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Seghesio Russian River Valley Arneis

I don’t expect Arneis to become the next Chardonnay. Matter of fact, Pinot Grigio has got a long lead on Arneis, too. The best that this old Italian grape could hope for in Sonoma County wine country, really, is to get ahead of Vermentino. But why drink only the popular wines, when you can have something interesting?

Arneis is a white grape that hails from Piedmont, the home of Edoardo Seghesio, who founded Seghesio Family Vineyards in 1895. Back then, Italian immigrant families planted host of different grape varieties and made them into wine, but hearty reds like Zinfandel dominated the commercial landscape. Honoring their family heritage, Seghesio now grows some 20 acres of Arneis at their coolest site in the Russian River Valley, Keyhole Ranch, where they also grow Vermentino and some of Italy’s most popular adopted French varieties, Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero, anyone?).

When you look at Arneis in this international context, it’s not such an oddball—although according to Seghesio, they once farmed the largest planting of Arneis in the States—it was 26 plants, all told.

Chardonnay and the Pinot grapes are big in the cool climates of northern Italy, so why shouldn’t Arneis be delicious from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley? As I recently found, it certainly is.

Seghesio Russian River Valley Arneis ($22)

The wine is just the palest of light gold in hue, like a Sauvignon Blanc with a bit of color. At first whiff, the wine makes me think of mashed white raspberries, and then Prosecco bubbles to the fore: fresh, bright yellow fruit with a yeasty, musty background—maybe a bit green and vegetal, like a yellow rose. Pineapple and peach lurk on the margins of the aroma and fleshy, fruity palate, and the finish is dry, almost a tad bit tannic.

If you’re tantalized by the aromas of traditional Moscato, but aren’t in the mood for some of the more flagrantly fragrant examples of such, try this lightly floral, crisp and resolutely dry Arneis, a rare Sonoma County wine with real family ties between Old and New Worlds.

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Dungeness Crab and White Bean Salad

(Seghesio suggests this wine with their Pinot Grigio, but the texture of the Arneis all but guarantees a good food pairing)

Ingredients:

1 pound picked Dungeness crab
3 cups cooked Cannellini beans
1 bulb of fennel, split lengthwise and shaved thin on a mandolin
2 stalks celery, peeled and cut on a bias 1/8 of an inch thick
1/4 of a red onion, shaved thin on a mandolin
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 bunch watercress
Black pepper to taste

Technique: 

  1. Combine all ingredients except salt, pepper and watercress in a mixing bowl.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with watercress and fresh, cracked black pepper.

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