Though arguably most associated with France, the Riviera - as concept, aspiration, and actuality - originates in Liguria, in northwestern Italy. The word itself is Italian for “coastline,” and was first applied to the 350 miles of waterfront that traces the narrow corridor between the Maritime Alps, Apennine mountains and Ligurian Sea. When 19th century English vacationers strolled over the northern border with France, they extended its remit to encompass the Cotes D’Azur and present day Monaco (where a variation of Ligurian dialect, called Monegasque, is still a compulsory subject in local schools). The etymology of ‘Liguria’ itself is much older and more obscure, though the word is likely derived from the ancient Ligures people, who are thought to have once occupied a remarkably large swath of Mediterranean Europe, including parts of Southern France, present day Catalonia on the Iberian Peninsula, and Piedmont down to Sicily, in Italy. Not sure why this once vast aggregation ended up appellate to Italy’s third smallest region, but it’s appropriate cause Liguria has always supported multitudes. 

Indeed, while I’ve thus far struggled mightily to avoid this particular tourist trap in IWC, I might as well take the L here and concede defeat: Liguria is an actual land of contrasts. One of the mostly densely populated parts of Italy, the territory is 65% mountains, and 80% of the inhabitants choose to live elsewhere - in the conurbations that limn the coast: Sanremo, Savonia, La Speza and Genoa, Italy’s busiest seaport and the regional capital. You can pivot your visit around cityscapes and beaches, and/or hike up to and around alpine villages carved out of rock, including the world famous but still surprisingly inaccessible ring of fishing villages known collectively as Cinque Terre. You will hear a dialect bearing traces of Portuguese, Sardinian, Celtic and Arabic that is barely intelligible to other Italians; you will not see (or taste) many tomatoes - an afterthought in the birthplace of pesto; you will drink beach wine whose breezy maritime resonances belie the backbreaking work required to make them. 

Like most places in Italy, Liguria’s enological story began in antiquity. It’s not certain whether the Greeks or the Phoenicians introduced the vine to Liguria, but by the time the Romans passed through the region wine from

Liguria was prized both for its quality and its scarcity. This remains true today, as only the much smaller and less populated Vallee D’Aosta produces less vino by volume per annum. Both places require what the Italians call viticulture eroica (heroic viticulture), as vineyards occupy impossibly steep slopes hostile to machinery of any kind, necessitating painstaking by-hand cultivation to pry these tiny yields from the recalcitrant dirt.

I’d venture that the quality part of the equation has increased considerably in the intervening years, as vignerons have refined their methods and narrowed their focus to a handful of indigenous grapes. Liguria is primarily known for white wine, which accounts for 75% of the local production, mostly from native varietals like Vermentino, Pigato, (a Vermentino clone that has developed its own characteristics over the years) Bosco and Albarola. Our selection this month, from the great Bisson winery (we’ve sampled them before, but not this bottling), is a blend of Bosco (60%), Vermentino (20%) and Albarola (20%) grown in the hillsides surrounding Cinque Terre, part of the Cinque Terre National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a full bodied and earthy white with incredibly vivid aromatics that evoke the herb-covered sea cliffs from which it emerges. 

The red is made from Rossese, a light skinned grape that is genetically identical to another obscure varietal called Tibouren, which grows further northwest along the Riviera, in Provence. Rossese is known as the “Nebbiolo of Liguria”for its light color, ripe tannins and rosy aromas. It works well with a slight chill and a warm breeze -  a great spring/summer transition wine. 

Alan Hicks

Bisson Cinque Terre Marea 2022 

Region: Liguria, Italy 

About the Winery:Enoteca Bisson was born in 1978 when Pierluigi Lugano fell in love with the wines of the Ligurian coastline. He began as a trader in small lots of bulk wine, later becoming a wine merchant and finally a grower in his own right. He now splits his time between his busy wine shop in Chiavari, the wine cellar, and his vineyards.

For the grapes he purchases, he works hand in hand with local growers from pruning to harvest, then carefully vinifies the different lots of grapes. Lugano is a serious student of oenology and is an expert on the local grape varieties. His passion extends to the preservation of local traditions and this is reflected in the distinctive character and personality of his large range of wines from the Cinque Terre region. He is in the forefront of the movement to prove the worthiness of the Bianchetta Genovese, the Alberola and Bosca as well as the scintillating Ciliegiolo. The small but very well equipped cellar is designed so that each lot of grapes can be vinified individually. With the exception of an occasional experiment with barrel aging, Lugano vinifies his entire range of wines in stainless steel to preserve the essential fruit of each vineyard site and each grape type.

About the Winemaking: The vineyards that produce this wine are situated on south-facing slopes in the hamlet of Volastra in the town of Riomaggiore, the heart of the breathtaking Cinque Terre region. In this instance, Lugano opts to leave this cuvée on the lees for an extended period of time, respecting the old traditions of the region. 

Tasting Notes: A full-bodied, earthy wine of immense character, almost briny, with a deeper golden tint to its color than is found in his other whites and marked by the aromas of heather, broom and juniper.

Winemaker: Pierluigi Lugano

Price per bottle / per case


Suggested Food Pairing: 

Seared Wild Striped Bass with Artichoke Potatoes and Fennel, Dungeness Crab

Bagnun (Fresh Ligurian Anchovy Soup - see recipe) 

Linguine with anchovies, olives and pine nuts

Azienda Agricola Durin Riviera Ligure di Ponente Rossese 

Region: Ortovero, Liguria

About the Winery: The Basso family over generations has expanded their small holdings—literally some 259 separate vineyards, most just a handful of vine rows—in the plains around the village of Ortovero and coiled around the region’s terraced and steep hillsides, cut over the ages by the Centa and Arroscia rivers.

Vineyard altitude ranges from as low as 150 feet to as high as 1,400 feet; soils are equally varied, from dark, fertile patches to ruddy, iron-rich soils, to the “terra bianca” mix of white clay and sand.

The valley channels the cooler winds that sweep south from Piedmont, moderating the summer’s warmer temperatures; a boon for the cultivation of balanced white grape varieties. The family’s ‘Taverna’ vineyard, planted in the village of Onzo and exclusively to the Pigato grape, is a 17-acre plot and, as such, is the largest in the region. Many of the estate’s Pigato vines were planted by Antonio Basso’s grandfather, and are now 70 to 80 years old.

Harvest is as a rule by hand, and grapes are cared for as naturally as possible. In general, white grapes are macerated in tank for one day then pressed; juice is fermented on indigenous yeasts at low temperatures. Reds are fermented and aged in tank.

About the Winemaking: Estate-owned vineyards are found across both terraced hillsides above the Mediterranean coast and flatter lands near the town of Ortovero. Soils predominantly sandy, with limestone. 20-40 year old vines. Hand-harvested. Destemmed; cold macerated for 24 to 48 hours. Fermented on indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled tanks. Aged in tank for one year

Tasting Notes: Aromas of red roses, wild strawberries, raspberries. Smooth, with light tannins; red summer fruits, light baking spices.

Winemaker: Antonio Basso 

Price per bottle / per case: 


Suggested Food Pairing: 

Minestrone alla Genovese

Potato and Mint Ravioli

Bagnun (Fresh Ligurian Anchovy Soup - see recipe) 

Trenette al Pesto (Ligurian Pasta with Pesto, Green Beans and Potatoes.) 

Roast Chicken w/ Smoked Mushrooms


Classic fisherman’s recipe that makes a delicious spring/summer soup. Fresh anchovies are essential; Ligurian basil and olive oil are preferable if you can find them, but whatever you have on hand will work too. 



1 small bunch of fresh parsley

1 white onion

500 g (1,1 lbs) of ripe tomatoes (or tinned peeled tomatoes)

1 clove of garlic

extra-virgin olive oil

½ glass of white wine

few leaves of basil

500 g (1 lbs) of fresh anchovies

4 “sailors’ crackers” or 4 slices of rustic bread


chili pepper



  1. Clean the anchovies, remove head fishbone and entrails (or better: ask your fish seller to do it for you, they will take 30 seconds vs your 30 minutes).
  2. Finely chop the parsley with the onion.
  3. Peel the tomatoes (make a crosswise incision at the base of the tomato and dunk it in boiling water for 1 minute: the peel will go away immediately without effort) . If you have a little time use the tinned peel tomatoes. Finely chop or quickly blend them.
  4. Gently squash the garlic clove with the palm of your hand without breaking it. So doing the garlic will release its aroma without melting in the sauce while cooking and you can remove it before serving.
  5. Pour 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a large pan (better if in a terracotta pan), then add the chopped parsley and onion and shallow fry for 3.4 minutes.
  6. When the garlic gets gold (it must not burn) pour the white wine and let it evaporate.
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes, then add two cups of hot water (the water used to peel the tomatoes is fine) and the leaves of basil. Season with salt and chili pepper to taste.
  8. Cook over for about 10 minutes mixing from time to time until you have a thick and flavorful sauce .
  9. Soak the anchovies one by one in the sauce and go ahead cooking for another 5 minutes, being very careful not to mix the sauce otherwise the anchovies will break apart. The bagnun is ready!
  10. Before serving, remember to put a sailor’s cracker or a slice of toasted bread on the plate to mop up the gravy! If you wish you can add extra flavor by rubbing the bread with some fresh garlic.

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