Friday, 25 February 2011

Liguria and its wines – an introduction (part 1)

Luigi Veronelli (1926 – 2004), the father of Italian wine journalism, used to define Ligurian wines as unique, rich in personality, always recognizable yet never predictable. The reason of his admiration for the oenology of the Italian Riviera stands in the proximity of coastal and mountain environments, a combination accounting for the unmatched character of the region’s wines. For centuries this has been the laboratory of heroic winemakers, who still commit to hard work and sacrifice in order to culltivate 2,400 hectares of rugged, vertical terrain (think of the vineyards grown on steep dry stone terraces in the Cinque Terre!). Furthermore, wine estates are small and family run, yields are low and production rarely exceeds a scant 100,000 bottles for each winery. Nevertheless, Liguria boasts eight DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata quality label), and three IGTs (Indicazione Geografica Tipica quality label), a parterre de rois featuring glories such as Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà passito wine, sea-scenting dry whites (e.g. Pigato and Vermentino) and unexpected reds (e.g. Rossese di Dolceacqua and Granaccia).
The following is but a primer introducing Ligurian wines, an outline of local oenology from the French border to Tuscany. Moving eastwards along the slender regional arch, here are our notes on the eight Ligurian DOCs. (DOC = Denominazione di Origine Controllata, controlled origin denomination, a legally defined and protected quality label).

DOC Rossese di Dolceacqua was established in 1972 and derives its name from the dreamlike entroterra village of Dolceacqua (Claude Monet’s choice, too) . This vine variety - cited for the first time in the 16th century - almost certainly draws its name from “Rocense”, a word suggesting the rocky quality of the soil. This notable red is the “Frenchest” of Ligurian wines, especially in its Rossese Superiore version, which features longer aging (one year). Connoisseurs yearn for white Rossese, a rare beauty of very limited yield.

DOC Riviera Ligure di Ponente was established in 1988 and boasts the bounty of Vermentino, Pigato and Rossese. It extends from the province of Imperia on past Albenga and Finale Ligure in the savonese to Cogoleto and Arenzano (the westernmost tip of the province of Genoa). Pigato is an indigenous variety named for the first time in the first half of the 17th century. Its name comes from “piga” (little speck), the minuscule, rusty-coloured dot covering ripe grapes. Vermentino is a classic all over the Mediterranean: it is grown also in Sardinia, Tuscany, and Corse, not to forget Piedmont and the Pyrenees. “Vermentino” probably derives from “ver”, an ancient word root, hinting at its red shots.

DOC Ormeasco Pornassio was established in 2003, but the cultivation of this “variation on the theme” of the Piedmontese Dolcetto variety dates well back in time – it was made compulsory by the Clavesana household in the course of the 14th century. The DOC covers a border territory between Liguria (i.e. a section of the provinces of Imperia and Savona) and Piedmont (Ormea and the Val Tanaro are at a stone’s throw). It features all the declinations of Ormeasco: Pornassio Rosso (red), Rosso Superiore, Sciac-trà (rosé), Passito, and Passito liquoroso.

DOC Val Polcevera was established in 1999 in an area of the first Genoese entroterra - the rural communi of Campomorone, Ceranesi, Mignanego, Serra Riccò and Sant'Olcese (home of the famous salame) - just around the corner form the city’s industrial outskirts. The DOC features Bianchetta (white), Bianco (white), Vermentino, Rosato (rosè), and Rosso (red). Bianchetta is the best companion of vegetable savoury pies and polpettoni, chick pea flour farinata and panissa, baked anchovies… Last but not least, after decades of neglect, Coronata white wine is a rare, simple gem to enjoy.

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