The Wines of Liguria

cinque terre

Just south of Piedmont, Liguria have historically enjoyed the same Mediterranean vacation popularity as just across the border in Provence. With most of the local wine being casually sipped by tourists on boats and in cafes, not much is left for the rest of us. But, what does make it outside the country is worth tracking down.

Liguria: An Overview

Liguria and its coastline carry on from where Provence and the French Riviera across the border leave off. Naturally, this narrow province along the Mediterranean leading along to Tuscany is called the Italian Riviera.

Seeing more than its fair share of tourists, the wines of Liguria become popular by half drunk European vacationers, who are then disappointed when they go back home and try to find the wines again. Strangely enough, this doesn’t seem the be the case for Provence: while a lot of the wine is made for local consumption, it is readily available on the international market and produces serious wines that are respected by consumers and industry people alike.

With steep rocky cliffs jutting out over the Ligurian Sea, the area is known to be quite tricky for grape growing. Almost all places are picked by hand, driving prices up – no machines can climb up these steep hills. This also weeds out all the cheap bulk production but keeping it in the hands of small and passionate producers, willing to keep the tradition alive.

Naturally, the fresh sea air, high altitudes, and limestone soils make white wine growing the chief in this area. A common crossover between France and Italy is the Vermentino grape, known as Rolle in France and sometimes Pigato in Italy. A while back there was confusion as to whether Vermentino is the same as Pigato, and indeed it is – this grape seems to thrive around this area around Provence, Corsica, Tuscany, and Liguria.

But, with all those white wines (70% or so of Liguria) there is still a little borrowing from Tuscany with the ever present Sangiovese grape. Along with a few others including a Dolcetto clone, Ormeasco, and Rossese.

Cinque Terre DOC

One of the most well known appellations of Liguria, Cinque Terre is also the last holdout before veering into the hills of Tuscany. On the eastern side of the coast, these vines are planted on incredibly steep and rocky slopes.

Some even say winemakers use monorails to haul baskets of grapes up and down the hillsides. Made from a blend of Bosco and Vermentino grapes, these wines share similar sea spray aromatics like other coastal white wines – that means you Albarino, and Muscadet too.

The wines are high acid, medium bodied, with plenty of minerality thanks to the limestone soils. With flavours of hay, citrus oil, gardenia, and stone fruit. This structure makes them a great match to the local seafood of the area, too.

Colli di Luni DOC

Also right on the Tuscan border, Colli di Luni is one of the few appellations that crosses from one province into the next. Officially a part of Tuscany and Liguria, it makes sense that their reds are based off of Sangiovese.

Filling out the blend with another Tuscan grape, Canaiolo, along with a few other second string grapes, Colli di Luni is a medium bodied red with plenty of deep red colour thanks to the blending partners. Missing out on the woodsy spice and earth notes of Tuscan Sangiovese, Colli di Luni relies more on its fresh red fruit, licorice, and berry notes all backed up by high acidity and mild tannins.

Rossese di Dolceaqua DOC

All the way on the other side close to France, is the greatest red wine appellation of Liguria. At altitudes of 1500 feet above sea level, the aromatic Rossese grapes really shine.

The warm coastal sun ripens grapes throughout the day, while nighttime temperatures drop, taking in breezes of the sea and keeping acidity in check. These well respected wines somehow are stuck in the lesser DOC classification instead of DOCG, but will not disappoint.

With flavours of incense, sour cherry, resinous herbs, and raspberry, Rossese is light enough to be paired with grilled fish or even white meats. Thanks to its high acid and low tannins, it is very versatile when pairing with foods.

Liguria Wine and Food Pairing

chicken provencal

With its coastline in that sweet spot of the Mediterranean, Liguria has some of the freshest seafood and produce in all of Italy. The birthplace of the famous pesto sauce, it should be no surprise that food is taken seriously here.

Pesto Sauce

This basil spiked seafood sauce perfectly captures Liguria with only a few ingredients. Some fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan is all you need, along with a bottle of herbal and citrusy Vermentino.

Rabbit Fricassee

This French dish, simmered rabbit and chopped up with vegetables is a great match with a lighter red like Rossese di Dolceaqua. With good acidity and milder tannins, a red like this can do good things with lighter meats.

Chicken a la Provencal

Another white meat/red wine pairing, proving that all the rules are sometimes meant to be broken. A savoury dish with plenty of Mediterranean flavours and tomatoes needs a high acid and mid flavoured red. Sangiovese based reds do the trick nicely, matching the sweet tomatoes and briny olives.

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