Fred Nijhuis

Your favorite Dutch wine writer

Erbaluce, een droom van een wijn….Erbaluce, a fairytale wine

Wie kent hem niet, de Erbaluce?
De meeste mensen dus, inclusief een hele schare professionals. Reden genoeg om extra aandacht te besteden aan deze de autochtone druif uit Caluso, de kleine wijnstreek in het noordwesten van Piëmonte op de grens met de Valle d’Aosta.


Erbaluce, who doesn’t know it?

Right, most people haven’t heard about it, including many professionals. All the more reason to pay some extra attention to this autochthonous grape from Caluso, a small wine region northwest of Piedmont at the border of Valle d’Aosta.

Who says Piedmont, thinks primarily of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Moscato, secondarily of Dolcetto, Arneis and maybe even also the Cortese or the Favorita, but rarely somebody will mention the Nascetta, Timorasso or Erbaluce. That’s a shame, because they have so much more to offer than assumed.

The producers from the region surrounding the little town of Ivrea  organized, in collaboration with Gheusis, International Press Relations, a closer introduction to the area, the winemakers and a wine they were happy to present as ‘a fairytale wine’. It turned out to be a fascinating, well-organized wine trip with, indeed, a number of fairytale elements.

Ivrea is a relatively small town in the Piedmont region of Turin and the unofficial capitol of the hilly area Canavese. Straight through the city runs the river the Dora Baltea, well-known for its rafting circuit. East of the town there is La Serre, a 25km long morene rampart that terminates the composition of the soil as well as the climate of the region and its vineyards.

Ivrea was already in the 9th century an important place because of its strategic position along the road crossing the Alps between France and Italy. It owes its name to the House of Ivrea, a French originated dynasty. In modern history Ivrea is better known as home to the Olivetti-concern. Thanks to Olivetti Ivrea grew and thrived for several decades, but it also hit rock bottom after the decline of the company. Olivetti’s presence still lingers here, sometimes in a positive way, sometimes not.

To the last accomplishments, that can be attributed to Olivetti, belong the restauration of the San Bernardino church in Ivrea and the preservation of the wines from the district Carema. Since the company was drawing practically every single employee from the surrounding area to Ivrea, viticulture in Carema risked extinction. As counterpart, Olivetti took care of rehabilitation and maintenance of the vineyards and revitalized the cooperation and ensured that the DOC Carema could live on.

Glaciers didn’t only form the lake of Viverone, but also beautiful, indigent terroirs containing clay, pebbles and shale, rich in phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. Combined with the moderate temperatures in the valley (on average about 13°C and even in August hardly rising above25°C) it’s ideal for white wines, particularly for the Erbaluce. The grape lends its name to three types of wine: Erbaluce di Caluso, Caluso Passito (including Riserva) and Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante. This variety immediately indicates the versatility of this grape, the additive Caluso refers to the location of the very best vineyards.

The history of the Erbaluce grape reaches back to at least 1606, in that year it is mentioned in a book by jeweler Giovan Battista Croce, at the time of Carlo Emanuele I. Its name is based on the pale pink (up to even shades of amber) color it shows at the end of the season.

Typical for the Erbaluce is itsfresh character, partially based on a vivid, natural acidity. Its versatility is fully expressed in a broad series of wines, sparkling as well as dry and still and sweet. Obviously a grape with many advantages, because: 
– Both grape and wine are autochthonous
– Both grape and wine are unique in Italy
– Both grape and wine are made exclusively in this area
– Quality on average is good to extremely good
– The wines are highly digestible and easy deployable in gastronomy
–  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. Sweet Erbaluce is a so called Passito, so it’s made from dried grapes, very fine wines to accompany rich courses, not just desserts. And the fact that the regional cuisine matches the several Erbaluces so well, is of course no accident.

Without any doubt, one of the top producers in this region is Orsolani. During a visit I got closer acquainted with the very enthusiastic Gian Luigi Orsolani, the current owner of the family business.

Although their history dates back to 1894, Orsolani is not one of the oldest wine families, but it’s one that’s inignorable. The founders were Orsolani Giovanni and his wife Domenica, who returned from America to start the inn “Locanda Aurora”. Domenica worked in the kitchen and Giovanni took care of the vineyards and the wines. Initially, the wine was sold only in their own inn, but soon the demand grew and production had to be extended. Slowly but surely making quality wines became their core business.

Of course, Orsolani made the traditional sweet Erbaluce, but in 1968 they introduced a sparkling version, the first in the region. In 1985 this was followed by the ‘La Rustia’, his answer to the demand for top quality dry white Erbaluce. Over the years, Gian Luigi conducted many experiments to improve its wines and, of course, the use of barriques is part of it. He is currently managing the influence of oxygen during vinification and aging. His principles are clear: oxidation is bad, aeration is good.

Orsolani is enthusiastic, motivated and convinced of the usefulness and necessity to make authentic wines. “Winemaking should never be an industry”: he says. “Wine is culture and industrial wines are an insult. Our goal is to expand the legacy of our rich history and improve where possible. We don’t need international grapes like Cabernet and Chardonnay, and we shouldn’t use them. They are not the reason for our existence. We and our wines have our own identity and are beyond compare. We have at most a similar position as other original wines like Gavi, but with our own unique characteristics. The style and character of our wines is still the same, but we see a change in the valuation. Five years ago nobody knew our wines and now they are suddenly given Tre Bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso guide. To us a confirmation that patience and quality is rewarded, even if you need to wait ‘a little while’ for recognition. The granting of the DOCG status for our Erbaluce is a new highlight in our history and emphasizes that we are on the right track. This also applies to our nurturing of old values. Retaining the pergolas and “Alteno Canavesano” for example. This arosing is no coincidence, it has a specific reason and a clear effect. They are less susceptible to night frost and the bunches are protected against abundant sunlight. We are not against Guyot, but first we do want to understand why these modern methods should suddenly be applied everywhere instead of our own traditions. We do not even know enough of the pergola and further studies seem like a logical step and better than to just go on Guyot “. Who tastes Orsolani’s wines, know that this is not just something Gian Luigi says. The proof that he’s right, is in the wines he makes.

A small selection of different producers from the region:

Favaro Benito
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Le Chiusure, 2008
Beautiful intense fragrance, filled with spicy aromas, mineral tones, floral accents and quirky fruits, persimmons, melone Cottone, pomegranates, full flavor, juicy, filling, good acidity, clean aftertaste, rich wine, poor glow in finale
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Le Chiusure, 2010
Fresh, alpine herbs, clean and pure white fruit, mineral touch, tension and juice, beautiful rounded acids in finals, good length, foodwine

– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Cariola, 2001
Full color, golden, beautiful fragrance, ripened, but still fresh, beautiful buttery tones, buttercup, white dried fruit, tropical accents, in the mouth full of juice, balanced with a lot of juice and flavor, length, excellent balance, clean finale, with impressions of orange, honey, good acidity, full and pleasantly dry finish, very nice.
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Cariola, 2009
Beautiful intense scent, youthful, full, hints of banana, melon, blossoms, spicy with good acidity, very young, foodwine with much length, very good.
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Cariola, 2010
Full color, clearly a wine with oxygen influence, young, strong, opinionated, very juicy and with tension, many minerals, flint, beautifully.
– Caluso Passito DOC, Cariola, 1999
Deep golden brown, lots of juice and flavor, length, caramel, mocha, much tension, coffee, chocolate, figs, perfectly balanced, sweet and acidity, great length, exemplary wine

– Caluso Spumante DOC, Cuvee Tradizione Gran Reserva, 2006
Full round, rich fragrance, beautiful floral tones, blossom, acacia honey, powerful flavors, youthful, full of character, good acidity, mature foodwine
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, La Rustia, 2009
Nice smell, full, soft, good tension, showing lots of ripe notes, rounded, fine dry finale, enough tension and length
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, La Rustia, 2010
Spicy aroma, fresh, spicy, floral tones, pear, green apple, full of flavor, energetic, good acidity, length and grip, fine bitters, complete wine, very successful

Cantina Sociale del Canavese
– Caluso Passito DOC, Morenico, 2003
Relatively light color, smell of fresh pineapple, honey, full of sweet, fair acids, average tension, mocha and coffee in aftertaste, small bitter, correct

Cantina Sociale della Serra
– Caluso Spumante DOC, Serra Classic
Soft, smooth, rounded, accessible, good tension, a bit sweet, easy

– Caluso Passito DOC, 2004
Brown Yellow color, roasted caramel, coffee, light oxidative tones, cinnamon, nut, ends with a certain dryness, digestable, gastronomical 

Cantina Briamara
– Caluso Passito DOC, Pescarolo, 2006
Clearly influence of oxygen, a lot of candy and roasted tones, grillee, full sweet flavor with good acidity, good tension, average refinement, ending with a lot of sweet, more than just correct

Caretto Loris Livio
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2010
Neat flavor, good balance, lighter structure, ends bone dry, aperitif style with character

– Caluso Spumante DOC, Cellagrande Brut, 2003
Full, rich color, very fruity fragrance, fresh apple, partially dried, lot of taste, clear, mature, nice filling, good tension, foodwine, impressions of apples remain, tarte tatin
– Brut Rosato 5% nebbiolo
Soft pink color, fruity aroma, good flavor, fresh, hint of tannin, bite, nice and dry, stimulating, opinionated aperitif
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2010
Full flavor, well characterized with floral tones and spicy accents, some honey, in the mouth pretty tight, dry, firm, mineral touch, firm acids and bitters, very young

Cieck (Tsji-ek)
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Misobolo, 2009
Slivered white almonds, persimmon, nice juice, a little alcohol, good acidity, hint of caramel, which ends drying
– Caluso Passito DOC, Alladium 1998
Relatively light color, golden, sparkling, honey, elegance, refinement, lot of sweet, nice fruit, remarkably youthful, somewhat drying with wood accents, beautiful mineral touch, lots of length
– Caluso Passito DOC, Alladium 2004
Brown yellow in color, bit neutral in the nose, orange zest, mocha, great juice, some drying accents with wood, good acidity, sufficient fruit

Giacometto Bruno
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2010
nice smell, fruity, floral flavor, good juice, fresh acidity, misses a little youth for a 2010, but has filling and length

La Masera
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Macaria, 2007
Rich, ripe aroma, hint of white nuts, floral note, lots of juice and flavor, good balance, good acidity, great length
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Macaria, 2009
Nice smell, somewhat subdued, millefiori, spicy touch, buttercup, soft, almost sweet start, hint of mocha, candy, honey, nice balance, youthful, less size and strength than 2007, but beautiful

Picco Giuseppe
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Del Bric, 2010
Good clean smell, fresh white fruit, racy style, lean, bone dry, good balance, rather aperitif style than foodwine, like most, with good length, very clean

Tenuta Roletto
– Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Muline, 2008
Powerful fragrance, mineral, spicy, Alpine flowers, nice and dry, wood, slightly drying finale

Lees meerErbaluce, een droom van een wijn….Erbaluce, a fairytale wine

Cordier en de redding van Bordeaux

Cordier en de redding van Bordeaux

Bestaat dat dan nog? Bordeaux?
Does it still exist?

Yes, it does.
Not just or in particular ‘the elite’ with their exclusive image and behavior, but the much larger group of hard(er?) working ‘normal’ winemakers. Usually family businesses, not owned by an investment group, insurance company, banks or other, organizations focused on marketing and ‘return on investment’ in stead of passion and culture.

Whether you like it or not, that dubious Top 10 still gets the most attention. No matter how reprehensible their behavior is, they still serve a large crowd of people preserve the Grand Cru illusion. They do this mainly through emphasizing the pointless aspects of capitalism.  Money, money and money, being expensive, more expensive, most expensive. Superficial and American, one could say, but remarkably, we see this behavior more often in (salon-) communists, Hindus and Muslims. It’s them who are the new emperors buying new clothes at incredible prices, ending up dressed in nothing but invincible marketing gowns.

Unfortunately, these buyers aren’t the only innocents that still believe in fairytales. Also the journaille is enjoying, drooling and eager to be, diligently, present at dinners that underline the pointlessness of the illusion. Soon we can read tweets, posts and blogs again, ‘live’ from the primeur-circus in Bordeaux. Some sound a cautionary note to the increasingly expensive bottles, in an attempt to buy off their guilt. They just mumble a Hail Mary and express their sincere regret and then go back to enslaving themselves again, with conviction, to several free Magnums (or larger), foie gras, lobster and caviar, everything of course under the guise of professionalism.

Whatever. I don’t feel comfortable with it and gladly dissociate myself from these practices. Even if that means no free glass of Latour, poured from a several-thousand-Euro’s costing carafe that was designed specifically for the occasion, as I had to read last year.

But to return to the subject: How’s Bordeaux doing? The entire world of wine is moving, but Bordeaux seems to remain motionless. Has everything been done in Bordeaux? I asked this question to David Bolzan, Directeur Général from Cordier – Mestrezat Grands Crus, who was visiting Holland to present a new line of wines from Cordier: The Club Elite.

Bolzan very first reaction: “Let me dream. Dream about how beautiful Bordeaux could be.” I swept a tear away and repeated the question. Bolzan continued. “I’ve been travelling for the las 20 years and I’ve visited all continents. I’ve found that Bordeaux as a concept is crumbling. It’s image is affected, the quality is under pressure, sales are reducing and competition is fierce. There are many fine wines, but only few brands and those became unaffordable. Midrange there are still many possibilities, but one has to establish himself. Without additional efforts the tide can’t be turned and Bordeaux will experience increasing problems. This was the motive to introduce the Club Elite, in our opinion the savior for the middle class wines from Bordeaux.

Cordier wants to offer the consumer what they can expect from Bordeaux: Quality. Besides that, Cordier wants to offer the producers what they need: Expertise in the fields of production and marketing, based on 125 years of experience and focused on the future. We’re not so much helping them with the product itself, because many of them are proving for years they’re very capable of making wine. It’s more about showing their qualities to the world, using our knowledge, experience and our connections.

Because of fierce competition is distinctiveness essential. The quality of the product needs to be high, of course, but also marketing it well is crucial. That’s why Cordier has developed a special bottle for a select number of estates, that enables them to clearly distinguish themselves.

Also new, innovative and distinctive is the box in which the bottles are sold. Not a crate that contains 12 or 6 bottles, but 4 bottles. In this way we meet the wish of our client, who prefers, under the present economical problematic circumstances, to buy a few bottles less, but still likes to show off with a crate; said Bolzan. “The 4-box concept also offers the opportunity to anticipate to specific wishes of clientele. There’s a version in varnished wood, in leather and even one that’s plated with 22 carat gold”. Yet more exclusive will be a box made from wood from a very special origin, something like a box made from the wood of the chestnut tree from Anne Frank. Really tipical John Doe….

More functional and less extreme is the attention paid to capsule, the label and the back tag, with the name Cordier in a subordinate role, by the way. The château itself is central, Cordier only facilitates. Every bottle is wrapped in paper and every crate is provided with a postcard containing a ‘personal’ message from the owner af the  château; A subtle gesture that many seem to be receptive to. Especially for the Asian market there’s a crate for 8 bottles, because 8 happens to be their lucky number. In total the Club Elite includes 12 wines, from which 8 represent so called ‘Grand terroir’. The other 4 are named ‘Noblesse’  and are second wines from renowned châteaux. For sale purposes, Cordier provides special racks that emphasizes the presence of The Club Elite in wineshops even more.

 The new concept is already available, but promotion is supposed to reign supreme during Vinexpo Asia-Pacific 2012 in Hong Kong. Then extensive attention will be paid to the 125-year anniversary of Cordier and Asia happens to be the most important market for Bordeaux.

 The Club Elite consists of a series of 12 wines that vary in price from 100 to 200 Euro’s per 4 bottle-crate. Dutch importer Activin has so far selected 6 estates and those were recently comprehensively tasted in ‘Taste’ in The Hague.

Château La Rousselière Saint-Estephe, 2008

 50% merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc.  Warm, almost balmy fragrance, open with mocha, toast and lots of merlot; nice rounded flavor, Merlot , Bordeaux and St. Estephe typicity is present. A little graphite in the finish but especially good juice despite a lean structure. Nice finale, not very pronounced, but friendly and drinkable, accessible and affordable.

Château Tour Massac, Margaux, 2009
64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc.
Powerful in the nose, compact, ripe black fruit, soft full start, youthful fruit, nice tannin structure, lots of cassis, the elegance of Margaux, decent wine, a lot of juice and very accessible with the right freshness

Clos Vieux Taillefer, Pomerol, 2009
100% Merlot. Nice full scent, velvety key, sweet, spicy with laurel and licorice, also mocha and tobacco, significantly more wood, underlying fruit tones; powerful and less accessible than the previous wines, but with the required quality
€ 180,00 for a 4-bottle case

Tour Sieujean Pauillac, 2009
85% Cabernet Sauvigon, 15% Merlot. In the nose clearly Cabernet Sauvignon, a lot of cassis and also ripe blackberries, almost creamy wood impression, smoky notes, ink, balsamico, graphite, but fruit is more important, in the start, strength, high acidity, tannin clearly palpable, firm development, a bit dry, clean finish. Bolzan praised his elegance and potential, although, in my opinion, that’s probably wishful thinking.
€ 172, 00 for a 4-bottle case

Château Pouget, Margaux, 2008
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc.
Broad and deep fragrance, tobacco, leather, lots of black fruit, very ripe, blackberry jam, juicy in the mouth, rich, ripe, powerful without aggression, roundness, lovely fruit, good acidity, balance and length, ends with some wood, but the ripe fruit dominates, nice structure and great finesse, fine balance between power and elegance.

Chateau de Candale, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2009
84% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. First Year of new owner Jean-Louis Vicard (indeed, the one from the barriques). Domain of 12 ha, located in the southern part of St. Emilion, spread over 30 parcels with different terroirs. The winemaker Stephane Derenoncourt has chosen for this wine to be aged in 60% new French wood, of which 85% comes from Vicard.
More subdued aroma, underlying elegance, much refinement, length, beautiful fruit, lots of tension, warm glow, young, cedar, light licorice, beautiful black fruit, but also many red fruits. Wine with tension and potential, a classic on modern footing. Already presents itself well this year, but for the future expectations are higher.

David Bolzan is very capable, passionate, convinced and convincing and very commercial. People who know me, know I’m allergic to cheap marketing ploys, but understand and respect a good marketing philosophy and a sound sales policy. Sometimes I got jitters listening to the carefully selected statements made by Bolzan, but because of his relativistic sense of reality and a good sense of humor, a pleasant feeling remained when we said goodbye. One of the most important reasons for that was the mostly fine quality and fair price of the wines; that is, if you don’t buy for the cases, plated with (fools-) gold…

Lees meerCordier en de redding van Bordeaux

Roccolo GrassiRoccolo Grassi

In 1996 besloot Marco Sartori om samen met zijn zus Francesca het bedrijf van hun vader Bruno over te nemen. Hun doel was ‘simpel’; het maken van wijnen met de hoogst mogelijke kwaliteit. Om verwarring met het wijnhuis Sartori (geen familie) te voorkomen, koos men als naam Roccolo Grassi, de wijngaard die het wijnhuis omringt.In 1996 Marco Sartori decided, together with his sister Francesca, to take over their father Bruno’s company. Their goal was ‘simple’; to make wine of the highest possible quality. To prevent being mixed-up with the winery Sartori (not related), the name Roccolo Grassi was chosen, after the vineyard that surrounds the winery.

Lees meerRoccolo GrassiRoccolo Grassi