There is nothing more pleasant for a wine ‘amateur’ then to close ones eyes and judge a wine on its own merits without looking at what wine critics have to say about the wine or the price. Nothing beats a surprise. This can come in the form of a supposedly inferior wine surpassing ones expectations even when compared against a more expensive or prestigious wine. Or else it can come from discovering a new grape variety or a region which you have not heard much about.
In today’s globalised world where wines from pretty much everywhere can be bought locally, it is becoming harder to discover new wines when you travel to specific regions. Wine is not just about sharing a moment, it is also about breaking misconceptions or prejudices. Nothing is more true than for Ligurian wines.
Look into any wine magazine or book, including renowned wine encyclopaedias and you will barely get a mention of Ligurian wines. It is as if this region in Italy has been completely overlooked. Surprising, given that it borders Piemonte and Tuscany, the two giants of Italian wine.
My first taste of Ligurian wine was a Pigato from the west side of Liguria which we tried at Balin Cuisine in Sestri Levante. It was a great match to a fish based meal but what made us sit in awe was a wine which the owner of the restaurant opened at another table. True to his nature, seeing we were interested, he came and poured us a glass. It was an aged Vermentino Etichetta Nera (Black Label) from Cantine Lunae which had incredible complexity. He told us that he was also surprised at how well this white wine could age.
From there, the next morning I immediately headed to the main wine shop in Sestri Levante to discover more wines of the region.
There I was told the secret as to why Ligurian wines do not travel the world. Ligurians and tourists who head to the region consume most of it. Sometimes, stocks are already exhausted before the summer approaches.
Then there are the tourists who visit the region by car and take these wonders home to remind themselves of the beauty and splendour of the region.
What makes the white wines special, at least the ones which I have tried, is the fact that the Vermentino grape is very difficult to grow. But here, and in particular in the area close to La Spezia (where the Cantine Lunae come from) and the Cinque Terre, the location of the vineyards perched on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean sea are protected. Moreover, there is a pronounced minerality to the wine (nearly a salty sensation) making this a perfect wine to sip either before dinner as an aperitif or else in combination with fish and shellfish.
Then, what can I say about the Sciacchetra, the sweet white passito wine from the spectacular Cinque Terre tasted for the first time in a bar overlooking the beautiful town of Rio Maggiore and the cliffs which make the Cinque Terre so special. Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes are used to make these wines, the same grapes used to make also the excellent dry counterparts.
Five wines to try when you are in Liguria
1. Cantine Lunae Colli di Luna – Vermentino Etichetta Nera – The Colli di Luna area borders Tuscany.
2. Costa de Sera – Litan – a fabulous white wine grown on the hills of Rio Maggiore look at their website to see the location of this incredible vineyard. Made in small quantities if you find it, don’t hesitate to try it.
3. Cantine Lunae Colli di Luna – Auxo, a very interesting blend of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo and Canaiolo. Incredible price/quality ratio.
4. Clan du Corsu – Sassarini. If you cannot find the Costa de Sera, this is a great wine to discover what wines from the Cinque Terre area are all about.
5. Az. Agricola Pino Gino Missanto – a blend of Bianchetta Genovese and Vermentino grown in the vineyards on the hills above Sestri Levante in Castiglione Chiavarese.