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One Of The White Wine Secrets Of Piedmont: Erbaluce

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Piedmont is full of secrets. And I am not talking about the rare white truffle which at this time of the year hides under the wilting leaves in the soil. Nor am I talking about the famous reds. They’re no secret to anyone. Instead, I am thinking of some of the other grape varieties. They tend to be forgotten behind the superstar nebbiolo, but that’s a pity. Take for instance the red grapes dolcetto, grignolino, ruché and brachetto. Or the whites arneis, cortese and timorasso. (You can read more about timorasso wines in this Forbes article.) But today it is time for erbaluce, a little-known white wine from Piedmont that comes in many styles.

Caluso, with 7000 inhabitants, is not a tourism hotspot. Guidebooks usually say “it’s close to Turin and Milan”. It’s almost on the outskirts of Turin, 35 kilometres, just half an hour’s drive. But it is the centre of one of Italy’s DOCG wine regions, Erbaluce di Caluso.

The beauty of the region is its location, just at the foot of the hills. Or rather, the foot of the Alps. Matterhorn is just 90 kilometres straight north, one of the Alps highest peaks at 4477 metres. Much of the vineyards of Erbaluce di Caluso is on the more modest foothills where the Alps start flattening out towards to Po Plain.

One reason erbaluce is so little know is that there is only between 300 and 400 hectares planted in Italy. The majority of these, 242 ha, make up the Erbaluce di Caluso appellation.

But another reason is that, on this quite small acreage, it is somewhat of a chameleon. It can be dry and it can be sweet, it can be still and it can be sparkling, so it can be difficult to pinpoint the grape’s and the appellation’s unique characteristics. But this diversity also means that you can find a lot of variety and find something to suit your taste.

Erbaluce generally make a fairly light-weight and elegant wine, flowery aromas, with a fresh and crisp acidity. The almost fragile characteristics of the grapes leads to that the winemaker has to coax the flavours out of the grapes. In some cases, less ambitiously made, the wines can be light and refreshing but lacking real personality. Some winemakers experiment with some extra skin contact which gives wines with a different dimension, without going so far as making orange wines. Perhaps more winemakers should explore this technique.

There are three different DOCG that come together in this family of wines from erbaluce:

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 also making sweet wines from erbaluce. This is done with the so-called “passito” technique which means that the grapes are picked and then stored in a well-ventilated drying room for three to five months. The grapes wither and the sugar in the must becomes more concentrated. Sometimes the grapes are affected by noble rot. The grapes are then pressed and fermented. But since the sugar contents is so high the fermentation stops before all sugar is consumed by the yeast.

The wines are concentrated, lusciously sweet with notes of honey, apricot marmalade, candied fruit… They must be at least three years old before being put on the market and can age for decades.

Caluso DOCG Spumante

The sparkling version of Erbaluce di Caluso is always made with the “traditional” method, metodo classico, with the second fermentation in 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 an extended time on the lees. Some examples have 80 months or more lees-ageing.

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

Cantine Crosio Primavigna 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: light, elegant, touch of perfume, good body, fresh fruit, clean

Cantina Roletto Erbaluce di Caluso 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: very light, slightly smoky (a thouch of reduction?), flowery, high acidity with some astringency, green apples

Orsolani La Rustia 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: more body with more ripe fruit, touch of honey, yellow apples.

Cantina della Serra Ramblè 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: light, fresh, green apples. Cantina della Serra is a cooperative with 230 members (also making other wines than erbaluce).

Cantina della Serra “60” 2018, Erbaluce di Caluso: light and elegant, white flower, William pears, fresh stylish fruit

Cantina della Serra “60” 2016: more full-bodied, a slight touch of reduction and CO2 (nothing negative in that), a bit more astringent, with a dry steely finish

Cantina della Serra “60” 2015: quite full-bodied, good structure

Cantina della Serra 2019, Erbaluce di Caluso: An experiment with some skin contact (10 days), much darker colour, a touch of “skin astringency”, yellow pears, good acidity, quite full-bodied. A nice wine with an added dimension.

Azienda Agricola Cieck, Vigna Misobolo 2018, Erbaluce di Caluso: light and elegant, mineral, single vineyard

A. A. Cieck, “T” 2010, Erbaluce di Caluso: good body, round, quite soft, but with good acidity, very likeable, a small touch of wood in the winemaking

A. A. Cieck, Ingenuus 2017, Erbaluce di Caluso: quite dark colour (compared to other erbaluce), distinct touch of the skin maceration, good body, character-ful, an experiment with 6 days skin maceration during fermentation and ageing in old wood

Sweet white, Caluso DOCG Passito

Cantina Giacometto 2009, Caluso Passito: pretty copper colour, toffee, slightly burned notes, spicty, candied fruit, good balance

Cantina Gnavi, Revej 2007, Caluso Passito: very good balance, dried fruit, caramel, smoot, good acidity

Azienda Agricola Cieck, Alladium 2006, Caluso Passito: more light and elegant, but with good mouthfeel, “pain d’epice” (sweet and spicy Christmas bread), dried fruit, long, intense.

A. A. Cieck, Alladium 2013, Caluso Passito: fresh with good acidity, lovely fruit, good balance, fresh apricots.

Sparkling, Caluso DOCG Spumante

Cantina Briamara Berenice, Caluso Spumante: Their sparkling is in an unusual style, slightly oxidative, bringing a different smoky dimension.

Cantina della Serra Caluso, Spumante: Classic, flowery

Cantina la Masera Masilé, Caluso Spumante: light, fresh, citrusy, white flowers, touch of minerals

Azienda Agricola Cieck, Non-dosé 2016, Caluso Spumante: Aromatic, flowery, dry, good body, quite discrete aromas but long

A. A. Cieck, San Giorgio 2017, Caluso Spumante: Fresh fruit, citrus, mineral (which to me means a combination of a very good level of acidity, a certain astringency, and very dry), good balance.

A. A. Cieck, Caliope 2016, Caluso Spumante: More body and volume, touch of honey, good length.

Three more erbaluce producers to look for:

Cantine Crosio

Azienda Viticola Orsolani

Cantina Carlo Gnavi

And if you are even more of an explorer and want to discover more Piedmont secrets, try baratuciat, another white Piedmont grape variety that you might never have heard of.

—Per Karlsson

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