Under the Radar in Italy: Ligurian Wine
Under the Radar Italy: Liguria
When you think of Italian wine, you think of Tuscany, or Piedmont, or recently Mt. Etna in Sicily. Liguria, where’s Liguria? Occupying the coast in the northwest corner of the nation, Liguria is isolated from the rest of Italy, as it’s protected by a range of coastal mountains and looks down on the Ligurian sea over precipitous drops of several hundred meters.
This is the Italian Riviera, glitzy Portofino and the well known Cinque Terre are here, as well as major port cities Genoa and La Spezia. Due to high tourism and the difficulty of the terrain, grape growing has declined in the region, most unfortunately! As wine enthusiasts, we need to do everything we can to help, so find some Ligurian wines and drink up! (click on any photo for slideshow, escape to return)
The dramatic drop from the mountains to the Ligurian sea means the scant amount of vineyard land must be terraced and worked by hand. Also due to the sea influence, vines are trained in the pergola method to allow for better airflow in the humid seaside exposure. Adding to the expense, every vineyard requires a small cog-railway setup to allow transit up and down the steep vineyard slopes. Your vineyard workers better be comfortable with heights!
The top wines in the region are the white wines, often based on the Vermentino grape. The Cinque Terre DOC white blend contains Vermentino, Albarola and Bosco grapes and is deliciously fresh and perfect with the many seafood based dishes that are served. Red wines are less abundant, and are based on either the Rossese di Dolceacqua grape or Sangiovese. Finally, a unique dessert wine called Cinque Terre Sciacchetra is produced from the white wine grapes of the Cinque Terre blend, but dried on mats in the passito method used elsewhere in Italy.
Interesting side note: Elio Altare of Barolo fame is personally invested in a Cinque Terre vineyard/winery Campogrande, I haven’t had the opportunity to try the wines, but they are available in the US, so I need to source some and place my order!
Genoa is the original home of pesto, and it is produced with great sincerity and purity in Liguria. If you ask, you’ll be told how the basil which grows here is unique (and it is, the particular variety of basil that grows here has tiny, tiny leaves). As in all Italian cooking, strict attention is paid to the highest quality ingredients, so don’t skimp when you make yours. Typical Ligurian dishes include:
- Trofie al pesto (Genoa is the home of pesto, so it figures into dishes all around the region)
- Acciughe al Limone – anchovies with lemon and olive oil
- Seafood, especially squid, octopus (polpo), clams
Ligurian Wines in the US
Sounds great, but can you find Ligurian wines in the US? Yes! Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants imports several wines from Punta Crena. Neil Rosenthal imports Bisson Cinque Terre white wine. They may require a bit more research, but they are available and are worth your time and energy hunting them down. And if you find a US source for Sciacchetrà, let me know!
Guest Post for Bin Notes | Red Thread
This is a guest post for First Friday series on lesser known wine regions. I’d encourage you to go over to Lyn Archer’s excellent binNotes | red thread for more under-the-radar areas!