines are now some of the best on the central coast and this 2020 Vista Verde Arneis does not disappoints with some of this varietal’s classic taste elements and a beautiful textural quality that actually surpasses many of its cousins in Roero, where it most famously grows best. The Vista Verde Vineyard, in the San Benito County, is most famous for suppling William Selyem with Pinot Noir for their Central Coast bottling and is set on gravel and pebbles, laced with calcium, it sees a cooling influence thanks to inflow breezes off the Pacific Ocean, allowing for a lengthy growing season, making for ripe and balanced grapes. Brand’s version, which is a pale straw/yellow finishes smooth and lingering, but with dry phenolic vitality, wonderful with soft cheeses and or white fish dishes, this wine and his Melon de Bourgogne are taking his white wines to the next level, both equally delicious and exciting.

Arneis, which dates back most likely to the 14th century is first recorded by name in 1877, it’s name in local dialect means little rascal, has also been called Nebbiolo Bianco, though it has no genetic relationship to the notable Piedmontese red wine, but the two grapes do share a close historic relationship. It has been noted, that for centuries, Arneis was blended into Nebbiolo wines, being used to soften the tannins and harshness of powerful Nebbiolo grape, most historically in the wines of the Barolo region, before the practice was banned for the DOCG wines that must be 100% Nebbiolo. Arneis was often interplanted in the Barolo vineyards to lure the birds away from the Nebbiolo, as it has a much sweeter scent and saved the prime money making Nebbiolo from a starling feast. Arneis is known to be difficult to grow, with low acidity it needs to be picked at exactly the right time, and is susceptible to mildew, which is probably why it has its little rascal name, though it can be awesome, especially by the likes of Vietti, Ceretto and Bruno Giacosa. There is small plots of Arneis in Sonoma County and Santa Ynez, where it has been used to good effect by Steve Clifton at Palmina, as well as some in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Ian’s example takes this grape up a level or two and I hope he continues to make this fabulous wine. Ian Brand continues to produce a fantastic collection of unique wines from lesser known and underdog sites throughout the Central Coast and his latest set of offerings are some of his best yet, be sure to look for the Enz Mourvedre, the Cabernet Franc(s), the Massa Estate Cab, the old vine Grenache and Ian’s whites, especially this rare one.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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