Arneis is an ancient Italian white wine grape varietal, believed to be native to the Piedmont region. It is most commonly found in the hills of Roero, northwest of Alba, where it is part of the white (DOP) wines of Roero and Langhe. Arneis (means -'little rascal') is so called because it is regarded as a somewhat difficult varietal to grow. It is a crisp and floral varietal, producing white peach and pear scented wines and has been grown for centuries in the region. Arneis wines tend to be dry and light bodied with notes of pears, peaches and a hint of almonds.
For centuries Arneis was used to soften the aggressive tannins and harshness of the Nebbiolo red grape in the wines of the Barolo region, much as the French use Viognier in the Northern Rhône wine region.

 

In a region limited in serious white wine production, Arneis was fortunately saved from complete varietal extinction by an increasing popularity of dry white wines in the 1980s. As of 2016 there was around 950 hectares of Arneis in the Piedmont region. Outside of Italy, there are limited plantings of Arneis in California, Australia and most recently here in New Zealand.

The Arneis varietal can be a difficult grape to ripen, with naturally low acidity and with a tendency to get over ripe if harvested late. For this reason, Arneis seems to perform at its best in cooler climates that are reminiscent of the grapes Piedmont home in the foothills of the northern Italian Alps. The vine's tendency for low cropping yields and for the wine to oxidize easily, contributed to its decline. Better understanding of the grapes nature has helped revive the varietal as winemakers found that the chalky, sandy soils around Roero gave the grapes more acidity and structure - while Arneis grapes planted in sandy clay soil developed an elegant and exotic aroma.
Wines fermented or aged in oak can be more full-bodied while unoaked Arneis can have more structure and aromatics. Arneis is best consumed within a year or two of the vintage, though some producers in Italy make a late harvest 'passito' style Arneis wine.