March 31, 2017


Italy is an inexhaustible horn of plenty for wine geeks looking for obscure grape varieties: some say there are over one thousand different grape varieties in Italy alone – which might be a little bit of an exaggeration, seeing how there are many varieties that are actually just one single variety with numerous synonyms. But even if we group up all the different synonyms under their respective varieties, we still end up with hundreds and hundreds of different varieties, red pink and white. Of course this means that a handful of varieties (like Sangiovese or Trebbiano) account for a great majority of plantings whereas more than 9 out of 10 of the varieties found in Italy are so obscure they aren't produced anywhere else but within their native home region – and even then usually totaling for less than 10 hectares (25 acres).

Ruchè (pronounced ru-KEH; also written as Ruché, with an acute accent, or Rouchet) is one such variety. It is a unique red grape variety indigenous to Piedmont, Northern Italy, and to my best knowledge not encountered anywhere else. Even within Piedmont the variety is very rare, grown mainly around the comune of Castagnole Monferrato and, to a lesser extent, in the neighboring province of Alessandria (where it is known as Moscatellina or Romitagi). The variety became into limelight for the first time in 1987, when Castagnole Monferrato, the region where most of the Italy's some 40 hectares (100 acres) of Ruchè are cultivated, acquired the variety-specific DOC appellation. The variety got further recognition in 2010, when the appellation was promoted to DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato.

What makes Ruchè so unique is its aroma and flavor profile. I often see it compared to Nebbiolo due to its aromatic, floral character, but in my opinion this comparison does no justice whatsoever to the variety; Nebbiolo might be somewhat aromatic and have faint characteristic aromas of roses, but this is to no extent what one can experience with Ruchè! What I would compare Ruchè to would be the other local aromatic red variety, Brachetto, or maybe Muscat Rouge, or then just the heady Gewürztraminer – only with red color. The aroma of a Ruchè wine can be very close to the explosively floral aroma of Gewürztraminers, which is a whole different ballpark from that of Nebbiolo.

How Ruchè wines differ from these aforementioned varieties is that normally these aromatic red varieties are usually vinified into sweet and (especially Brachetto) often lightly to moderately sparkling wines, whereas Ruchè is normally vinified into more serious and completely dry red wines, with the tannins and all. The variety is normally quite tannic and moderate in acidity, so producers often want to pick the variety early enough to retain as much acidity as possible (especially in warmer vintages), yet late enough for the variety to develop its unique, aromatic profile. Another difficulty is to avoid too much extraction, because otherwise the wines can end up forbiddingly tannic.

The resulting wines are often very Nebbiolo-like in appearance with their clear and luminous, pale red color and they often smell like rosewater and raspberries with subtle grapey hints. Some wines can be light and refreshing with high acidity, whereas some can be softer and more mellow; some can be very easy on the tannins, whereas others can have surprisingly much tannic grip and bitter astringency, something not unlike Nebbiolo or Freisa, another Piedmontese variety. These wines often finish on a slightly bitter note, something similar to many dry Muscats and Gewürztraminers. Traditionally these wines have been paired with cold cuts and other local dishes in their origin of Asti province, with very little consumption outside its area of cultivation. However, in the past decade or so, the variety has gained wider recognition and is slowly making its way to other parts of Piedmont and the rest of Italy and even an occasional bottle making its way out of Italy altogether.

Here is a small selection of some Ruchè wines I have sampled.

Enrico Morando Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2013
DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato
  • Vigneti e Cantine Enrico Morando
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Asti, Castagnole Monferrato
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: 7,69€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: April 26th, 2015

At 130 hectares (320 acres), Enrico Morando is not only one of the biggest producers in the Monferrato region, but also one of the most prominent producers of Ruchè.

The wine has a translucent, thin raspberry color with a faint purple hue.

The wine shows heady, floral and really aromatic bouquet with rich aromas of Brachetto / Gewürztraminer rose and rosewater, ripe raspberry sweetness, some strawberry jam and hints of grapey notes, even a bit of raisin.

Though velvety smooth in the mouth, the wine is surprisingly high in acidity with good, peppery spiciness. The wine has medium-sized body, yet it feels almost mouthfilling with its rich flavors of intense spiciness, sweet raspberry notes, ripe strawberry fruit and nuances of rosewater. Very soft and mellow tannins that are barely noticeable.

The wine ends with a juicy, powerful finish with pronounced black pepper spice, some bitter herbs, sweet raspberry notes and hints of strawberry juice.

It might be hard to take a wine this rich and aromatic seriously, yet I must admit that this wine is surprisingly serious and balanced with remarkable poise.

Summary: Very interesting and complex a red wine that is really fun to drink. Not the most remarkable Ruché, but at only 7,69€ this wine gives good bang for the buck.


Produttori di Portacomaro Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2014
DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato
  • Produttori di Govone
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Asti, Portacomaro
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: ~10€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: September 9th, 2015

This wine is produced by Produttori di Portacomaro, a sub-division of a bigger co-op, Produttori di Govone – a producer known for making simple but reliable, well-made traditionalist wines true to the Piedmontese style. Portacomaro is a small village of some 2000 people in the province of Asti, neighboring Castagnole Monferrato and included in the local appellation of Ruchè.

Deep, translucent cherry red.

Very expressive, rich and perfumed nose with intense aromas of roses and rosewater, some cherry and hints of lingonberry.

Rich and juicy on the palate with light body – yet the wine doesn't feel so light, due to the rich and juicy character of the fruit. There are bright, expressive and characterful flavors of red cherry, rosewater, some raspberry jam and hints of sour cherry bitterness. The tannins are pretty light and mellow.

The wine finishes on a dry yet curiously sweet note that encapsulates the varietal characteristics perfectly. There are intense notes of perfumed rosewater, sweet raspberry, cocktail cherry, some sour cherry bitterness and a hint of tannic grip in the aftertaste.

This is really a textbook Ruchè that is dry, yet fools one into thinking that this wine is sweeter than it actually is due to its rich, aromatic flavors of roses and raspberries.

Summary: Not a big and impressive wine by any standards, but definitely one that is easily remembered due to its almost Gewürztraminer-like aromas and flavors of roses and rosewater. Well-balanced stuff that is really interesting to sip just on its own, but also easy to pair with many lighter dishes, be they vegetarian, white meat or red meat.


Giuseppe Rinaldi Rosae 2014
Vino Rosso
  • Giuseppe Rinaldi
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Langhe
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: ~15€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: August 11th, 2016

A wine by the traditionalist Barolo producer, Giuseppe Rinaldi, spearheaded by the grandson of the winery's founder Giuseppe Rinaldi, also named Giuseppe Rinaldi – better known as 'Beppe' in order to avoid confusion. As Ruchè (or Rouchet, as it is known there) is not an allowed variety in the Barolo region, this wine doesn't bear any designation of appellation, but is simply 'Vino Rosso'.

Luminous, translucent ruby color with faint purple highlights and colorless rim.

Really exuberant and even somewhat funky nose with pronounced aromas of sweet dark berries, plums, roses, leather, bretty manure notes, some earthy tones and hints of cranberry. Pretty rustic and atypically complex nose that isn't just about the varietally typical rose aromas.

Very light and remarkably acid-driven – even crisp on the palate with fresh and really juicy, albeit surprisingly concentrated flavors of lingonberries, cranberries and crowberries with some floral complexity and hints of dirty brett. The wine feels very structured with its high acidity and moderate, slightly grippy tannins.

The finish is really long and very complex with lively and slightly funky flavors of tart lingonberries, sour cherry bitterness, juicy raspberries, some bretty manure notes and light hints of sous bois along with gentle tug of tannins.

This wine is just perfect for my taste. I can imagine not many people will be seduced with a wine that is light, bracingly acidic and quite noticeably bretty, but I'm sold. This is just perfect stuff.

Summary: I'm not sure if the wine (or this vintage) is actually supposed to be bretty or if this is an off bottle, but I don't mind one bit. This is like good, funky, old-school Burgundy Pinot with a unique, floral character of Ruchè. Higher in acidity and more tannic than an average example of the variety. Probably the best example of Ruchè there is.


Scarpa Rouchet Briccorosa 2008
DOC Monferrato Rosso
  • Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Monferrato
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: 23,50€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: August 11th, 2016

Scarpa is a winery located in Nizza Monferrato, well-known for their back vintages; since the 1950's the winery has always held on to their best vintages and stashed them away in the cellar. And this is not just Nebbiolo wines, but wines from other Piedmontese varieties as well. Furthermore, the winery is known to age even their entry-level wines much longer than other wineries of their region. This single-vineyard Ruchè (labeled as Rouchet) is fermented and aged completely in stainless steel in order to preserve the varietal characteristics best.

Luminous and obviously more deeper dark cherry red than what is usual for Ruchè; only a little translucent.

Quite sweet and very complex nose with rather dark-toned and slightly developed aromas of dark cherry, chokeberry, some perfumed rose notes, a little licorice, minty herbal notes, a hint of ink and a touch of something slightly green.

True to the variety, the wine feels even somewhat sweet on the palate, despite being technically bone-dry, yet also very light and racy due to the lively acidity. There are ripe flavors of dark forest berries, juicy dark fruits, tart cranberries, some licorice, a little dark cherry, autumnal leafy hints of sous-bois and a touch of salinity. The age has made the mouthfeel very smooth and velvety and the tannins are quite mellow and easy.

The juicy finish is remarkably long with bright acidity, tart cranberry flavors, ripe and almost sweet dark berries and dark cherries, some rough, robust spiciness and hints of floral complexity. The unusually high alcohol (14,5%) shows a little and the tannins give the finish slight grip.

This slightly aged Ruchè is a stunning experience and easily one of the most impressive examples of the variety I've ever tasted.

Summary: Unusually ripe, rich and concentrated, with age having faded away the more expressive primary characteristics and replaced them with more tertiary notes, Scarpa's Briccorosa 2008 might be an atypical Ruchè, yet also it is a testament to the variety's aging capabilities. Although Ruchè seems like a variety that'll drink only while still young, this wine shows that it can obviously withstand some age when made into this bigger, more serious style.


As these wines I have described here show, Ruchè is truly a fascinating and versatile grape variety that often feels like it is a blend of Gewürztraminer and a light-bodied yet also quite structured red wine. Only the aforementioned varieties Brachetto and Muscat Rouge are the only red varieties I can think of that show this kind of explosive aromas of roses, yet even these varieties are set apart from Ruchè seeing how the don't have the tannins Ruchè does nor do they reach such high levels of acidity. In a nutshell, this is truly a characterful variety, that not only drinks nicely when young, but is also capable of developing nicely in the cellar – although perhaps the best way to get into Ruchè is to enjoy one that is still very young and full of that unique, floral character.

Of course such perfumed wines might be an acquired taste and pairing such aromatic wines with food might first be difficult, but perhaps one shouldn't overthink the unique character of Ruchè when planning on pairing it with food; most likely the best way to approach this strange bird is the way people in and around Castagnole Monferrato do – by thinking of it as nothing special, but instead just a regular red wine.

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