The Canavese wine region within the Torinese zone is spectacularly beautiful, historically important, and boasts some very good Alpine wines.
Against the majestic backdrop of the Alps, the Canavese wine area has incredible viticultural landscapes that, climbing higher in the foothills, require feats of ingenuity and patience to cultivate. This wine territory lies within the greater Torinese wine zone, which is the one sitting closest to the Alpine mountain range in all of Piemonte. Cool, snow-topped peaks and brisk mountain air condense into crisp white wines, but at the same time, the underlying fresh chill calls for a deep, warming red. The Canavese territory, rich in cultural heritage and outstanding natural beauty, has both.
The Torinese wine zone is divided into four distinct wine regions: Canavese, Collina Torinese, Pinerolese, and the Susa Valley. Within these regions, there are seven different DOCG or DOC certified wine areas: Caluso, Canavese, Carema, Freisa di Chieri, Collina Torinese, Pinerolese, and Valsusa (in order from largest cultivated area to smallest).
Piemonte is full of incredible landscapes from every viewpoint, and the Torinese wine zone is no exception. Ancient castles and ruins of once-mighty fortresses hide in small, unassuming towns and rise unexpectedly from hilltops. The hills grow taller and spread wider the farther northwest one travels; patches of forest are interspersed with towns of stone-built homes nestled in the valleys and vineyards that reach higher up than ever expected. One of the best ways to travel this area is to follow the Royal Wine Road (Strada Reale dei Vini). Read our itinerary that goes from Ivrea to the Aosta Valley along the route here: The Royal Wine Road.
THE ROYAL WINE ROAD
The Royal Wine Road is a self-guided route that winds through nearly 200 towns in the Torinese zone, marked by signs that point the way to historical sites, wineries, castles, churches, and other points that epitomize the rich heritage of this territory. It is the ideal itinerary for a traveler who loves non-touristy destinations. In an area of Italy that is already much less crowded than typical tourist hubs, the Royal Wine Road aims to capitalize on the incredible rural beauty and ancient history of northern Piemonte. Why “Royal?” If the castles aren’t a clue, its winemaking history can be traced back to a time of Medieval lords and ladies, knights and royal families, and the ever-present Savoy family.
In itself, the Canavese wine zone is spectacularly beautiful and geographically varied from the plains to the Alpine foothills, as well as historically important. Its wineries rise to some of the highest elevations in all of Europe, requiring special care of the grapes to mitigate the contrast between high sun exposure during the day and the drop to cold temperatures during the night.
Caluso in the flatlands has 16th century canals and ancient fortress ruins from the 13th century that overlook its medieval streets. Agliè is renowned for its exquisitely restored 12th century Ducal Castle and its 7 km expanse of well-tended gardens. Charming Carema with barely 750 inhabitants astounds travelers with traditional vineyards that are cultivated far up the mountainside, and slate-roofed houses below. Its wine makers have adapted to the tough microclimate by using concrete pylons to support their grapevines. The concrete absorbs the warmth of the sunlight and, during the cold nighttime, gradually releases the heat to the plants. Discover more about these ideal stops for exploring the Canavese: Caluso Focus and Carema Focus
The Canavese has been a crossroads and important area of trade due to its physical location, forming a natural passageway between the Aosta Valley and the rest of Piemonte. The center of trade and political activity for centuries has been Ivrea, which sits on the Dora Baltea River and once controlled the only bridge – with a toll – to the rest of Piemonte. Find out more about the ancient city of Ivrea: Ivrea Focus
The Erbaluce grape is the crowning glory of this territory, a white grape whose name is said to derive from “alba” and “luce,” or the “light of the sunrise.” Alternatively, some say it is named after the legend of a beautiful nymph named Albaluce, who shed tears from which sprung a new grapevine – the Erbaluce. The spring green grapes hang tightly together in their bunches, and the tough skins blush rosy pink as they mature. It is made into both wines and preserves because the grape itself is delicious.
Erbaluce is made into several DOCG and DOC wines, spumante, and passiti in the Canavese area, but it is not the only one to hold the proud title of certification. Nebbiolo and Barbera make several certified wines, too, for example. In all, the Canavese wine zone boasts 14 DOCG and DOC wines from 3 certified areas: Caluso, Carema, and Canavese. In fact, the biodiversity of this area was once much greater. In the Aosta Valley alone, the viticultural landscapes have been reduced from 3000 ha in the early 1800s to 600 ha by the early 2000s. Many traditional grape varieties were lost, but not all. Today, two obscure varieties are still cultivated, albeit used mostly for blends: Neretto and Ner d’Ala.
This grape is grown mostly in Bairo, San Giorgio, and Valperga. It was first mentioned in the early 1800s, and is likely a cross between Nebbiolo and a now-extinct grape variety of this area. Although it once placed a huge part in the local winemaking, today Neretto is rarely made as a varietal, but often used in blends with Barbera, Bonarda Piemontese; and with Nebbiolo in Canavese Rosso DOC and Pinerolese DOC. It is rich in color, dry, well-bodied, and when vinified alone is low in alcohol.
The Ner d’Ala grape is also sometimes called Nerdela, Vernassa, and Gros Vien. It is mostly found in upper Canavese hills, and is well adapted to the area because its hardy nature helps it overcome the tough conditions and cold spells; more fertile soils tend to mildew the closely packed grape bunches. It is usually used in a blend, most often with Nebbiolo in Carema. It confers a bright color and intense aroma to blends, and by itself has an intense, vinous aroma, and is lightly spiced, dry, and pleasant in the mouth, with good structure.
DOC & DOCG WINES OF THE CANAVESE
Erbaluce di Caluso / Caluso DOCG
Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante / Caluso Spumante DOCG
Erbaluce di Caluso Passito / Caluso Passito DOCG
Erbaluce di Caluso Passito Riserva / Caluso Passito Riserva DOCG
Carema Riserva DOC
Canavese Rosso DOC
Canavese Rosso Novello DOC
Canavese Rosato DOC
Canavese Rosato Spumante DOC
Canavese Bianco DOC
Canavese Bianco Spumante DOC
Canavese Nebbiolo DOC
Canavese Barbera DOC
Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato e Agricoltura di Torino. Torino DOC: Oenological Selection of the Torino Chamber of Commerce.
G. Moriondo: Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari, e Forestali. Ner D'ala.
Ministero delle Politichè Agricole, Alimentari, e Forestali. Registro Nazionale delle Varietà di Vite. Neretto di Bairo.
Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, José Vòuillamoz. A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours (Google eBook). Penguin UK, Sep 26, 2013.