The first time we visited Liguria was on a drive along the French Riviera from Provence. This particular route is one of life’s travel pleasures. One the one hand, there are the stunning beaches, white and sometimes rocky skirts for the glittering Mediterranean sea. On the other hand are the cliffs and towering outcroppings, often laced with pastel colored buildings.
Liguria and Her Wines
Liguria lies along the Mediterranean coast of Italy from the French border near Monaco on the northwest to Tuscany on the south. In terms of wine neighborhoods, it is adjacent to a few world-class friends: Piedmont is to the north. Provence is due west as are the majestic Alps. Emilia-Romagna resides eastward. Liguria itself has eight DOCs and two IGTs.
Liguria DOC wine appellations include: Cinque Terre and Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà, Colli di Luni, Colline di Levanto, Golfo del Tigullio-Portofino or Portofino, Pornassio or Ormeasco di Pornassio, Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Rossese di Dolceacqua or Dolceacqua and Val Polcevera.
Liguria IGT wine appellations include: Colline del Genovesato, Colline Savonesi, Golfo dei Poeti La Spezia or Golfo dei Poeti and Terrazze dell’Imperiese.
One of the most unique and impressive aspects of growing grapes in this area is that the cliffs and outcrops that make the area so naturally beautiful are also the same landscape that must support the vineyards. Imagine hustling a mechanical harvester to those staggering paths! Growers in the area have had to adapt, wedging the vines into available space and in turn, cultivating and harvesting in some relatively tricky positions. In Liguria, even home gardens are grown in the nooks and crannies of backyards populated by beasts of stone.
The Vineyards of Cinque Terre
My trip to the area was to visit the five villages of the Cinque Terre from a home-base in the town Santa Margherita. Cinque Terre is Italian for Five Lands, which describes the bracelet of UNESCO-elected communes and the associate national park balanced along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. Their images are stunning, with a pastel stack of buildings, each a frame for their own set of harbors and coast. Each village is unique and can be reached by train or by boat. There aren’t cars here except for the rare delivery on market day (I did, however, spot an ambulance perched on one of the upper paths) and wayfaring takes place on foot, from the top of each town down to the beach or harbor.
The predominant native grape in this region is Bosco, expect this to blend with Vermentino (Rolle) or Albarola to result in structured, aromatic wines that can lean toward crisp minerality as in Cinque Terre DOC or as a sweet passito wine as in Sciacchetrà DOC. Grapes for passito wine are dried on racks and then fermented in steel, and in the case of Sciacchetrà, result in a honeyed orange wine that is part and parcel of the history in Riomaggiore and Manarola, the two southern-most towns of the Cinque Terre.
A Truly Special Place
The truth is, what makes this area special is the familial fragmentation of the vineyards. It’s rare to find a big-time vintner here, in a land where there are only about 80 hectares of planted vines, split among a single consortium and less than 30 producers. But it doesn’t hurt to pay a visit and sample, as that may be the best way to fully grasp what the environment and history hold. Many visitors opt to hike the interwoven trails of the national park, but admission is limited in order to prevent deterioration of landscape.
In fact, when I visited in 2015 there was no restriction on hiker numbers, however, we weren’t allowed on the trails because of falling rocks…erosion of the very place we’d come to see was happening quite literally under our feet. This is always a reminder to me that for those of us that thrive on natural and historical immersion, we must be aware that it won’t last forever. While sobering, this is the reality and something that we can’t ignore.
Wines to Try
Cinque Terre Bianco DOC – A full-bodied and aromatic white wine made of a blend of Bosco, decorated with Albarola and Vermentino. From the local consortium.
Cinque Terre Compogrande – A small-production red wine, fresh and berried, from Elio Altare, a Barolo winemaker, and Antonio Bonanni, who grew up near Cinque Terre.
Italian Food, Wine and Travel
This post is published in partnership with Italian Food Wine and Travel (#ItalianFWT), a group celebrating Italian Coastal Red and White Wines.
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