RUCHÈ DI CASTAGNOLE, THE RED PRINCE OF MONFERRATO
“If someone in Castagnole Monferrato offers you a glass of Ruchè, it’s because they like you”. This is the saying greeting visitors as the enter Castagnole Monferrato (Asti), the flagstaff area of the great Piedmont red, accompanied by only 6 other townships in the Asti district: Montemagno, Grana, Viarigi, Refrancore, Scurzolengo, and Portocomaro. The Ruchè has always been the most appreciated wine by the inhabitants of its valleys: the wine of celebration, to offer to your loved ones.
The Ruchè is a one-of-a-kind variety: a rare example of aromatic red grape. Its wine stands out from all other varieties due to its appeal and refinedness, so much that it is nicknamed “the Red Prince of Monferrato”.
Appearance: The Ruchè is distinguished by medium-large to large, moderately clustered, cylindrical bunches with well-developed wings. It has spherical or elliptical grape berries, with a very pruinose skin of a blue-black or violet colour.
Autumn colour of the leaves: orange (halfway between the red Barbera leaves and the yellow Grignolino leaves).
Budding: fairly early (second dekad of April).
Maturation (harvest): moderately precocious (late September).
In the vineyard: the Ruchè is a particularly productive variety, it grows quickly and with a large number of leaves. For this reason, it generates a great deal of work at the vineyard between May and July. It is in part for this reason that, in the past centuries, it spread less than other varieties, given it was more difficult to farm naturally compared to other grapes. It has a good yield, though subject to a certain degree of instability.
Resistance: mildly vigorous, it is considered very resistant to vine peronospora (downy mildew). The grapes reach maturity quite swiftly and – when having high sugar content – they are subject to attacks by wasps and bees that have indeed a sweet tooth for it. The Ruchè suffers cold and rainy spring seasons.
At the eye: ruby red colour tending towards Tyrian red; when young, it shows remarkable violet reflections, that turn to maroon and orange nuances as it ages.
At the nose: Delicate floral notes (rose, iris, lavender), spice notes (black pepper, mint, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg), along with a mix of red berry aromas.
At the palate: Dry, with a good aromatic complexity; it has densely structured tannins, though never aggressive, and its acidity is never overly high. Harmonic and soft, floral, and always boasting its unmistakable spice notes and intense wild berry aromas.
Special features: It is rare and precious! Not only is its plant unique, its grapes are too. With its sweet, quickly maturing berries, the Ruchè harvest is one of the first in the year.
Personality: Its grapes allow to make wines that cannot be mistaken for other varieties. The Ruchè loves the hills, and gives its best on calcareous, dry soils with a good sun exposure; the loose and poorer (infertile) soil improves its natural fragrance.
Ampelography: Ruchè: 90% minimum; Barbera and/or Brachetto: 10% maximum.
Yield: 90 metric tonnes/hectare
Minimum (naturally occurring) alcohol by volume: 12.50%
Areas of production: it includes the entire area of the following townships in the province of Asti: Castagnole Monferrato, Grana, Montemagno, Portacomaro, Refrancore, Scurzolengo, and Viarigi.
Ruchè wines may vary in taste depending on the characteristics of the areas of production: Ruchè di Scurzolengo wines (produced in the Scurzolengo area), thanks to a poorer, calcareous and chalky soil, are more fruity, light, and with a more purplish colour; ones produced in Castagnole Monferrato are more floral, rich, and full-bodied.
Its origins are obscure, so much that it is defined the “wine of mystery”. Some have hypothesized that it comes from Burgundy (France), but a DNA study reveals how it is strictly related to two typical wines of Northern Italy: Croatina, and the aromatic Malvasia from Parma, currently extinct. Eaten as table grapes since time immemorial, its fruits were also used to make sweet wine to eat with the family. What is certain is that if we can drink a glass of Ruchè today, we owe it to a countryside parish priest: Don Giacomo Cauda. Before he came along, the Ruchè was a sweet wine; it was Don Cauda who – in the late 1960s – believed in its potential and started producing it as a dry wine, made with a single variety.
Don Cauda’s faith in the Ruchè was equal only to his faith in Jesus Christ. When Don Giacomo arrived in Castagnole Monferrato, the parish church owned a number of vines, left abandoned. Having grown up as a farmer, he could not bare the sight, and thus began his adventure as a parish-farmer. The refined flavour of the grapes immediately struck him, so much that he attempted to process it as a dingle variety. He tasted it and shared it with his friends. He restored the vineyard and planted new vines. He invented the “Ruchè del Parroco” (parish’s Ruchè) label, bearing an angel with its wings open wide. For years on end, the name and label would be a synonym of Ruchè wine. Like all innovators, he was considered a madman in town, and even the Church authorities did not look kindly upon his work at the vineyard. But time proved him right. Today the Ruchè is appreciated and exported all over the world.
Thanks to the powers that the current EU legislation bestows it with in terms of promotion, safeguard, and care for the common good, today the Consortium) may pursue its main objective: to improve the conditions of the winemaking and vine growing supply chain, thus contributing to preserve an area that was recently recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A strategy is being designed, starting from a new name and logo chosen to promote the Barbera d’Asti – an appellation able to represent the area as a whole – to make the Monferrato area and its produce even more popular.
In terms of safeguard, the goal is to give consumers the maximum guarantee on controlled designation of origin (DOC) wines purchased. This is achieved by means of a series of international audits on marketed products. Another important activity is research, through which the consortium contributes to improve the quality of protected wines.
There are 330 companies registered to the consortium. Among the designations safeguarded there are: 2 controlled and guaranteed designation of origin (DOCG) wines (Barbera d’Asti and Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato); 10 DOC wines (Albugnano, Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato, Dolcetto d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Loazzolo, Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Monferrato, Piemonte, and Terre Alfieri); and 5 Erga Omnes (“towards all”) designations (Barbera d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Albugnano, Dolcetto d’Asti, and Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato).
ORIGINE DEL NOME
Ruchè: it is written with a grave accent and is pronounced “rukè”, not “rushè” as the closeness of Piedmont to France may lead one to think. There are different theories on the origin of the name. Some claim it derives from the word “Rocche”, the tallest points of hills (given the vine’s resistance, allowing to grow even on the most challenging and clay-based soils like the ones on the “Rocche”). Others say it is named after Saint Roch, to whom a wayside shrine in Castagnole Monferrato was dedicated.
Its strength is pleasantness and elegance. It may be enjoyed throughout the entire meal. It is an excellent match with the typical dishes of Piedmont, such as the bagna cauda (a hot dish made with olive oil, chopped anchovies, and garlic), finanziera (based on lamb entrails), and agnolotti(similar to ravioli). It also pairs well with medium-hard or aged strong-flavoured cheeses (such as Castelmagno or Toma Piemontese) and game-based second courses. Its unique characteristics also make it suitable with unexpected dishes of disparate traditions: one example is sushi and sashimi, even better when with wasabi on the side.