Raccolta Selection: Cantina Sant'Agata, Ruché, July 2004
Ruché just doesn't taste like it comes from Piemonte. It is a graceful wine, elegant and floral with a body more defined by its lively acidity than its soft, round tannins. If there is a wine in Italy to relate to fine Beaujolais it is most certainly not the tart dolcetto, which is often referred to in that context, but the refined smoothness of ruché can be more than a little reminiscent of a Fleurie or Chènas. Of course, ruché is not Beaujolais and has its own distinct character, but as most people have not tasted this delicious wine it is a fair way to set a point of reference.
Ruché now sports its own DOC, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, and this small zone in the hills just outside of Asti is responsible for all the production from this rare variety. Now that DOC status has been awarded to this region you can expect to see production expand perhaps making ruché easier to find. This is one of those wines that one sip is likely to inspire gulps and case purchases. Ruché is pure forward fruit flavor.
Ruché is a bit of a mystery vine. Local wisdom says it is an ancient variety probably indigenous to the Monferrato hills. Even the origin of the name is unclear with some claiming it came from the name of a local monastery while another source points to a resistance to a particular vine disease. Whatever the case, little documentary evidence exists and the history of ruché is more folklore than fact.
Cantine Sant'Agata is making an exceptional assortment of ruché wines and excellent wines from Asti's two other important red wine vines: barbera and grignolino. Founded in 1916, the present generation, Franco and Claudio Cavallero, produces 150,000 bottles of wine from their own vineyards, which total 30 hectares. Other than a small amount of chardonnay all their vines are indigenous and all their wines are of excellent quality and value.
2003 Cantina Sant'Agata, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, 'Na Vota ($19)
Brilliant ruby with a just a touch of purple, quite translucent. Smooth, forward ripe cherry vanilla nose with a bitter tinge. a touch of cassis and lovely hints of wildflowers and violets. Firm and fresh on the palate with flavors that expand and grow mirroring the forward yet complex fruit and flowers of the bouquet. In the finish the cassis dominates carried by a refreshing acid zip.(89) The warm 2003 vintage produced particularly rich versions of lesser known Piemontese varietals like ruché. grignolino and freisa and you should keep an eye out for them as they are now in the market. They also offer a special selection ruché, Pro Nobis, to continue the Beaujolais reference, it is to regular ruché what Moulin-a-Vent is to normal Beaujolais. It has all the characteristics of the 'Na Vota on steroids. I will confess I prefer what I consider the more balanced 'Na Vota, but I am probably in the minority on that choice with most consumers preferring the chunky Pro Nobis.
2003 Cantina Sant'Agata, Grignolino d'Asti, Piemonte, DOC ($18)
Bright, very light scarlet. Very translucent almost a dark rosé. The delicate aromas are gorgeous filled with fresh wild strawberries, fresh cut mint and tart black cherries. This is a wine that dances across the palate with fresh crisp acidity activating every saliva gland you have. The flavors are pure wild strawberry with a bitter cherry tinge and a touch of tar. Just delicious - order another bottle. Serve lightly chilled.