There are several causes of the shift in the past decade toward a wider acceptance of and interest in lesser-known wine grapes, wine regions and wine growers. Changes in demographics, world economics, climate, communications and more have dramatically expanded the playing field.

And while I’d love to claim that the biggest driver of this dramatic shift is the growing general grooviness of people who drink wine, for most folks the primary factor is less glamorous: price. A wine made by a husband-and-wife team from an unheard-of grape they hand-harvested on a hidden hillside in a forgotten village will never cost as little as the bottle you pick up from the supermarket floor stack. But if you’re interested in wine excellence and you’re faced with premier cru Chablis at $45 or intense and wondrous xarel-lo from the Penedès at $25, you’re a fool or an egotist to choose the former without at least trying the latter.

For sure, we shouldn’t be too quick to claim that a Trousseau from the Jura or Bardolino from the Veneto is “the next Burgundy” or some such nonsense. There’s a risk that some winemakers in less exalted places with less exceptional fruit, urged on by marketers or sommeliers overly eager to make names for themselves, will unsuccessfully punch above their weight. A reader once commented very intelligently on an article I’d written on exceptional Muscadet, the gist of which was that the whole notion of $20 Muscadet flies in the face of Muscadet’s entire reason for being (which is to be crisp and succulent for $11). We ought not let the great be the enemy of the good.

That said, I want to write today mostly about exceptional arneis. I’d thought such a thing didn’t really exist, or if it did it was only for an obscenely high price or requiring a round-trip ticket to the Roero. That’s the name of the Langhe subregion in the northeast corner of Italy’s Piemonte, home to the “king and queen” of Italian wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, where in the long shadow of its big-name red brethren the white arneis grape grows.

Roero produces reds, too: some excellent nebbiolo and barbera. But a couple of million years ago, unlike most of what is now Piemonte, the Roero was completely under water. Receding seas left behind soils made up primarily of sand; a quick tour through the Roero turns up crushed seashells and fossils. Great red wines usually require a denser soil structure, which is one of the reasons nebbiolo reaches its apogee in the clay-based soils of Barolo and Barbaresco, south of Roero.

Sandy soils packed with ancient marine life are ideal for white wines. Yet most Roero winemakers continue to focus on reds, since that’s where the prestige lies. They’ll produce some arneis, but even if not purposely as an afterthought the wines nonetheless taste like an afterthought: fine and dandy but lacking distinction or usefulness.

The Malvirà winery is an exception. A family-run estate on just over 100 acres of (non-certified) organically farmed vineyards, Malvirà has been producing exclusively native-yeast-fermented wine since the 1950s, 60 percent of it white. Two brothers, Massimo and Roberto Damonte, run the vineyards and cellar, their wives run a restaurant and hotel on the property, and a son is in enology school preparing to continue the legacy.

(Roberto will be in Portland this weekend. In order to avoid conflicts of interest I don’t ordinarily do this, but I’d be remiss not to mention that he will host a winemaker showcase, with food, at Rosemont Market, where I work, this Saturday evening. Details are at Rosemont’s website.)

It’s all well and good for a white wine to be refreshing, subtly floral and lemony, as garden-variety arneis (and a bazillion other wines) are. But there’s a subtle sort of exoticism to the Malvirà wines (distributed in Maine by Wicked Wines) that sets them apart, and opens up worlds of possibilities for food matches.

The creamy texture behind the mineral notes borders on custardy, which is why I often drink the wines with eggs: omelets, soft scrambles, or – my favorite pairing so far – spaghetti alla carbonara. Fried fish is ideal as well, especially with a mayonnaise-based sauce.

Though the Malvirà arneis are unmistakably dry wines, the surprising tropical notes, nuttiness and ripe-fruit sweetness can form a bridge to spicier dishes, too: soba noodles with sesame oil and kimchi aren’t part of Roero’s traditional diet, but it was a winning combination at my table alongside a bottle of the Trinità.

The Roero Arneis 2012 ($20), with fruit from three vineyards, is the more direct of Malvirà’s two dry arneis wines available here: peppery, capery, garlicky, with a well integrated acidity that supports the tremendously long flavor arc.

The Arneis Trinità 2009 ($25) is the circus performer, both richer and denser, more muscular and capable of funner tricks. From a single vineyard, 10 percent of the wine ferments in used oak barrels before a long time aging in bottle before release; this 2009 vintage is the most recently released. The neutral-oak treatment yields only a broader structure, with no taste of oak.

It’s a wine for long-term relationships. A huge walnut aspect is present, and a mind-boggling array of citrus elements, mostly rind-based rather than juicy. It wears the seashell essence of its soils on its sleeve. Where the lower-priced wine is electrified and jumpy, the Trinità is more settled and seamless, and you can quote me: This really is the Chablis of arneis.

Finally, there’s arneis’ Sauternes: a half-bottle of botrytized arneis grapes harvested in late November, the three-vintage Renesium ($25). Exquisitely balanced and with that inimitable dried-orange-fruit tang from the botrytis rot that concentrates the wine’s sugars, this is the grail: a “dessert” wine that doesn’t support dessert as much as prove it unnecessary, either with or without a few nibbles of almonds and blue cheese; a dessert wine that refreshes.

Whew. So, all that and I haven’t even mentioned other players in Malvirà’s lineup that are equally worthy of attention. The Favorita 2010 ($18) is the Roero’s name for vermentino, a wonderful under-the-radar grape grown in several more southerly regions of Italy as well as the south of France (and, increasingly, California!).

Malvirà’s favorita is broader-shouldered than the arneis wines, and spans a wider flavor spectrum, from peach to herbed broth to olives, sort of the albariño of my dreams. It’s a white for firm, broiled fish, but also grilled sausages and pork chops.

The Barbera d’Alba San Michele 2008 ($20), from 80-year-old vines, is a stunner, and combines youthful energy with a horse-whipped maturity. The barbera’s naturally high acidity brings the vibrancy, all violets and macerated-strawberry. A sort of beautiful damage complements this, with a knobby, animal aspect and bridle-leather that says: for real. If you’re into wabi-sabi, you’ll love this wine, either now or through the next 10 years of life it has ahead of it.

And as I’m always reminding my kids, don’t forget the Birbet ($26), a non-vintage 5 percent-alcohol frizzante with a touch of deep-red sweetness. And y’all looking to get in front of the next wine trend now that Moscato D’Asti is played out, look to Birbet and then send me a thank-you note.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at [email protected]