Piedmont is full of secrets. And I’m not talking about the rare white truffle that hides under the withered leaves in the ground at this time of year. I’m not talking about the famous reds either. You are not a secret to anyone. Instead, I am thinking of some of the other grape varieties. You’re happy to be forgotten behind the superstar Nebbiolo, but that’s a shame. Take, for example, the red grapes Dolcetto, Grignolino, Ruché and Brachetto. Or the white wines Arneis, Cortese and Timorasso. (You can read more about Timorasso wines in this Forbes article.) But today it’s time for Erbaluce, a little-known Piedmont white wine that comes in many styles.
With 7000 inhabitants, Caluso is not a tourist hotspot. Guidebooks usually say “it’s near Turin and Milan”. It is almost on the outskirts of Turin, 35 kilometers, just half an hour’s drive away. But it’s the center of one of Italy’s DOCG wine regions, Erbaluce di Caluso.
The beauty of the region is its location right at the foot of the hills. Or rather, at the foot of the Alps. Only 90 kilometers north is the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps at 4477 meters. Much of the vineyards of Erbaluce di Caluso lie on the more modest foothills, where the Alps become flatter towards the Po Valley.
One reason why erbaluce is so little known is that only between 300 and 400 hectares are grown in Italy. Most of them, 242 hectares, make up the Erbaluce di Caluso appellation.
But another reason is that it is something like a chameleon on this rather small area. It can be dry and it can be sweet, it can be silent and it can be sparkling, so it can be difficult to determine the unique characteristics of the grape and appellation. This variety also means that you can find a lot of variety and find something to your taste.
Erbaluce generally makes a relatively light and elegant wine with floral aromas and a fresh and crisp acidity. The almost fragile nature of the grapes means that the winemaker has to elicit the aromas from the grapes. In some cases made less sophisticated, the wines can be light and refreshing but lack real personality. Some winemakers are experimenting with a little extra skin contact that adds another dimension to wines without going so far as to make orange wines. Perhaps more winemakers should look into this technology.
There are three different DOCGs that come together in this erbaluce wine family:
Caluso DOCG or Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG
These are the classic dry and elegant wines from erbaluce. More delicate than full-bodied, more flowery than dense.
Caluso DOCG Passito
The region has a tradition of making sweet wines from Erbaluce. This is done using the so-called “passito” technique, in which the grapes are harvested and then stored for three to five months in a well-ventilated drying room. The grapes wilt and the sugar in the must becomes more concentrated. Sometimes the grapes are affected by noble rot. Then the grapes are pressed and fermented. However, because the sugar content is so high, fermentation will stop before all of the sugar is consumed by the yeast.
The wines are concentrated, juicy sweet with notes of honey, apricot jam, candied fruits … They must be at least three years old before they are on the market and can mature for decades.
Caluso DOCG sparkling wine
The sparkling version of Erbaluce di Caluso is always made according to the “traditional” method, metodo classico, with the second fermentation in the bottle. They are typically light and elegant, refreshing sparkling wines. They are sometimes made as vintage wines, which can have a lot more depth, perhaps thanks to longer aging on the lees. Some examples have been on yeast for 80 months or more.
So let’s dive in and give you some wineries and wines to try:
Dry white “classic”, Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG
Cantina Produttore Erbaluce di Caluso, Flordighiaccio 2019: light, flowery, slightly aromatic, apples
Canteen Crosio Primavigna 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: light, elegant, scented note, good body, fresh fruit, clean
Cantina Roletto Erbaluce di Caluso 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: very light, slightly smoky (a hint of reduction?), flowery, high acidity with some astringency, green apples
Orsolani La Rustia 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: more body with ripe fruits, honey note, yellow apples.
Cantina della Serra Ramblè 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: light, fresh, green apples. Cantina della Serra is a cooperative with 230 members (which also produces wines other than Erbaluce).
Cantina della Serra “60” 2018, Erbaluce di Caluso: light and elegant, white flowers, Williams pears, fresh stylish fruits
Cantina della Serra “60” 2016: full-bodied, a hint of reduction and CO2 (nothing negative about that), somewhat astringent, with a dry, steel finish
Cantina della Serra “60” 2015: quite full-bodied, good structure
Cantina della Serra 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: An attempt with some skin contact (10 days), much darker color, a touch of “skin astringency”, yellow pears, good acidity, quite full-bodied. A beautiful wine with an extra dimension.
Azienda Agricola Cieck, Vigna Misobolo 2018, Erbaluce di Caluso: light and elegant, mineral, single layer
AA Cieck, “T” 2010, Erbaluce di Caluso: good body, round, quite soft, but with good acidity, very sympathetic, a small touch of wood in the winemaking
AA Cieck, Ingenuus 2017, Erbaluce di Caluso: quite dark color (compared to other erbaluce), clear touch of skin maceration, good body, full of character, an attempt with 6 days of skin maceration during fermentation and maturation in old wood
Sweet white, Caluso DOCG Passito
Cantina Giacometto 2009, Caluso Passito: nice copper color, toffee, slightly burnt notes, spicy, candied fruits, good balance
Cantina Gnavi, Revej 2007, Caluso Passito: very good balance, dried fruit, caramel, smooth, good acidity
Azienda Agricola Cieck, Alladium 2006, Caluso Passito: lighter and more elegant, but with a good mouthfeel, “pain d’epice” (sweet and spicy Christmas bread), dried fruit, long, intense.
AA Cieck, Alladium 2013, Caluso Passito: fresh with good acidity, nice fruit, good balance, fresh apricots.
Sparkling, Caluso DOCG Spumante
Cantina Briamara Berenice, Caluso Spumante: Your sparkling wine in an unusual style, slightly oxidative, brings another smoky dimension.
Cantina della Serra Caluso, sparkling wine: Classic, flowery
Cantina la Masera Masilé, Caluso Spumante: light, fresh, citric, white flowers, mineral note
Azienda Agricola Cieck, Non-dosé 2016, Caluso Spumante: Aromatic, flowery, dry, good body, quite discrete aromas, but long
AA Cieck, San Giorgio 2017, Caluso Spumante: Fresh fruits, citrus fruits, mineral (which for me means a combination of very good acidity, a certain astringency and very dry), good balance.
AA Cieck, Caliope 2016, Caluso Spumante: More body and volume, honey note, good length.
Three More Erbaluce Manufacturers To Look For:
Azienda Viticola Orsolani
Cantina Carlo Gnavi
And if you are even more of an explorer and want to discover even more secrets of Piedmont, try Baratuciat, another white grape variety from Piedmont that you may never have heard of.