Righteous Rossese

3/8/15 -

(Danila Pisano: certified organic)

Liguria is one of Italy’s most picturesque and dramatic wine regions. It’s a sliver that runs along the northwest corner of the country where the Maritime Alps jut-out over the Ligurian sea. Many famous towns and cities like Savona and Genova cling to the cliffs, connected by the raised Autostrada, which offers magnificent (but sometimes terrifying) views from 300 feet above the coast. A bit further inland, towns become less common and scraggly vines appear. Viticulture has never been a focus of the region (Liguria produces less than half of a percent of Italy’s wines,) and the steep terraces that the vines cling to are often neglected by a young generation eager to leave agriculture. Many of those that stay have converted from wine and olive production to growing flowers in greenhouses that dot the hilltops. Liguria, like much of Italy, has a handful of grapes unique to its region, but the diminishing production endangers these heirloom varieties.


(Dolceacqua's famous bridge)

In the western corner of Liguria the red grape Rossese rules. The history of the grape is somewhat controversial. It’s genetically identical to the Provencal grape Tibouren, but it’s unclear whether the grape originated there or on the Italian side of the border. Wherever its origins, the grape has been happily cultivated in Liguria before the 1800s. If one were to visit the most famous site for Rossese, they would fly into Nice, drive the scenic 10 miles along the eastern side of the French Riviera to the Italian border, and then climb north into the hills of Dolceacqua. Here the warm foothills of iron and limestone produce a fairly supple, rich wine with characteristics similar to Provence and other southern French wines. As one follows the coast line east to Albenga, the wines lose a bit of their weight and color, and begin to take on the shimmering, crimson hue of a Poulsard or light Cru Beaujolais.  Wine books say that Dolceacqua is the Grand Cru of Rossese, but I would posit that for much of Liguria’s lighter cuisine – pesto, seafood, asparagus, etc. – a chilled Rossese from Albenga makes a lovely pairing.

(Pasta with fresh flowers at the Vio household in Albenga)

We offer today two wines from western Liguria. Although made of the same grape, they taste quite different and show a wonderful comparison of terroir. As we near the end of winter, wines from Dolceacqua provide a hearty, but balanced, accompaniment to a full bodied meal. Conversely, wines from Albenga bring the promise of spring, summer, and the bounty of vegetables to come.  John Rankin

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