This unique white variety of grape is grown exclusively in Northen Piedmonte, around the commune of Caluso in Canavese. The stony, morainal soils of the Alpine glacial foothills yield a grape with a distinct coppery tone with pinkish highlights, which are most prominent in the autumn months. The DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso comes in three prominent forms – a dry table wine of the same name, a passito sweet wine, and a fresh, dry spumante.
All of these varieties boast the delicate acidity for which the Erbaluce grape has become known. However, since it is cultivated in 33 small communes on a relatively small scale, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it anywhere outside of Northern Piedmonte. This makes it one of the region’s best-kept secrets.
Erbaluce is named after Albaluce (meaning “light of the dawn”), the goddess of the region from whose tears the grapes were said to spring forth. Records of Erbaluce cultivation date from 1606 in the writings of notable wine-maker Giovan Battista Croce. However, many people believe that Erbaluce originated in the years that pre-dated Roman times. In the 1990s, cities surrounding Caluso awoke to the exciting possibilities of the Erbaluce grape when wine-makers produced it to compete with the better-known varieties of Cortese and Arneis.
The Erbaluce di Caluso is a crisp, dry white with a fruitiness that satisfyingly balances out its naturally high levels of acidity. It has a clean palate with predominant flavours of apple and lemon. These are underscored by a flinty minerality and a sharp, citrusy finish. Floral aromas, especially jasmine, feature on the nose. It is delicious with fish, particularly freshwater tench and marinated trout, and light hors d’oeuvres. Erbaluces that have been aged in oak complement more robust dishes, like risotto, pork or veal. Mocetta, or dried, spiced meat from chamois, is another worthy partner.
The other Erbaluce di Caluso variety is the passito, a highly sweet wine that is made from dried grapes. It has ranges from light, straw-coloured hues to lusher, amber colours, and is recognised as an indulgent dessert wine. Aromas include notes of date, hazelnut, saffron and vanilla, while on the palate, it is rich in flavours of dried fig, raisin and honey. A notable partner to a glass of sweet passito is pesche al vino, or honeyed sweet peaches in wine.
The final version of Erbaluce di Caluso is the spumante. It is a more “austere” bubbly, with drier finishes than those other regional sparkling wines, like Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante. It has sharp flavours of lemon peel and toast, and a rather reserved nose. Like the dry table wine, it complements light dishes of vegetables, fish and other white meats. It can also be used as a refreshing aperitif.
Visit the commune of Caluso and experience the possibilities of Erbaluce for yourself. The Enoteca Caluso di Corrado Nicoli is renowned for storing some of the best local wines, ripe for the tasting. Enjoy the brisk, Alpine climes of Northern Piedmonte by strapping on some hiking shoes and taking to the foothills. There are many attractive walks and mountain biking trails in and around Caluso.