The Sparkling Erbaluce Wines From Piedmont
26th September 2023
When you think of the wines of Piedmont, you probably think of Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. And for sparkling wines perhaps Moscato? However… did you know delicious wines are made from the grape ERBALUCE in the north of the region?
Erbaluce is a white grape variety, mainly grown in the Piedmont region of the province Canavese, in northern Italy. There about 500 ha are planted with grape vines, of which just over half is Erbaluce. In particular the town of Caluso is known for its Erbaluce wines. Erbaluce di Caluso has had DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) since 2010, the highest level within the Italian wine classification.
The origin of the name ‘Erbaluce’ is argued. One theory is that Erbaluce comes from the Roman words Alba Lux (Albaluce), meaning ‘white light’, or ‘Alba Luce’, meaning dawn, both referring to the slight copper sheen of the grapes when ripe. There is also a legend about the beautiful nymph Albaluce who produced vine shoots with her tears, which penetrated the ground.
The versatility of Erbaluce
In any case, one can agree on the main characteristics of this white variety. Erbaluce has a high acidity and a thick skin. Wines of Erbaluce are therefore fresh with often a pronounced minerality (stone / salt) and aromas of pear, green apple, citrus fruits and white flowers, in addition to sweet-aromatic herbs such as sage. Due to its high acidity, a wine from Erbaluce grapes can be made in different styles: as a still dry, a sweet passito and, of course a sparkling wine.
Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante
In the region, apart from the still dry wines, mainly Erbaluce passito wines are consumed. However, the sparkling version, the Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante, is becoming increasingly popular. The wine is made according to the traditional method (so just like Champagne with the second fermentation in the bottle) which ensures the fine bubbles and complex flavors. Erbaluce sparkling wines are usually dry or extra dry with fresh acidity, citrus notes and hints of white flowers.
Morainic Amphitheater of Ivrea
During my visit to Piedmont in spring I visited two wineries in Piverone that produce wines from the Erbaluce grape: Cantina della Serra and La Masera. Piverone is a municipality near Lago di Viverone, about 80 km north-east of the city of Turin and is part of the moraine amphitheatre of Ivrea, a moraine relief in the Canavese area. The amphitheater was created in the Quaternary period by the movement of sediments to the Po Valley during the ice ages through the large glacier that ran through the Dora Baltea Valley. So you will find a wide variety of soil types here, varying in composition, but mainly consisting of rocks, sand, silt and clay. In the case of Piverone, where my visits took place, sandy soil dominates.
Cantina della Serra
Young winemaker Vittorio from Cantina della Serra is waiting for me outside in the vineyard. The grapes are trained as pergolas: the first part, according to Vittorio, does not give grapes, which makes the variety suitable for this training method. Overlooking Lago di Viverone I taste my first Erbaluce wine, the Ramblè Vigna Cariola Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2021 with an organic quality mark. It is not a sparkling one, but a friendly introduction: the wine is dry, fresh, slightly floral and has a mild stony minerality. There is a strong wind, which immediately shows that fungal diseases are not common here: the wind dries the grapes on a natural way.
However, the wind is too strong today, so we decide to continue the tasting inside.
Cantina della Serra is a co-op, founded in 1953, with 230 members spread over 18 municipalities. Of the 150 ha of vineyards, about 40% is planted with Erbaluce and the rest, 60%, with red grapes: Barbera, Nebbiolo, Croatina and Neretto. 70% of the vineyards are DOCG or DOC.
Winemaker Vittorio presents the winery, the area and the wines.
Cantina della Serra, the tasting
The first sparkling wine made by this co-op was 20 years ago. The Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG Spumantes are all made according to the Metodo Classico, so, like Champagne, with the second fermentation in the bottle. Interesting detail: a grappa is made from the skins of the grapes that remain, which is used for the liqueur de tirage.
Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG Spumante Serra Zero 2018
According to the winemaker, 2018 was a great year for spumantes. The grapes are harvested at the vineyard where we started the tour, on the south-west slopes of Lago di Viverone. The wine rested on the lees for 38 months, disgorgement was in November 2022.
Lemon yellow with a golden beam. Not much on the nose. On the mouth however a beautiful, powerful mousse, grapefruit, orange peel. Nice grapefruit bitterness in the finish.
Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG Spumante Serra Classic 2019 Brut
At least 30 months on the lees.
This wine has significantly more nose with mainly sweet ripe fruit, apricot and fresh citrus fruit. This all reappears in the mouth. Elegant, refined mousse. Juicy.
Canavese DOC Spumante Serra Classic Rosè 2019 Brut
A rosé of 100% Nebbiolo.
In this Spumante mainly red fruit, berries, and ripe strawberries. A juicy glass with a nice finish with fresh ripe fruit.
La Masera, “Our childhood dream…”
Alessandro Comotto, welcomes me and speaks enthusiastically about the origin of the winery. La Masera was a childhood dream of 5 friends: Alessandro, Gian Carlo, Davide, Sergio and Marco. As children, at that age when one imagines becoming an astronaut or a football player, they only spoke about how nice it would be to produce the Erbaluce Passito together some day. Erbaluce Passito, was for them a ‘magical’ product that was part of their childhood, which their parents and grandparents always took them on autumn evenings to see and taste.
For the time being, it remained a dream: each of them went their own way and chose different professions. Until they met again years later and the dream of their youth came up. The friendship felt just like it used to be, as if all those intervening years hadn’t been there. The friends decided it was time to make their dream of saving the Erbaluce grape for the future come true: La Masera was born in 2005. Around 27,000 bottles are now produced annually from 5 hectares of vineyards.
‘La Masera’ refers to the thick stone walls that surround the vineyard.
La Masera, the tasting
Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante DOCG ‘Masilé’ Pas Dosé Millesimato 2019
Masilé” means: ‘Masera Il est’ > Masera also produces sparkling wines. After the first fermentation, the wine rests on the lees for about six months, partly in barriques and partly in stainless steel tanks with weekly batonnage. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle and lasts between 36 and 40 months.
This wine is easier than Serre’s. Nice lemon and a touch of toast, even in the long finish. Elegant mousse.
Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante DOCG ‘Masilé’ Brut Millesimato 2015
The production of this Spumante is similar to that of the Pas Dosé, only it contains a little more residual sugar.
Elegant, soft mousse, floral, touch of toast. Nice almond bitter after. Very fresh, despite the age.
Canavese Rosato Spumante DOC ‘Bollo’ Brut Millesimato 2020
A blend of 60% Barbera and 40% Verspolina and Freisa. Barbera brings the freshness, Freisa the fruity aromas and Vespolina a pleasant tannin touch.
Nice fresh red fruit, strawberry, nice and dry. Elegant mousse, fresh, long finish.
Then our host thinks it’s time to serve something tasty: Salam Patata and Toma, delicious salami and cheese from this region.
Anne-Wies van Oosten, DipWSET
Dutch wine journalist, currently living in Transylvania, Romania, from where she travels the world and publishes articles about Wine, Food & Travel on her platform www.anne-wies.nl