Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Wines Of Liguria

A Little History

Long, long ago it was the Greeks and Etruscans brought grapes to this narrowest and, well some may say, the most attractive part of the Italian coast, tucked between the peaks of the Apennines and the shores of the Riviera. The white marble cliffs of this stretch of coastline stretch from the French border. Grapes have been grown here for thousands of years - the existence of the Dolcetto grape variety can be traced back to the 14th century, where it was known as Ormeasco to the ancient Ligurian's. Wine making however, plays a rather secondary roll in this land of seafarers, second to Ligurias tourism and heavy industrial based economy.
In general wine making terms the boom Italian wine saw at the end of the 1960's never really impacted on Liguria, whose wine industry has only seen little more than a regional interest. Ancient native grape varieties have continually disappeared because they are no longer being cultivated by modern day Ligurian wine makers. Less than 5% of Liguria's wine production has quality status, most of Liguria's wines are sold directly to locals and tourists. It is unfair to say that modern wine makers no longer care, yet it is nonetheless regrettable that this fascinating part of the Italian wine scene continues to waste away at the hands of progressive urbanisation.
There are a few redeeming features here though, wines from the growing areas of Riviera Ligure di Ponente and Rossese di Dolceacqua in western Liguria, Cinque Terre in the North and Colli di Luni on the Tuscany border are all still producing good quality wines.
Grapes Unknown
Theoretically the conditions in Liguria should prevent any delicious or interesting wine to be made ..  but no, the problem is many of them just are not known. One of the best is Rossese di Dolceacqua which is grown in the area around ventimiglia. The Rossese variety originally comes from France, and produces medium strength red wines, although some growers still make wines from it, but many of these are far too pale and thin. From Rossese's immediate neighbour comes Ormeasca, another variety which seems to fail to reach its true potential for producing good full-bodied, intense, fruity wines but in the region around Pieve di Tesco, Ormeasco can produce lovely round, balanced, mellow wines.
The most interesting of Liguria's white wines are made from the variety Pigato. These wines can be really strong but they are often made this way to match the tangy fish dishes which are served in coastal Liguria. Occasionally, Pigato wines are aged in wood which adds more strength and fullness. The wines made from the Vermentino grape are finer and fruitier and are mostly sold under DOC labels Riviera Ligure di Ponente and Colli di Luni. But the stars of the region are the wines of the Cinque Terre, especially the sweet wine Sciacchetra.
The five villages of the Cinque Terre are by far the best known wine growing area in Liguria. The area surprisingly is no bigger than a modest sized Bordeaux Appellation, but it is still one of the worlds most dramatic vineyard areas. The grapes are grown on narrow, threatening terraces over the slopes which fall quite quickly into the sea. Many of these vineyards can only be harvested by hand and cultivating grapes here is arduous to say the least. It is tourism which keeps the Ligurian wine industry going as very view Ligurian wines can deliver the quality and quantity of wines that is needed in today's international wine market.
Sciacchetra was once probably the most famous of all Ligurian wines but now it is almost forgotten. Lets hope that this ancient monument among Italian wines can be saved, before it dies out completely.
Vermentino di Riviera Ligure
di Ponente
Like the Vermentino wines of southeastern Liguria those of the western Riviera Ligure from the slopes of the Apennines between Genoa and Ventimiglia are usually pleasantly fruity. The wines of Riviera dei Fiori, Albenga and Finale are particularly good.
Colli di Luni
The white and red wines with this label originate from the border area between Liguria and Tuscany. The whites are dominated by the fruity Vermentino grape and the red are made from Sangiovese, a variety stolen from their Tuscan neighbours.

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