Liguria is shaped roughly like a crescent moon. The territory is mostly mountainous, about 65%, and the rest is hilly. This characteristic conformation is also what makes this region very unique and attracts visitors in large numbers almost all year around. Most know Liguria mainly for the charming part of the region called Cinqueterre. Those picturesque five villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) are the destination of hordes of tourists, making every year more difficult to enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape. The narrow trails that run along the rugged coastline are so packed that a romantic stroll became a mass snail-paced walk, forcing the local town authorities to issue a limit to the number of visitors. The region shares its borders with Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna on the east; Piedmont on the west, and with the water of the Ligurian Sea forming the southern border. Four provinces form this region. From east to west: La Spezia, Genoa (the capital), Savona and Imperia.
In recent years many natural disasters hit the region, especially hitting the town of Genoa and its neighboring areas. Floods and mud avalanches have brought serious damage and even deaths to the Ligurian people. One year ago on August 14th, the news of the collapse of Morandi Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge, made a big impression, not only in Italy but worldwide. The bridge was built during the ’60s and helped to connect the freeway that follows the old Roman Aurelian Way from Rome all the way to the French Riviera, bypassing over the Polcevera Creek on the west side of Genoa. 43 people died as result of this accident. One of the main commercial roads to France was interrupted for months and as of today, the new bridge is not yet ready for use, making Genoa very hard to reach via car.
The Ligurians are a resilient people, apt to fight against adverse situations. Historically, they were primarily sailors that crossed oceans, taking risks to sometimes gain very little. The Ligurian nature reflects also on the way they grow vines and make wine. The terms viticulture eroica (heroic viticulture), is most pertinent here. The vineyards are planted in terraced limbs of soils, kept together by handmade dry walls along slopes that can often reach a drop of 30%!
Working on those terrains is done using cables and ropes, almost as if rock climbing. The yields for the fruit here are low, but what is missing in quantity is gained in quality. The soil, the exposition, and the sea with its breeze and salty compounds makes for wines that are simultaneously pleasant and assertive, easy to enjoy but not obvious.
Liguria is not a region of ostentatious attitudes. Its people may be frugal, used to making a little go a long way, but they are very hospitable. They will share with you whatever they have, as long you appreciate their offerings and the hard work that comes with it.
Next time you want to go to Liguria, don’t just stop in Cinqueterre. There are so many hidden gems to discover if you are not in a hurry.
O vin bevuo a moddo o fa megio che o broddo.
(The wine drunk properly does better that a cup of broth)
Elio Longobardi, Italian Wine Specialist
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits – Noe Valley
Location: Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC, Liguria
Winemaker: Alessandro Anfosso
Price/bottle Price/case: $33/$387
Suggested Food Pairing: Good with fish stew, pasta puttanesca, and white meats
About the Winery: Tenuta Anfosso is located in the town of Soldano, in the DOC known as Rossese di Dolceacqua. Anfosso is one of the 3 largest estates in the DOC, and Alessandro Anfosso is the sixth generation winemaker in his family to cultivate the finicky Rossese grape in the area.
About the Winemaking: The Tenuta Anfosso estate is practicing organic. The slopes of the vineyard are incredibly steep and must be hand harvested, which is made possible by stone terraces. The Tenuta Anfosso Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore is made from Rossese vines that are 30 years old. 50% of the grapes are de-stemmed, and then the grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks for 10-15 days. The wine is then aged for 12-13 months in stainless steel tanks before bottling, and then 3-4 months in bottle before release.
Tasting Notes: Rossese is grown throughout Liguria, but the grape soars to new heights in the Dolceacqua DOC. The Rossese from Dolceacqua takes on added complexity and structure than the fruitier Rossese from further east. The Tenuta Anfosso Dolceacqua Superiore is a brick garnet hue, with juicy red plum and cranberry notes, mouthwatering acidity, soft tannins, and a hint of gravel and black pepper.
Region / Country of Origin: Cinqueterre, Liguria
Winemaker: Pierluigi Lugano
About the Winery: In 1978, Pierluigi Lugano became enchanted with the wines of the Ligurian coast and founded Enoteca Bisson. Lugano initially began as a trader of bulk wine, later became a wine merchant, and then finally decided to try his hand at making his own wine. Today, he is one of Liguria’s most esteemed producers.
About the Winemaking: As with most vineyards in the area, the slopes in the vineyards of the Bisson estate are incredibly steep and require hand harvesting. The grapes are then crushed and destemmed, and undergo skin maceration for 48-72 hours, which lends the wine added structure and complexity. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and undergoes no malolactic fermentation in order to fully let the terroir sing.
Tasting Notes: “U Pastine” is a term from the local dialect that refers to a gift that is hand crafted as a very special present. The name is fitting, as Bianchetta Genovese is a rare grape variety grown only in Liguria. The grape is typically used as one of several grapes in a field blend, but Bisson was the first to vinify the grape on its own. The results are incredible. The Enoteca Bisson Bianchetta Genovese U Pastine is a straw color with gold and green reflections. Each taste paints a vivid picture of the region where it was made— you can almost taste the sea brine of the Ligurian Sea, the limestone soil of the vineyard, and the Mediterranean herbs that waft through the kitchens in the region. The wine is bursting with zippy acidity and minerality, but is not too austere to drink on its own as an aperitivo.
Price/bottle Price/case: $24/$282
Suggested Food Pairing: Perfect with white fish, linguini alle acchirughe olive e pinole (see recipe below!), and focaccia I recco
Linguine alle acciughe, olive e pinoli
(Linguine pasta with anchovies, olives and pine nuts)
Liguria is land not only of great wine but also great food. This region didn’t give us only pesto, that we see nowadays ubiquitously used, and abused, in many dishes. There is a vast array of recipes to choose from. We picked this simple one, easy to make and one to satisfy many palates.
Ingredients (serves 4)
· 400 g linguine pasta
· 70 g pine nuts, slightly toasted
· 12 anchovies fillets in olive oil, or 6 fillets under salt
· 10 g capers under salt
· 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
· 2-3 garlic cloves
· 200 g taggiasche olives, or black dry cured olives pitted
· 1 spring of parsley
· Salt & pepper
- Rinse the capers with cold water, sit the capers in small bowl of water for an hour, after that let them dry in paper towel
- Repeat the same process if you are using under salt anchovies, in this case also remove the bones.
- Heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a small pan with the garlic cloves
- When the garlic gets a golden color, remove it from the pan
- Add olives, capers and anchovies
- With a wood spoon, smash the anchovies to obtain a paste. This process should take about 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and set the pan aside
- Have your pot for the pasta ready, with the water brought to boil, lightly salt the water
- Drop the pasta and when is al dente strain, add the sauce, mix and enjoy it!