Marco Crivelli is in love with the earth on which he walks, the chalk and clay of his vineyards in Monferrato, northeast of Asti in Italy’s Piedmont region. His eyes twinkle as he discusses his beloved
Ruchè vines. Ruchè is an indigenous grape that has always seen small production. Output is now on the rise thanks to the efforts of Marco and other dedicated winemakers. Marco’s great grandfather Secondo Crivelli settled in Castagnole Monferrato about 1860 and began to produce Ruchè. Production peaked in the period between the two world wars, only to ebb in the postwar period. Marco himself took the reins in the 1980s, initially propagating Ruchè interspersed with Barbera on his steep-sloped, lime-rich holdings. The calcareous soil stood him well, as his Ruchè achieved local renown. In 1992, he was the first Ruchè producer to export his wines to the United States. “There is a huge demand for these wines in New York City…,” he tells me proudly, “…more than in Piedmont.” He adds, “Even the Barolo producers are becoming interested in the possibilities of Ruchè.”
Marco manages ten hectares of hillside vineyards of which five are dedicated to Ruchè, producing seventy to eighty thousand bottles of wine a year. He strives to follow what he calls “low impact viticulture,” avoiding pesticides and herbicides by resorting to judicious use of copper and sulfur. His son Jonathan works with him in the business. In addition to Ruchè, the Crivellis produce a
Barbera d’Asti DOCG, a
Grignolino d’Asti DOC, and, under the Monferrato Rosso DOC, a blend of Ruchè and Shiraz they call “Agoghè,” a reference, it seems, to the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male citizens of ancient Sparta. I do not see the jovial Marco as quite the Spartan type, but his paucity of English and mine of Italian prevent us from delineating these finer points of brand equity. Suffice it to say that prior to my winery visit, Marco took me on a truffle hunt with his friend Luigi Ferraro and his two truffle-locating dogs. After the winery, we went to a lunch at which we enjoyed the truffles shaven over several of the courses. “Spartan” is not the appropriate adjective for this experience.
But on to the wine itself. The Marco Crivelli 2014 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG is ruby with purple edges, with aromas of cherry, apricot, hazelnut, and a range of dried fruit, one of the most complex noses I experienced on my Piemonte tour. This wine is mouth-filling yet soft, neither too acidic nor too tannic, with a range of berry and spice flavors that meld well. Not too much alcoholic heat from 13.5% abv. Finishes with a resolute ripeness. After my professionally disciplined tasting at the winery, I got to enjoy the same Ruchè at that restaurant with the truffles. Ruchè really comes alive with flavorful foods. “Large and small Ruchè producers are all working together to promote Ruchè,” Marco says proudly, gesturing to me across the table. “This is not typical in the wine business.” As I partake of his Ruchè, Marco eyes my reaction. He gathers that I am getting a thorough Ruchè education, even if the means are not exactly Spartan.
Marco Crivelli website
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James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Marco Crivelli in his winery
Calcareous soil on the Crivelli estate
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