By Frank Cipparone
The coastline that stretches from Tuscany to the French border, with Genoa at its center, has some of Italy’s most stunning scenery. Southeast of the city is the Riviera di Levante, home to the Cinque Terre, Portofino and Rapallo. To the west, travelers and locals flock to the sandy beaches of the Riviera Ponente.
Liguria is a land of contrasts, from touristy resorts to remote villages in the wild, mountainous interior. With all the region has to offer, its wine production ranks near the bottom. Like Calabria, rugged terrain means limited output.
Rather than stress what Liguria’s lacks, or an overview of its wines, I’d like to share my thoughts on those I’ve tasted. They tell a story of winemakers committed to using virtually unknown grapes that only grow in this region.
Two-thirds of Liguria’s wines are white, mostly from Vermentino and Pigato, long thought to be the same grape. They do have similarities — crisp, lively acidity and the refreshing salinity often found in coastal wines.
Of the Pigatos, three stand out:
• Bisson Colline del Genovesato IGT has aromas of sage, apricot, lemons and herbs that lead to an unusually warm, rich core of flavor for a Pigato. Best of all, the scents and tastes stay focused from start to finish with no letup.
• Terre Bianche Riviera di Ponente DOC is the gold standard, from its brilliant color to a clean, savory and long finish. If peaches drizzled with honey and sprinkled with sea salt sounds good, this is the one for you. Delivers lots of zesty tropical fruit.
• Claudio Vio Rivirea di Ponente DOC is like its homeland, a wine of contrasts. Really dry yet highly acidic. Swirl and sniff and its light and airy; as you sip it has some weight and a steady flow of lemons and green herbs. Offbeat and challenging.
Two Vermentinos of note:
• Colli dei Bardolini “U Munte” Riviera Ponente DOC is all peaches and tropical melons but not as acidic or saline as Pigato. Atypically dense and smooth for a white, with mildly mouthcoating chalkiness, it stays bright and fruity to the end.
• Prima Terre “Carlaz” Cinque Terre Vino di Tavola may be the strangest Italian wine I’ve had, starting with the orange color and apple cider texture leading to aromas of briny seawater, herbs and a bizarre whiff of tabasco. Everything about it says Ligurian white, but its firm body and fullness are more like a red.
Another white worth mentioning is Bison “U Pastine” Golfo di Tigullio DOC made from Bianchetta Genovese. Simply put, Liguria in a bottle, a wine that tastes like where it’s from — rich, ripe melons and tropical fruit; bracing salinity; dashes of fennel and pine. Delicious and authentic, a veritable day at the beach.
The primary red grape is Rossese, grown in the western hills of the Dolceaqua DOC. Fresh and mild dry, it breaks the rule of only drinking a white with fish. The best versions are from Rondelli and Terre Bianche. The first is easy going and likeable, mixing red and dark cherry aromas with a vague smoky spiciness. The cherries stay ripe and light on the tongue. The second is a model of balance, no one element stands out. It has some heft but it’s not heavy, it can work with meat, substantial pasta dishes and Ligurian seafoods.
Finally, three reds that highlight the diversity of Liguria’s grapes:
• Punta Crena “Cruvin” Colline Savonesi IGT showcases Crovina, an obscure grape getting its due. Like Rossese, it’s loaded with cherries and berries. There’s plenty to like in a wine that drinks this smoothly.
• Campogrande Cinque Terre DOC uses Bonamico to produce a blend of cherry, raspberry and green apple flavors. An unexpected taste like salty olives adds interest to a lightweight, somewhat dry feeling in the mouth.
• Lunae Bosoni “Mea Rosa” Riviera di Levante IGT is a rosato that has more earthy pizzazz and intensity than your usual “pink” wine. Made from rare Vermentino Nero, it combines apricots, strawberries and mineral buzz for a perfect summer wine.