• Simon Reilly

Erbaluce sparkles in the Alps

This article was published in Glass of Bubbly Magazine, Issue 14, September/October 2016

I visited Northern Piemonte recently expecting a solid diet of Nebbiolo and not much else. I did taste a lot of Nebbiolo but my lasting memory of the trip was the discovery of a new grape, Erbaluce. Although I tasted some very good still Erbaluce wines, and some excellent sweet Passito, it was the sparkling Erbaluce wines that really stood out.

Erbaluce thrives in the Caluso DOCG, near Turin on the edge of the Italian Alps. Here’s where it gets complicated. The DOCG is a bit loose on the labelling of the wine. Some producers label it Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, some Caluso Spumante DOCG and others just Caluso DOCG.

Above; Erbaluce vines in the Orsolani Estate

Now, if I may step on my soap box for a minute, given I visited the region with five other wine writers and only 2 of us had even heard of Erbaluce, let alone tasted it, should they not get a bit more consistent on the labelling? If it was all labelled simply Caluso, not only would it be more consistent, but it would create a brand which is quite recognizable and rolls of the tongue quite nicely. Caluso, Barolo, you get my drift.

Back to the wines. The first producer I visited is also one of the largest producers of sparkling Erbaluce in the region, Cella Grande. The estate sits on the banks of Lake Viverone, a morenic lake, making the soils high in acidity and minerality.

Above; The view of Lake Viverone from the Cella Grande Estate

As with many of the other estates in the region, the vines here are grown on pergolas, raised above the ground.

Above; Pergola vines in the Orsolani Estate

The winemaker Fabrizio Ruzzon is the spitting image of Robert Deniro. So much so, I found myself trying to avoid eye contact as he showed us round the cellar and vineyards, for fear of an “are you looking at me?” moment. He uses the traditional methode champenoise to make his sparkling wines, with a minimum of 36 months on the lees (DOCG rules require a minimum of 15 months).

They have been making here sparkling wine for 15 years and they are still experimenting. He has jeroboams of the 2004 vintage still on the lees in his cellar, alongside magnums which they open every 3-4 years to check on the progress, “we are seeing where we can go with it”.

We were lucky enough to try one of those magnums with Fabrizzio later that day and it was stunning. Dark golden in colour, it had complex flavours of apple, honey and custard. A classic up and down wine, sweetness on the palate balanced with great acidity on the finish. Fantastic stuff.

Above; "Are you lookin' at me?", Fabrizzio pours from a 2004 magnum

Other producers of Erbaluce to look out for in the Caluso Spumante DOCG (or Caluso if I get my way) are Orsolani (they produce a “1968” cuvee with 5 years on lees, made only in the best vintages. 1968 is the years they made their first spumante), Cieck and La Masera.

Apart from the quality of the wines, it was the value for money that stood out. Most of these wines ranged from €10-20 per bottle, which is great value given the quality. It is just a shame that these wines are not better known to a wider audience.

My hope is that they sort out the confusion around what they call themselves and use the most obvious asset as a marketing tool and get more people to drink the wines. If they were to use those mountains on their doorstep to market the wines, I think they could create a really desirable product for an international market.

Here’s hoping we hear a lot more about Alpine fizz in the years to come.

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