Food and Wine in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre – Tourists Yes! Wine?
Talk to your traveling friends and almost everyone has either visited or at least heard of Cinque Terre. 5 beautiful towns perched on cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea in Northern Italy, not far from Genoa. Wine destination? Hardly. If your spouse or traveling companions want to visit, say YES! If you like “under the radar” wine areas, Cinque Terre will suit you just fine.
The Rugged Ligurian Coast
The area deserves its reputation. Beautiful towns, not overwhelmed by tourism, even in the face of 3.5 million visitors a year. No major hotels, just cliffside hiking trails, trains and ferry boats. Most hikers are looking for the expansive views of the towns and the sea. What do you see if you look closely around you? Olive trees and grapevines.
The Food and Wines of Cinque Terre
In contrast to much of Italy, the primary table wines here are white wines made from the “Cinque Terre Blend”: Vermentino, Albarola, and Bosco. You have probably heard of Vermentino, as it is grown in a number of coastal areas of Italy and elsewhere. Albarola? Bosco? Only here. The normal Cinque Terre White is very refreshing, giving an impression of lemons with medium body and bright lively acidity.
Being a seaside area, rosé also works. Red wines just don’t seem to be so important. You can find red wine if you must, but it isn’t the daily drink.
The cuisine here revolves around the sea: anchovies prepared many ways, squid, fish. Pesto is the king of sauces, as a beautiful type of basil with tiny fresh leaves grows like weeds. These are all natural pairings for fresh white wines. (click on any photo to start the slide show)
Schiaccetrà is a special dessert wine unique to the Cinque Terre. It’s made in the passito style. Winegrowers start with the same three grapes as in their white table wines: Vermentino, Albarola, and Bosco. They let the grapes destined for Schiaccetrà hang on the vine for a very long time. After they harvest the grapes, the bunches are dried on straw mats for another two months. The wine is intensely flavored and quite sweet. The aroma and taste reminded me of orange wines, wines made with traditional white wine grapes, but left in contact with the grape skins for a period of time. In fact, the (dry) orange wine we had at dinner earlier in the week had some of the same aroma and flavor elements, but the sweetness of the Schiaccetrà also brought some caramel notes as well. Bitter and sweet, nice!
Our Schiaccetrà education came from Wolfgang, the shop owner of Vineria Santa Marta in Vernazza. The shop is on the Via Roma main street, not far from the train station. If you go, tell Wolfgang “Ciao!” (click on any photo to start slides)
Where to Hike, Eat, and Stay
Hikers will love the trail network connecting the towns. Vines cover many of the steep hillsides and special monorails are set up to allow access to the vineyards.
Il Porticciollo – in Manarola
Make sure you hike from Corniglia to Manarola and not the other way around. The steps out of Manarola go on forever, better to be going down than up! Your reward for your hike will be lunch at Il Porticciollo
Cantina di Miky – in Monterosso al Mare
After a tough day at the beach, you’ll want some food and drink. Cantina di Miky produced my favorite dish of our time in Cinque Terre – a wonderfully fresh squid salad.
Amazing but true: 3.5 Million tourists a year, and Cinque Terre does not have a major hotel chain – on purpose! Lodging is almost exclusively in B&B accommodations. Friends recommended Affittacamere da Cristiana and what good advice it was. Cristiana speaks English and is very responsive via email. She is very friendly and offers lots of good advice.
We stayed in Apartment 1, highly recommended!