- Written by Diana Zahuranec
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What draws visitors to Caluso, a small town of 8,000 inhabitants, is its unique, fresh, white wine that comes from the native Erbaluce grape (or, by other accounts, a hybrid of a Ligurian variety and southern Greco grape).
“Elbalus is a white grape like the albaluce, the light of a sunrise, because as it gets lighter it is ever more resplendant. Its grapes are rounded, dense, and plentiful and it has a tough skin. As it matures it turns rosy and colored, and can be kept on the vine for quite a while. It's good to eat and for this is delicious conserved. It makes a wonderful wine and is easy to consume.”
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This grape’s history is old and noble, the first written account of the variety from 1606. Its golden passito was already lauded in 1530 by Pope Paul III Farnese, according to his wine merchant Sante Lancerio, as “perfect.” Erbaluce also lends itself very well to an elegant spumante.
Entering the town from the east, walk up Via Vittorio Veneto, and after a garden-sized plot of vines is the bakery Panetteria Simeone S. & Montorio C. Any time of the day is the right time for an Italian caffé; step inside for a cappuccino with cocoa dusted on top, a sourdough croissant, or biscotti made from 90% Piedmontese flour.
Continue, turning up Via Garibaldi on the right, eventually coming to Piazza Valperga with its 18th century church of St. Marta and the clock tower of the parish church, erected in 1660. Taking the narrow street between the two, emerge to see the hill topped with the 13th century ruins of Castellazzo. Stone steps to its right lead directly up to a gate, which, despite being closed in the off-season, has not deterred others from seeing it, as the large hole in the fence attests.
Back in cobblestoned Piazza Valperga, the entrance to the Regional Enoteca is opposite the church, together with the Public Offices; both are housed inside the 13th century Palazzo Valperga di Masino and surrounded by Park Spurgazzi. The Enoteca, under the ground floor, fittingly recalls the ambiance of a winery’s well-furnished cellar with low, vaulted ceilings, brick arches, and an upraised platform between rows of wine. A space with long wooden tables may be reserved for tastings.
Exiting the piazza and heading downhill is the bustling Piazza Ubertini. In this area, find bars, bakeries, butchers, and small stores for shopping along the roads that fan out from here. Strolling through the streets, you’ll notice ancient brick archways that bridge one building to the next, and glimpse openings where the 16th century canal flows through the city, its waters from the nearby Orco river.
From the piazza, head down Corso Torino. Pass Ristorante Gelateria del’Antico Peso on the left, and stop to taste its artisanal gelato al Passito di Caluso. Next is the Michelin–starred Ristorante Gardenia, offering local flavors and “territorial” menus such as the Piedmontese Fassone steak tartare with watercress; or the three roasted meat-filled plin pasta made with 25 egg yolks. You’ll notice the sign for Roberto Crosio Winery outside the gate, as well; here is its point of sale, but his winery – open for tastings and purchases – is located just five minutes outside of town. Further down the road is the more casual restaurant–pizzeria Grillo (2008 Michelin starred).
Having satisfied your hunger, now satiate your thirst. Caluso holds numerous locales for wine-tasting. For a singular rustic-elegant setting, stop by the Enoteca di Corrado Nicoli. Corrado will obligingly open any bottle you wish to taste. Its wooden and brick shelves contain wines from all over Italy. It’ll be hard to choose! Good thing you can taste by the glass as well as purchase entire bottles. On Fridays and Saturdays, the wine bar is open until 10 pm or later.
The Cooperative of Caluso Producers is behind the large parking area of Piazza Mazzini in a pale green and yellow winery. Step inside to buy bottles and 5 liter demijohns of the wines produced here from the region’s producers. Caluso has many producers with small plots of land; about 160 members make up the cooperative, producing roughly 200,000 bottles of wine a year.
While many producers take part in the Cooperative, others stand alone. In Cantina Briamara, brothers Claudio and Massimiliano produce very fine wines, including Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Caluso Spumante DOC, and Caluso Passito DOC. The lovely courtyard inside may be outfitted for a wine tasting paired with Piedmontese food during the warmer months.
Heading back in the direction of the train station, take a quick detour down Via Trieste to stop by the privately-owned Bottega del Vino. This small shop holds numerous bottles from local producers and other parts of Italy and the world. Chat it up with its owner of 23 years, Laura Scapino, who will tell you that Caluso’s unique organization of many small vineyard owners may also be its downfall, as the younger generation is not attracted to the work. Caluso and her clear, elegant wines are waiting for an upsurge in interest of new producers in this corner of the pre–Alpine wine territories.