Ruché - Piedmont's Hidden Gem

  • By Somm360
  • 27 May 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Landscape of Vignale Monferrato - Credit : Paolo Bernardotti Studio - Shutterstock

Ruché (pronounced roo-KAY) is an aromatic red grape grown almost exclusively in the Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato appellation stretching over seven municipalities in the gentle hills of Montferrat in northwestern Italy. This wine was granted DOC status in 1987, and DOCG status in 2010, but there are still only around 148 ha of this grape planted here. To be labelled as Ruché the wine must contain 90% of that grape, the rest being Barbera or Brachetto; most wines produced are 100% Ruché.

While some sources state that these vines were imported during the 12th century by Cistercian monks from Burgundy, perhaps from ancient vineyards in Haute-Savoy in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, other research has shown that the grape may be indigenous to the region. DNA profiling carried out by the Bioaesis laboratory of Ancona discovered that Ruché possesses distinctive genetic characteristics that differentiate it from other grape varieties present in databases; indeed the only variety that comes close to Ruché is Pinot Nero, which has similar peaks in its DNA. But even this is disputed, as other research closely relates it to two typically northern Italian vines, Croatina and the now extinct Malvasia Aromatica from Parma.

Parentage aside, it has been referred to (figuratively) as the love child of Nebbiolo and the rare aromatic red Brachetto. It produces medium-bodied wines with an aromatic profile that is more reminiscent of a white wine: floral aromas of summer flowers (rose/violet), fruity notes (apricot/blueberries/rosehips), spearmint, smoke, and baking spices (cinnamon/cardamom) that emerge as it ages. Naturally low in acidity, winemakers have learned to blend early-harvested lots full of green tannins with the riper grapes to craft more balanced wines. The chewy and juicy palate expresses salty Dutch licorice, orange rind, and raspberries, all with relatively soft tannins. 

Ruché is mid-to-early ripening, and although the Monferrato terrain is composed of many different types of soil, it enjoys limestone-clay soils, producing wines with more intense and complex aromas there. Ruché from lighter, the white-coloured chalky soils of Scurzolengo will be fruity, lighter, and more purple in colour, while those from Castagnole Monferrato are markedly different, being more floral, bigger, and richer.

It grows best in high to very high-level density trellising (spurred cordon and Guyot). Rootstocks most commonly used are SO4, Cober, and 1103. It has a high resistance to colder winters and springs, medium tolerance for powdery mildew, downy mildew, rot, and excellent resistance to Flavescence Dorée.

Almost extinct in the 1970s, in recent decades we have witnessed a renewed interest in this intriguing grape. Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm is an avid proponent of the variety, even going as far as planting Ruché at his experimental Popelouchum vineyard in San Benito County, California.

Wines To Seek Out: Decapo “Majoli”, Cantina Sant’Agata “Na’vota”, Montalbera “La Tradizione”

Landscape of Vignale Monferrato - Credit : Paolo Bernardotti Studio - Shutterstock