Wines of Liguria: Deliciousness Hiding in Plain View

Well-funded marketing and promotion campaigns of big brand appellations can sometimes make it difficult for consumers to discover the beauty of less well-known denominations.

With marquis wine brands commanding much of the market mindshare, Liguria is surely not a region we hear about all the time. But, it is certainly one that deserves your attention.

Claiming a rather narrow geographical slice of Italy, Liguria lies between the Ligurian Sea and the Alps and Appenine mountains, running from France in the west, down from Piedmont in the north, backed by Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east. 350km of coastline press against the Ligurian Sea.

Liguria, DOC map

With little flat land for growing grapes – the region is 65% mountainous – many growers necessarily raise grapes on steep terraces carved from rocky slopes. Given the steepness of many terraced vineyards coupled with the difficulty in working them, Liguria’s wines are something of a cultural triumph. In fact, wine production in the region has come to be known as “heroic viticulture”.

Liguria, Cinque Terre, steep slopes

Ironically, the high slopes protect seaside grapes from cold winter winds which blow down from the Alps.

The ring of slopes that stand just beyond Liguria’s coastline conspire with the sea to account for a mild climate year round. Winter temperatures average 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit, summer temperatures between 70-75 degrees.

Liguria, Cinque Terre, sea
The regions soil, high in limestone and especially good for Liguria’s white wines, enables the wines with good minerality. And with so many of Liguria’s vineyards located within close proximity to the sea, under the influence of sea breezes, the wines drink with a rather typical and delicious note of sea salt.

Though they may be largely unfamiliar to you, I am listing here Liguria’s 8 DOCs so that you might more easily identify the wines and better know what to ask for at your wine shop:

Rossese di Dolceacqua
Ormeasco di Pornassio
Riviera Ligure di Ponente
Val Polcevera
Golfo del Tigullio Portofino or Portofino
Colline di Levanto
Cinque Terre and Cinque Terre Schiacchetra
Colli di Luni

There are far too many indigenous Ligurian varietals to include in this post, but you’ll find that predominant white varietals include Bianchetta Genovese, Vermentino, Pigato, Bosco. Liguria’s white wines pair spectacularly well with vegetables and seafood.

Ligurian reds, often produced from varietals like Ciliegiolo, Rossese, Granaccia, and Ormeasco, also do well with seafood, vegetables and fish, pairing perfectly with rabbit, lamb, and poultry, too.

At a recent tasting in New York City, I found an immensely varied presentation of Ligurian wines to be delicious and pleasing to drink, charming wines that excel at communicating the hard work and passion of the people who made them.

Here are just a few of the wines I enjoyed that evening:

Liguria wines, collage

Vigne Surrau: Winery Fusing Nature, Art, Hospitality

*Observations from a sponsored press trip to the region during September 2015

Travel is a bit like making love: you can read about it, but to receive the entire message, you’ll need to get personally involved.

Which is why I recently packed a bag and headed for Sardegna, destination Gallura, a region that sits on Sardegna’s northeast coast and the exclusive Costa Smerelda, famous for its exceptional wine, food, and fun.

On the road from Arzachena to Porto Cervo, I visited the Vigne Surrau winery and although Vigne Surrau does indeed produce some of the most uniquely delicious wines that will ever pass your lips, you don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate a stop at the winery campus: Vigne Surrau is very much a destination in its own right.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Sunset

The architect-designed Vigne Surrau facility functions not only as a workplace but also as a meeting place that offers tourists and locals an opportunity to attend educational wine and cooking classes, tastings, art exhibitions, film showings, music concerts and professional conferences. Or to just sit, relax with friends and enjoy the stunningly beautiful landscape.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Tasting Room

The facility’s design is executed in a manner that provides visitors incredible transparency to everything that is going on, in or out of the space. Sitting in the tasting room, for example, one cannot help but experience a profound connection to the magnificent natural surroundings just outside.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Tasting Room

Permeating the Vigne Surrau experience is an overwhelming sense of the proprietor family’s genuine love for community, hospitality, and beauty.

Travel is an opportunity to hear a place speak in its own voice, experience an untranslated version of its smells, flavors, rhythms, understand the life of it. At Vigne Surrau, one finds an environment where “place” speaks without distortion.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Tasting Room

Visitors who appreciate beauty come year round from all over the world to the area of Costa Smerelda. Whether unwinding after a summer swim in the Mediterranean, relaxing with a good book during winter months, or enjoying an aperitivo with friends, a stop at Vigne Surrau is sure to prove both beautiful and inspiring.

And, oh, by the way … yes, here in Gallura, the ocean really is that emerald color.

An Afternoon with Angela Velenosi: Wines from Italy’s Marche

Usually, if you’re a good reader, you follow the plot, characters, storyline twists and turns.

In the wine biz, if you’re an attentive taster, you do the same.

That Marche wine producer Angela Velenosi sees wine “…as an art capable of making you dream…” becomes a very natural part the Velenosi Vini storyline from which is drawn inspiration that spans wine production, company management, and work/life balance.

velenosi passerinaMakes sense. Velenosi wines I tasted during a recent producer luncheon at Lincoln Ristorante NYC drink with a kind of naturalness that good tasting stories are often made of.

Naturalness, in fact, seems to be an operative word in the Velenosi vocabulary: a self-made success, Angela Velenosi established the winery not through financial privilege or inherited territories, but with innate energy, passion, following the rather natural process of learning from mistakes made.

Velenosi Vini, located in Italy’s region of Le Marche, has been named one of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wineries of Italy and has received prestigious awards from Decanter, Parker, Tre Bicchieri, Luca Maroni, to name a few. Velenosi herself was elected President of Consorzio Vini Piceni in 2014. Attilio Pagli, one of Decanter magazine’s 30 Best Winemakers in the World, acts as consulting winemaker at Velenosi Vini.

velenosi lacrimaDream, indeed.

I adored the “welcome” wine served at the luncheon, Velenosi’s Passerina Brut, named after the little sparrows that eat the grapes. Produced using the Charmat method with a long sit on lees, this wine perhaps brings together what’s great about Prosecco, Cava, and Champagne, yet delivers something unique and unusual. Creamy, complex, with fine perlage, notes of flowers, peaches, and citrus.

Pecorino Villa Angela, 100% Percorino over lees, is wonderfully textured, a joy to hold in the mouth. Great palate-cleansing acidity yet never nervy. Shows a feminine side on the nose, scents of exotic fruit, citrus, herb, asserting a masculine persona, too, with its good structure.

Verdicchio Querciantica, intense and rich, this 100% Verdicchio, hand harvested when slightly over ripe, offers focused fruit nicely balanced with the subtle taste of pleasantly bitter almond , notes of flowers, herbs. Has the stuffing to pair well with main courses. Gorgeous.

velenosi roggioLacrima Querciantica, the story goes that the skin of the Lacrima grape is so delicate that the skin pops, bleeding “lacrime” – tears. Exudes scents of roses, violets, gardenia, lavender, plush palate, seductive in the most unpretentious of ways. A total gem.

Brecciarolo, this 70/30 blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese ages in used barrique for 10-12 months, bringing wood accents that are soooo nicely balanced. Dark cherry goodness, baking spice, long in the mouth.

Roggio, produced from 70/30 blend of slightly over ripe Montepulicano and Sangiovese harvested from 50 year old vines, this wine spends 18 months in new barrique. A wine of importance, Roggio deserves a special place at table alongside main courses of meat, game, aged cheeses. Jammy fruit, dark berries, unctuous, fleshy palate. Memorable.

Ludi, an insanely delicious 50/30/20 blend of Montepulciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, aged in barrique for 24 months. With its ripe, anise inflected fruit and the silkiest of mouthfeel, Ludi takes ‘sexy’ up a notch.

velenosi viscioleVisciole, sugar from wild cherry syrup added to Lacrima wine causes a second fermentation increasing the alcohol level to ~ 14%. Technically not a wine – it’s not produced with 100% grapes – Visciole brings intense, full-bodied tastes of cherries, forest berries, spice, underlined with good acidity, round, fleshy, soft palate. Want to make some serious romance points? Bring a bottle of this home on Valentine’s Day and don’t forget the dark chocolate.

A Visit to Vigne Surrau in Sardegna’s Gallura Region

*Observations from a sponsored press trip to the region during September 2015

First, there is the stone, the granite.

It commands the landscape.

Silent.

Mysterious.

It sinks into you, permeates consciousness, overseer of the primal bond between land and man.

vigne surrau granite2

On Sardegna’s northeast coast, in the area known as Gallura, granite hills play host to an especially profound expression of Vermentino known as Vermentino di Gallura. The region’s granite soils contribute to the wine’s complexity, body, minerality and beguiling perfume.

And, in Gallura, if you stand still just long enough, you will feel that the wind, too, is there with you.

Always.

Keeping the vines dry, preventing disease.

Its antediluvian whispers carry the subtle scent of Mediterranean Sea, a deliciously salty grace note that can be tasted in the region’s wines.

Stone. Wind. Sea.
Holy trinity in which Vermentino di Gallura finds it identity under the Sardinian sun.

Vermentino is grown widely in Sardegna and along Mediterranean coastlines. When cultivated in Gallura, however, Vermentino expresses itself in a truly exceptional manner. In fact, Vermentino di Gallura is the only of Sardegna’s wines designated DOCG status, a nomenclature at the top of Italy’s appellation hierarchy, and is surely one of Italy’s most important white wines.

vigne surrau winery1

Vigne Surrau, a young winery founded in 2004 located in the area of Porto Cervo / Arzachena, is producing high quality Vermentino di Gallura wines of massive personality and charisma, made in a clean, elegant, and balanced style. The winery owns over 40 hectares of vineyards and produces a stunning line of wines guided by innovative, forward thinking oenologist Mario Siddi, who interprets tradition in a way that links yesterday and today, and points toward a relevant tomorrow. I recently had the good fortune to taste the Vigne Surrau lineup while visiting at the winery. Let’s focus on the winery’s Vermentino wines here (I will cover their reds in a subsequent post):

Tasting Notes

Branu – An exceedingly splendid example of the sublime freshness and minerality that typify Vermentino di Gallura. Fermented in stainless steel, Branu is a wine of youthful personality, medium body, vitality on the palate, richly textured in the mouth. Vivid flavors and scents of ripe yellow fruit, florals, citrus, minerals, grace notes of salty mint. With fish, shellfish, first and main courses, or alone as an aperitif.

Sciala – Produced from the best grapes selected from Surrau valley’s finest vineyards. Rests on lees for several months. Focused peachy fruit set as background for more exotic notes of jasmine, ginger, sage, mint, saline, underlined with stony minerality, round and pleasingly fat in the mouth. A tremendously interesting wine, Sciala presents a more intense, structured side of Vermentino, with good longevity. The 2008 vintage which I tasted showed gorgeous notes of petrol reminiscent of cellared Riesling and gave good testimony to Vermentino di Gallura’s potential for aging.

Sciala Late Harvest – Made with the same grapes as Sciala, picked 10 days later. 50% of the must ferments in non-toasted French barrels, the other 50% in steel. Big bodied and voluptuous, this late harvest version of Sciala calls out with scents of peachy ripe yellow fruit, herb, delicate florals. Peach flavors transfer to a soft, seductively viscous palate to join tastes of tropical fruit, orange peel, flecked with delicious licks of seasalt. Wonderfully supple, complex, with great persistence.

Surrau Brut Millesmato – With many months spent on lees and a second fermentation in bottle, this 100% Vermentino is intense, complex, structured, in the most refined of ways. Fragrant scents of bread crust typical of “metodo classic” production intermingle with delicate notes of flowers, apple, and herb. Dry, with fine bubble perlage and delicious mineral acidity that enlivens an impeccably fresh palate. Elegant and aristocratic. Excellent with shellfish, first courses, or as an aperitif. But, be good to yourself: enjoy this wine with fresh oysters 

Sole di Surrau – So luminiscently golden honey is the color of this Passito di Vermentino that it seems to radiate light from inside to out. As a “Passito”, Sole di Surrau is produced from 100% Vermentino grapes dried open air on mats for one month after harvest. Intense, honeyed notes of caramel, hazelnut, candied orange peel, the wine rolls across the palate with gorgeous syrupy liquidity. Excellent with desserts, seasoned cheeses, or quiet time 🙂