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The Erbaluce Grape

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About Erbaluce

(Synonyms: Alba Lucenti, Albaluce, Albe Lucenti, Ambra, Bianc Rousti, Bianchera, Bianco Rusti, Erba Luce, Erbaluce Bianca, Erbalucente, Erbalucente Bianca, Erbalus, Erbcalon, Greco Novarese, Repcalon, Trebbiano Gentile, Trebbiano Perugino, Trebbiano Verde dell'Umbria, Uva Rustia, Uva Rustica, Vernazza di Gattinara)


Erbaluce grapes Map showing the Piedmont region of Italy

Erbaluce is a white-wine grape originating in the Piedmont region of Italy, probably as far back as ancient Roman times. Today, it is produced only in the small Caluso area, and is very widely referred to as "Erbaluce di Caluso". (It is said that there are only 15 producers of this varietal.) Besides dry table wines, the grape is also much used for notable sweet and speakling wines (which are outside our ambit).

Erbaluce is very much a high-acid grape, and when vinified as table wine thus wants a lot of fruit or it will come out thin and astringent. When the fruit is ample, the wines have a distinctly apple-y quality in node and flavor; but high acidity is the variety's calling card. Like many high-acid whites, it ages well in the bottle.

Factoid: Erbaluce wines are moving up in quality as the region tries to compete with some of Italy's better-established quality whites.

Some Descriptions of Erbaluce Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Wines made from Erbaluce tend to be dry with noticeable acidity. While the grape's acidity makes it ideally suitable for sweet wine production, the dry wines need to have considerable amount of fruit in order to balance that acidity. Both the dry and sweet styles of Erbaluce tend to exhibit characteristic apple aromas and flavors."

  • Walter Speller

    "Good Erbaluce possesses an unmistakable mountain coolness combined with lemony fruit, and the best examples can be endlessly long, fresh and focused. No wonder I kept on thinking of Riesling during the tasting. In several other aspects it is not unlike this great, similarly versatile, grape variety. In addition to the elevated acidity, another notable parallel is the mineral core of the wines, while its aromas, with notes of green apple, peach and cut lemon, are not unlike those of Riesling. The difference is the fact that the dry version needs near-perfect balance: too high a yield and you will end up with a fragrant wine but with eye-watering acidity, while lacking extract on the mid palate; too low and it becomes too rich and too dense on the finish, while lacking freshness. Two main styles of Erbaluce can be distinguished, the differences, in my opinion, owing more to yield and winemaking than to terroir. On the one hand, there is the fragrant, fresh, minerally style spiked through with acidity; on the other hand, there is the more voluptuous, denser style which is the result of prolonged ripening and restricted yields. It is often this second style that gets full-blown barrel treatment, including partial oak ageing and sometimes also fermentation. [But] different styles can be based on terroir specifics, too. For example, vineyards on sandy as opposed to more rocky soils tend to produce very perfumed wines which may lack structure. [One winemaker] therefore gives his wine a little bit of skin maceration to compensate for that. I would certainly not see this as a shortcoming of the variety, more a way of getting the best out of it. "

  • Fringe Wine

    "The selling point and the criticism of wines made from the grape is their high acidity. High acid is a great thing for the sweet and sparkling wines made in the region, but opinions seem to be divided on whether it's such a good thing for the dry table wines."

  • Learn Italian Wines

    "Amidst these hills, the grape delivers its finest wines, dispaying aromas of fruit (pear, golden apples, lemon) and herbs (rosemary, sage). Indeed the name of the grape comes from two Italian words: erba, meaning “herb” and luce, meaning “light”, an obvious reference to the wine’s brilliant color when it is young. As the Erbaluce grape has such naturally high acidity, it can be produced as a sparkling wine as well as a dry white; it is even made into a gorgeous dessert wine in a passito version. . . The dry white is often aged only in stainless steel, but there are some excellent versions that receive small oak barrel treatment."

  • Tar and Roses

    "Wines made from Erbaluce tend to be dry with noticeable acidity. While the grapes acidity makes it ideally suitable for sweet wine production, the dry wines need to have considerable amount of fruit in order to balance that acidity. Both the dry and sweet styles of Erbaluce tend to exhibit characteristic apple aromas and flavors."

  • Casa Forcellini

    "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."

  • Fred Nijhuis

    "Typical for the Erbaluce is its fresh character, partially based on a vivid, natural acidity. . . "Quality on average is good to extremely good. . . The wines age well. The wines are in general very affordable. About 20% of all Erbaluce is used for sparkling wines, all made on the classical way. The core however is used to make dry still white wines, pleasant, invigorating facilitators to numerous lighter but also more pronounced dishes.

  • Wine Searcher

    "Erbaluce di Caluso is the bianco secco (dry white) version, with aromas reminiscent of meadow flowers. It is characteristically dry with a distinguishable acidity but has a well-rounded structure, making it an excellent partner to hors d'oeuvres and fish."

  • Exalted Rations

    "The name “erbaluce” translates roughly as “shining herb”, and what an apt handle it is: this is a variety with all kinds of piercing “green” aromas, a chewy, slightly corpulent texture, but which is balanced by a tangy, sunny personality that makes it a truly great, and exceptionally versatile partner for all kinds of foods, both animal and vegetable. Though soups and dry white wines are matched only somewhat rarely, Erbaluce’s many talents allow for it."

Some Erbaluces to Try

(About this list.)

As is commonly remarked, Erbaluce is not—not yet, anyway—well known outside its small home region, and so specimens are not easy to come by; moreover, of those available, several are above our self-imposed $20 limit. We have thus included in our list a few bottlings that are available only from a very few retailers (sometimes just one shows on the wine-search engines); had we not, the list would have been very short indeed.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Orsolani "La Rustia" Erbaluce, $17 - $26.
    (The "La Rustia" is Orsolani's more upmarket offering.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Since the Middle Ages this area has been noted for sweet, golden Passito wines. It has only been in recent years, with the application of careful control in the winery and restricted yields in the vineyard that the Orsolanis have shown it is possible to excel with dry versions — of real finesse — with their La Rustia Erbaluce di Caluso. The Erbaluce “La Rustia” takes its name from the roseate coppery color, which the grapes take on as they ripen and the “roasted slopes” — the source of the ripest, most concentrated fruit. Sandy clay soils on a gravel base combine with cool Alpine influences to give a good structure of acidity to balance the fragrant aromatics of the Erbaluce grape. Delicate hints of wildflowers and honey in the bouquet (reminiscent of the great dry Chenin Blancs of the Loire) make this rare, dry white truly distinctive and memorable among Italy’s white wines. “La Rustia” is medium-bodied with flavors that burst on the palate. It is capable of aging for several years. The fine acid balance and fruit intensity of La Rustia make it a wonderfully versatile wine at the table.

    Lightly straw-colored with soft light yellow nuances backing the olive leaf tonality. The well defined scents mix sage and essential oil perfumes together with laurel, rosemary and lavender flavors which tend to a balsamic one, kept light at the end by the elegance of hawthorn and yellow flowers.

    ♣ Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri ("Three Glasses", top rating) award

    Erbaluce grapes deliver a classic dry white wine with the mellifluous name of Erbaluce di Caluso (ehr bah loo’ chay di kah loo’ so) that is known for its high acidity, floral aromas and intense fruit flavors. The Orsolani winery is one of only a small number of producers of Erbaluce di Caluso and Orsolani's “La Rustia” is one of the best examples of this varietal wine. “La Rustia” means the “roasted” slopes in the local Piemontese dialect, a reference to the vineyard’s ideal location for maximum sun exposure. Vinified in stainless steel, the wine is pale yellow in color with delicate floral aromas and savory fruit flavors evocative of peaches and melons with a hint of grapefruit and other citrus fruits on the finish. It is relatively complex and the floral and fruity sensations are complemented by a bracing acidity. This dry, vibrant white wine is easy to enjoy and a perfect match for appetizers and fish and simple chicken dishes.

    The wine shows a brilliant greenish yellow color and nuances of greenish yellow, very transparent. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas which start with hints of pear, litchi and honey followed by aromas of apple, peach, hawthorn, pineapple, broom, lemon and hints of mineral. In the mouth has good correspondence to the nose, a crisp attack and however balanced by alcohol, delicate, intense flavors, agreeable. The finish is persistent with flavors of peach, pear and lemon. A small part of this wine ferments in cask.

    2009 vintage: Nice smell, full, soft, good tension, showing lots of ripe notes, rounded, fine dry finale, enough tension and length.
    2010 vintage: Spicy aroma, fresh, spicy, floral tones, pear, green apple, full of flavor, energetic, good acidity, length and grip, fine bitters, complete wine, very successful.

    Crisp and clean, but at the same time an aromatic change of pace, this is a wonderful, affordable white that shows real regional character.

    [Google-translated from Itaian:] Straw yellow color with light green reflections and a beautiful clarity. The nose is floral with a hint of herbaceous, slightly fruity green apple and lime zest. On the palate it is fresh, fruity and mineral, quite fruity with almond aftertaste. Fairly long and altogether enjoyable. You can safely keep in the cellar for three or four years, so the wine shows its complexity and structure bringing out mineral notes and tertiary very interesting.

    Orsolani’s “La Rustia” is incredibly refreshing, offering a high level of bracing citric-lime acidity complemented by a balancing smoothness. Floral and hay-like on the nose its mellow flavors call to mind apricots, peaches, tropical melon, and even grapefruit. There’s a creamy background of honey without the expected sweetness.

  • Ferrando "La Torrazza" Erbaluce, $17 - $22.
    (Do not confuse the still table wine with the similarly named "Spumante" sparkling wine.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    It has a deep golden color and the nose is floral with a little apple cider. The slight bit of nuttyness (almond?) is kept in check by the high viscosity, which is surprising at first, giving it a sense of richness that doesn’t come across as terribly heavy. I get industrial flavors, petroleum or plastic (not a bad thing) for a second and then it goes to fruit and a little talc or chalk. The alcohol is low enough that it makes a fine sipping wine but I want it with food. . . I don’t want to do stars or ratings. I liked this wine and recommend it, but you have my notes.

    Mr. Ferrando is a bit of a cult producer when it comes to [Erbaluce], a flowery but dry white that's native to the region. It has a lovely aroma and a terrific acidity that makes it a first-rate companion with food.

    The exceptionally saturated, golden color kicks off some substantial legs upon swirling. While undelineated and essentially closed aromatically, the forceful, viscous texture kicks in the second this juice touches the palate. The texture is oily, yet lively, as flavors of flowers, kiwi, green apple peel, quince paste and honeysuckle power their way from cheek to cheek, leaving an almost fuzzy feel on the back of the tongue. Still in its infancy, this rich yet balanced white will be a fun one to watch as it evolves in the bottle, 91+ points.

    This is unique white wine that is both dry and light, as well as very poised and graceful in it's delivery. It has a nice medium body, with a nice gradual finish. While I initially detected a little bit of vanilla scents upon opening the bottle, but I would swear that it's offset with the slightest nuance of nutmeg. As I was gabbing on the phone while drinking this, I didn't realize that near the end of the conversation, I had drunk all but one glass; this wine is light enough so that it doesn't give you headaches or a hangover of any type, and the grape is neutral enough that it can probably be easily paired with seafood and lighter fare, up to poultry, both domestic and wild game types.

    Creamy, oak on nose and in flavors. Vanilla and mineral going on. Find it, buy it. Has to be excellent value.

    Nice acidity and minerality. Brisk. Kind of like the weather in San Francisco.

    [Google-translated from Itaian:] Deep yellow color, almost golden, uniform and without glare. Perfumes and fine net. After the attack, fruity and floral emerge a mineral note and stony. Among all stand pear, apricot and citrus. The taste is fantastic, just exuberant and gritty. Sign acid, pulpy, flavorful, with a great flavor. Still intact and extremely compact despite 4 years. In the final high heels and long persistence mineral that combines the flesh is very sweet with a hint of minerals slightly and pleasantly bitter. Truly an exceptional wine, which confirms the excellent results of Ferrando in the vineyard and in the cellar. And to think that this is not even the best crus.

    This was a very refreshing, dry white. Stylistically like a good Sancerre or Chablis, this wine had great minerality and refreshing dry fruit.

  • Orsolani Erbaluce di Caluso, $16 - $20 per liter (= $12 - $15 per standard bottle)
    (This is Orsolani's "basic" Erbaluce; don't confuse it with any of their other offerings.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Bright, pale greenish gold color. Expressive nose of green apple, pear, subtle but pungent herbs, white flowers, and yellow cherries. The wine enters the mouth with a fairly weighty, medium-full impression, with rich but very clean flavors of hazelnut, buttered corn, and honey very nicely balanced by a notable freshness, a certain nervous minerality, and tidy flavors of bouquet garni, and sweet and sour candied fennel. The finish is marked by a smartly tart bittersweet marzipan finish.

    This one liter bottling of pure joy comes from the far northern reaches of Italy, in the Alpine foothills. The Orsolani family has taken great efforts to keep this indigenous Italian varietal from going extinct and we thank them for that. This wine is crystalline pure, with fresh notes of pear, lemon, green melon and limestone mineral. It is best served ice cold for a garden or patio party and drunk with reckless abandon.

  • Antoniolo Erbaluce, $18.
    (Very scarce in the U.S.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Medium yellow color; very strong citric/grapefruity/ spicy very mineral/flinty metallic/dusty/root cellar/wet sidewalk/appley quite perfumed/aromatic nose; tart metallic/tangy strong citric/grapefruity/spicy/orangey bit dusty/wet pavement/stoney flavor; long tangy/metallic strong grapefruity/spicy/citric light dusty/wet pavement/ loamy finish; a very attractive bright/zippy interesting Erbaluce at a very good price.

    [Google-translated from Dutch:] Color of the wine: Light yellow color. Smell the wine: Complex, exciting, intense aromatic scent of ripe pineapple, pear and almond aromas of spring flowers. Taste of Wine: Very fruity with a clean mouthfeel. Tasty fresh juicy acidity but with a round structure and a touch of almond oiliness. Furthermore, taste some minerality, green apples, lime, a touch of grapefruit, as well as some spiciness of nutmeg and fennel. In terms of taste the wine is a bit in the middle of a Sauvignon Blanc and a Viognier.

    ♣ Wine Advocate: 31 August 2010, 88 points; 31 August 2009, 88 points.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (1 March 2010), 88 points.

  • Bianchi Erbaluce "Luminae", $18 - $20.
    (Very scarce in the U.S.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Also available here.

    This was a wow wine for me. I had never tried the Erbaluce grape before, but this wine was just fantastic.

    [Google-translated from Japanese:] Straw color with a transparent feeling and clear. White wine pleasant acidity persists scent of mineral is felt in the back and the smell of evergreen shrub that blooms with the fragrance of fresh citrus, pineapple, the Golden Apple faint. Here, the northern Piedmont. So, it will realize that it is a wine of north unquestionably. Not a pre-dinner drink, it was as the main wine dinner.

For a Splurge

For a pleasant change, the "splurge" wine here is not too far over our usual limit. The "Le Chiusure" Erbaluce from the small but distinguished Favaro winery runs (when you can find it available) from about $23 to $28. Most of the listings are here, but the lowest price (as we write) is found instead here.

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