Tourists know Liguria as the Italian Riviera, famous for its beaches and the resort towns of Portofino and Cinque Terre. It’s a great location for our newest Italiaoutdoors gourmet walking tour. The region of Liguria forms a narrow coastal strip in northwestern Italy, bordered by France to the west, the region of Piedmont to the north, Tuscany to the east, facing the Ligurian Sea all along the south. Its capital and largest city is Genoa (Genova).
The wines of Liguria are not well known outside the Riviera as its production is quite small, second only to tiny Valle d’Aosta. It has no DOCGs, eight DOCs, and four IGPs. Liguria produces mostly white wine. The region’s primary grape varieties are Vermentino, Pigato (a biotype of Vermentino), and Rossese.
The vineyards of the Italian Riviera are majestic terraced slopes that plunge into the Mediterranean sea in the Cinque Terre, occupying a truly maritime environment. While spectacular, the terrain is extremely difficult to work efficiently and safely. Harvest is done by hand, with the help of monorail systems to move the grapes up the hills.
Winemakers in the Cinque Terre are driven by passion, not money. The steep hillsides do not allow for any mechanical assistance, except for small monorail carts which are few and far between. All of the work – pruning, harvest, transport to the carts – must be done by hand. Unlike other wine regions, the wine is produced in the villages, not in the vineyards, so the grapes must be gently transported to the nearest road, loaded onto vehicles which then transport them down the the villages. The wines are obscure, relatively expensive and hard to find on the international market, so there is not a lot of potential for financial success. But wine production is an important tradition in Liguria, and these growers proudly carry on, in spite of the difficulties presented by their rugged, yet lovely terrain.
A few of the varietals and types of wines found in Liguria:
A white indigenous varietal, grown mostly in Cinque Terre and La Spezia. A fairly neutral grape, most commonly blended with other Ligurian varieties such as Bosco and Vermentino.
Colli di Luni DOC, Colline di Levanto DOC, IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, Val Polcèvera DOC
Bosco is a white indigenous varietal that is grown predominantly in Cinque Terre where it is often the primary component of a blend. It gives structure and richness to the region’s crisp, aromatic white wines, which also contain Vermentino and Albarola. Bosco is rarely vinified as a varietal wine. Care must be taken in handling due to Bosco’s propensity to oxidize easily, creating potential wine faults. The wines are therefore best consumed within a year or two of harvest.
While Bosco is important in the region’s dry white wines, it is also a key component in the Cinque Terre’s sweet Sciacchetrà wines, which are made in the passito style from air-dried grapes.
Cinque Terre / Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà DOC, IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante
Pigato is another white indigenous varietal, which has been proven by DNA analysis to be the same varietal as Vermentino and Piedmont’s Favorita. Its name, Pigato, means “spotted”, due to the freckled appearance of the ripe grapes. The grape makes sturdy, aromatic wines with plenty of fruit.
IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, IGP Terrazze dell’Imperiese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC
Rossese is the red indigenous varietal that is grown around Dolceacqua and Ventimiglia. Located in the Imperia province, these two communes sit at the very western edge of the Italian Riviera, on the border with France. Rossese has been an important grape here since it arrived from Provence, just over the border to the west. Rossese wines are brightly colored with a fresh, tangy palate, along with notes of blackcurrant and herbs.
IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, IGP Terrazze dell’Imperiese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC, Rossese di Dolceacqua / Dolceacqua DOC
Vermentino is Liguria’s most widely planted grape, a white indigenous varietal also grown in Sardegna and Tuscany. Biotypes include Liguria’s Pigato and Piemonte’s Favorita. Wines produced from Vermentino grapes typically display flavors and aromas of citrus, tropical fruit, acacia, rosemary, thyme with a salty finish.
Colli di Luni DOC, Colline di Levanto DOC, Golfo del Tigullio–Portofino / Portofino DOC, IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, IGP Terrazze dell’Imperiese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC.
Styles of Wine
Sciacchetrà is the sweet, white passito wine produced on Liguria’s dramatic Cinque Terre coastline. Passito is an Italian word for wines made by the appassimento process in which, after picking, the grapes are laid carefully on pallets (traditionally straw mats, but now typically plastic) in ventilated barns in order to dry, essentially becoming almost raisins. As the grapes shrivel and lose water they become full of concentrated sugars and flavors. After three to six months the semi-dried grapes are gently pressed and the juice fermented until it reaches the desired level of sweetness and alcohol. Most passito wines will spend some time aging, often in oak barrels to develop additional flavors and complexity in addition to time resting in the bottle prior to release for sale. Italian wines made in the passito style include both red and white wines.
Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes are used to make Sciacchetrà. Once picked and transported to the winery – which in Liguria is carried out by hand and transport is done a specially adapted monorail system – the grapes are left to dry on well-ventilated racks until the concentration of natural sugars reaches a potential alcohol level of at least 17%. This process ensures intense, sweet flavors in the resulting wine, which is deliberately left with significant residual sugar and alcohol level.
Sciacchetrà wines are intensely golden-yellow in their youth, changing to amber over the years. They offer aromas of honey and white blossoms, with hints of citrus. Sciacchetrà Riserva has been aged for three full years prior to release. There is no stipulation as to whether this aging must take place in stainless steel, glass or oak.