Restaurant & Wine Review: La Filiale in Erbusco

by Ian D’Agata

La Filiale

Via Vittorio Emanuele, 23

25030 Erbusco


Tel. +39 030 776 2665

The dishes

Sensazione di costiera (“Sensations of the coast”: pizza with undried garlic, chili pepper, parsley, fresh buffalo heart tomato, anchovies from Cetara, lemon zest)

Margherita sbagliata (“Erroneous Margherita”: pizza with mozzarella “Il Casolare”, raw fresh tomato, basil, extra virgin olive oil from Caiazzo)

The wines

Bellavista NV Franciacorta Brut Rosé                   88

Dom Ruinart NV Champagne Rosé                        89

Opened in 2017 in the prestigious setting of the L’Albereta Relais & Châteaux hotel, La Filiale is a pizza joint that clearly aims to punch well above the waist, or of its weight class. It is the brainchild of Franco Pepe, who successfully transported his world-famous pies from his Pepe in Grani pizzeria in Caiazzo (in Campania) to a second spot in the more northern lands of Erbusco, in the heart of Franciacorta. Winner of multiple awards and generally considered to be one of the best pizza-makers in the world, Pepe, after a previous less than thrilling experience in Italy’s north with the Princi firm that did not go as well as expected, has found a niche in Erbusco where his pizzeria divided on two floors plays to packed crowds. And the pizzas are certainly worth trying. Neapolitan in style, with a thick but elastic outer crust and a very easy to digest alveoli-filled base, the pizzas (even the fried ones) are light and airy and very flavourful.


Such was the case with my Margherita sbagliata, that is only “erroneous” in the sense that it is cooked as a white pizza at first, with only the buffalo mozzarella, to then have the liquid tomato sauce made with the high-quality pomodoro riccio casertano (in English, that would be the riccio variety of tomato from the city of Caserta) dropped over it with a basil reduction. The riccio casertano tomato is characterized by having pronounced indentations, such that it looks like it is made of segments or columns (hence the “riccio” appellatif); it is especially well suited to the alto casertano area of Campania, a dry habitat where this highly drought-resistant tomato has found a suitable home. Like many other high-quality tomatoes that many talk about but rarely ever get to really taste (unless you’re the happily admirable sort who swallows hook line and sinker everything they tell him or her) it is hard to grow and most producers outside of the immediate area don’t want to bother with it too much. For example, it is best harvested early in the mornings because otherwise its thin skin is easily damaged by humidity and moisture. But it does offer a wallop of sweetness and flavour that makes it a very qualitative tomato indeed. The mozzarella on this specific pizza was also good and tasty. The only drawback to Pepe’s pizza and many other Neapolitan pizzas is that the thin soft central part of the pie invariably goes very quickly mushy and is in heavy contrast with the chewy/crispy outer border of the pizza, where there is also no flavouring. For this reason, these types of pizza are best eaten by folding them such that you do not eat them from the point of the triangular slice outwards and leaving the outer crust for last (as most people tend to do). Better to fold the whole slice up and eat the chunk of pizza in all its layered glory all together at once. In this manner (which is, by the way, the correct way to eat this type of pizza) the sogginess of the central portion, one of the things that makes Neapolitan-styled pizza frankly hard to like, becomes acceptable.

Though the Margherita sbagliata is famous, truth is there are many similar tomato and mozzarella pizzas in Campania that are just as good (think of any made by the major pizza masters in the region such as Sorbillo and you won’t be disappointed). On the other hand, eating a fried pizza as good as the Sensazioni di costiera is truly hard. Light as a breeze, perfectly fried and with very flavourful, high-quality ingredients, its is a marvel of balance and intensity (the lemon peel is an especially nice touch). I stopped at two pizzas only, but the choice of pizzas on the menu of La Filiale is very large, and most are extremely enticing in their description. For example, the La Scarpetta, made with mozzarella di bufala, 12 years old Grana Padano cream, tomato compote, basil powder, 24 months old Grana Padano chips, and extra-virgin olive oil from Caiazzo, or the just as interesting Sfizio al Pomodoro (yellow cherry tomatoes “lucarielli”, sun-dried San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and grana Padano). Food aside, the pizzeria is bright and airy, and the harried service relatively friendly. On my night there, Franco Pepe himself was in house and he was seen talking to some people at a few tables during the course of the evening. He did not however, at least during my time there that evening, visit every table; being reasonable, I think that the man had to worry about also spending time in his kitchen, and probably couldn’t always be out amidst the crowd, but I don’t know that some pie slinger should be given a pass for that. What I do know is that I grew up seeing giants such as Fulvio Pierangelini and Marc Meneau patiently walking from table to table each night even just to say hello.

That was not only the sad thing about this meal. Frankly, both wines I had were barely acceptable, considering their pedigree, and did not enhance my sing experience, and that of my companion, one iota. The Bellavista NV Franciacorta Brut Rosé boasts a nice pink colour and is clean and bright, but is otherwise very simple, showing little depth, facets or length. And while there is undoubtedly more depth and complexity to the darker pink Dom Ruinart NV Champagne Rosé, its fruit-forward entry leaves way to rising, drying, mouthcoating tannins and an evident touch of green typical of less than ideally ripe Pinot Noir, which I dare say is not all that uncommon an event in the colder land of Champagne. No matter: I have had better wines from both wineries, so I look forward to having better luck next time.

Should you be in the area, do make sure you try to get a seat at La Filiale. The pizza will be far better than any other you might try in the area, and there are enough decent wines on the list to give you an at least reasonable shot at not going thirsty. I had no such luck, but it’s no biggee; after all, it’s the pizza you come here for, and in ultimate analysis, it made the evening good enough for me to one day go back. It ought to be the same for you.

Ian D'Agata

Editor-in-Chief of Terroir Sense Wine Review
President of Terroir Sense Academy
Vice President of Association Internationale des Terroirs
Chief Scientific Officer of TasteSpirit

Ian D’Agata has been writing and educating about wines for over thirty years. Internationally recognized as an distinguished expert, critic and writer on many wine regions, his two most recent, award winning books Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs (both published by University of California Press) are widely viewed as the "state of the art" textbooks on the subject. The former book won the Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015 and was ranked as the top wine books of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times and the New York Times, while the latter was named among the best wine books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine and the NY Times.

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Ian D'Agata