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.
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”.
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.
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
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: