The grapes harvesting season in the Italian Riviera has just closed, then what better time to talk a little about the most famous wines produced in our region?
First of all you have to know that although Liguria – with its mostly mountainous territory – is not a region of great agricultural vocation (it is, in fact, one of the Italian regions producing less wine), grapevines in these lands have been cultivated for ages.
The goodness of Italian Riviera wine had been praised since Roman times (Pliny the Elder for examples used to define the Ligurians as excellent wine makers). But it was mainly from beginning of the Middle Ages that Liguria wine production got a boost, so much that wine became one of the major sources of income of the region. At that time the wines of the Cinque Terre were already very well-known (in the 6th century they were served at the table of Pope Paul III) as well as Moscatello of Taggia, whose market even extended to London.
Furthermore, Italian Riviera enjoys a very rich variety of indigenous grapevines. This because in the past centuries it was sailors who used to cultivate vines in the periods when they were not embarked working the small lands in the terraces behind their villages. And they used to transplant vines varieties harvested in the most unlikely places of the Mediterranean.
So now let’s see together what are the GRAPEVINE VARIETIES OF LIGURIA, their characteristics and the best combinations with food.
Italian Riviera white grapes:
- Vermentino: it is a vine cultivated in all Ligurian wine areas. It produces a straw-yellow wine with golden reflections; intense, persistent, fruity scent with hints of grass and field flowers; dry taste but of good softness, flavor and good texture. It accompanies very well seafood cold or hot starters, first courses with pine nuts or walnuts, fish dishes or biscuits.
- Pigato: it is a grape vine variety predominant in the province of Imperia and Albenga (Liguria west coast). It produces a straw-yellow wine with a wide, intense, persistent, fine and fruity scent; dry taste but pleasantly soft, warm and sapid, good and composed structure with a typically bitter background.It accompanies starters with mushrooms, first courses seasoned with walnut sauce and fish flavored with aromatic herbs.
- Bianchetta: it is an autochthonous grapevine cultivated in the Genoa backcountry and in the Gulf of Tigullio. It characterizes the white wines of Val Polcevera which are DOC wines of Liguria (see the description and combinations just below in the list of DOC Liguria wines )
- Lumassina: also called “Mataossu” it is a grape variety cultivated in the hinterland of Noli, Varigotti and Finale (west coast, province of Savona). It produces a straw yellow wine with greenish reflections; delicate, persistent scent, with hints of wild herbs and woody moods; dry taste, very fresh, light but composite, discreetly persistent. It goes very well with fried dishes, appetizers based on greasy sauces and fatty fish. A curiosity: in Ligurian dialect “lumassina” also means small snail.
Italian Riviera red grapevines:
- Rossese: it’s a vine cultivated in many locations in the province of Imperia. It produces wines of a ruby red color with a delicate, characteristic, vinous smell; delicate, soft and bitter dry flavor. The one produced in Val Nervia gets the DOC certification of “Rossese di Dolceaqua“.
- Ormerasco: it is a vine cultivated in the same area of Rossese. The wine produced in the Valle Argentina (inland of Imperia and Albenga, west Italian Riviera) gets the DOC certification of “Ormerasco di Pornassio“.
- Granaccia: this grape variety is mainly cultivated in the hinterland of Savona and in particular in the municipality of Quiliano. It produces a dry red wine with intense red color. Of fragrant vinous smell when young, it gets a larger and more persistent smell with hints of small berries and resins getting older; the taste is dry, warm, soft and velvety, with extraordinary balance and personality when it is at the apex. It gives the best of itself in the period ranging from 3 to 5 years from harvesting. Suitable for accompanying courses such as game, truffles, pharaohs, mushrooms and slightly seasoned cheeses.
DOC ITALIAN RIVIERA WINES
Now, let’s talk about the DOC wines produced in Liguria. The DOC certification, which stands for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” and means Controlled Designation of Origine, is awarded to Italian wines produced in a specific, well-defined region, according to defined wine making rules that are designed to preserve local traditions. In the small Liguria there are few DOC wines (compared to the rest of Italian regions) but of great value, indeed! Taking a brief review from the West Coast to the East Coast we can find the following DOC wines:
- Rossese di Dolceacqua: this wine is produced almost exclusively with grapes of the homonymous grapes variety. It is a ruby red wine with purple shades when young, and grenade tone reflexes if aged (3-4 years); The scent is vinous and fruity when young but aging it becomes more intense, persistent with strawberry and herby hints; the taste is dry and harsh when young, while it is soft, sapid, of good bodied, persistent and with a typical bitter background if properly refined. To drink from 1 to 3 years after harvesting, except for fine vintages. It perfectly accompanies first courses with meat or game sauces, meat with mushrooms, game, kid and lamb, or lightly matured cheese.
- Ormerasco di Pornassio: this wine is entirely produced with the same red grapes variety. Distinctly ruby red in colour; fragrant aroma but vinous when which becomes refined, complex and persistent with hints of ripe cherry, blackcurrant and violet; flavour dry and harsh if young, it gets sapid and soft and balanced aging. To drink from 1 to 4 years from harvesting, except for good years. It goes very well, if young, with filled pasta seasoned with meat sauces; if aged it matches rabbit, game and matured cheeses.
- Riviera Ligure di Ponente: you can find it in the variants Pigato, Vermentino and Rossese. According to the production areas the following sub-designation can be added: Riviera dei Fiori, Albenganese and Finalese.
- Val Polcevera: this designation encloses white, red and rosé wines, white wine called “bianchetta Genovese” and Vermentino all produced in the inland of the city of Genoa along the shores of the Polcevera stream. Among them, the most famous is the “white wine of Coronata”, produced in the hinterland of Genoa on the hills of Coronata and Merengo and for centuries the wine of excellence of the Genoa district. It is a straw yellow wine with gentle golden reflections. With intense scent, with hints of grass and field flowers and light but balanced taste. It should be served cold and is drinkable no later than one year after harvesting. It matches well with seafood starters, frittatas with vegetables, fried cod, Genoese minestrone, vegetable pies and focaccia. A curiosity: this wine was higly appreciated by Stendhal during his Genoese stay and is reported in his book “Journey to Italy”.
- Golfo del Tigullio: this name is reserved to wines (white, rosé and red) produced on the hills surrounding Genoa and Chiavari. Among these wines stands Bianchetta Genovese, a wine of a straw-yellow colour with slight greenish reflections; wide, intense and persistent scent; dry taste but soft, sapid, with a pleasant bitter background. It should be served cold and is drinkable within one year form harvesting. It goes well with vegetable soups, risottos with seasonal vegetables or seafood, stewed or roasted fish.
- Colline di Levanto: these are white or red wines produced in the province of La Spezia (including the municipalities of Levanto, Bonassola, Framura and Deiva Marina). For white wines, the native grape varieties Bosco and Albarola (of very ancient origin) to which Vermentino is usually added. For the red wines, the grapes are ì Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo.
- Cinque Terre: this is a white wine produced mainly with the grapes of Bosco, Albarola and / or Vermentino in the municipalities of Monterosso, Vernazza, Riomaggiore and La Spezia. It has a pale yellow color more or less intense; delicate but persistent scent, with hints of field herbs; dry, discreetly soft, sapid, continuous. To drink preferably within a year of harvesting and to serve cold. It accompanies well seafood and seafood appetizers, fish risotto and baked fish.
- Cinque Terre Sciachetrà: It is a sweet and liqueur wine produced with the same dry grapes and cultivated in the same area of Cinque Terre white wine but the production is different. Indeed, after harvesting, the bunches are placed on grids and left to dry until November and then crushed. In addition to having a long history, being known throughout the world and being one of the rarest Italian wines, Sciachetrà has also been recognized as Slow Food Presida of Liguria. The colour varies from a golden yellow when young (2-3 years) to an amber with reddish reflections colour after a long aging (20 years); wide and fruity (apricot and peach) smell that varies with intensity and nuances with refinement; the taste is sweet but not cuddly with mild saltiness if young, it becomes delicately sweet, warm and slightly tannic if long refined. To drink from 2 to 10 years and over, according to the vintage. If very refined it is a great meditation wine. It matches perfectly with cheeses and traditional sweet pandolce and panforte.
- Colli di Luni: it’s an interregional denomination that includes wines (white and red) produced in the provinces of La Spezia and Massa Carrara (which is along Tuscany coast).
It is said that Ligurian wines bring in the flavor of the sea. Considering that Ligurian vineyards – obtained by digging terraces in the mountains and reinforcing them with dry walls – very often overlook the sea and receive its lukewarm breeze filled with salt crystals, this could be true. And you, do you feel the sea when you sip a glass of Italian Riviera wine?
If you want to discover more about Italian Riviera wines don’t miss Mare & Mosto the yearly exhibition which takes place in Sestri Levante on May and which is entirely dedicated to Italian Riviera wine production!
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