Liguria

Genoa (Genova) is the administrative center of Liguria, whose provinces include Imperia, La Spezia and Savona. Liguria ranks 18th in size (5,421 square kilometers) and 11th in population (1,633,000) among Italy’s regions. Liguria produces slightly more wines than Valle d’Aosta, approximately 2 million bottles of DOC wines annually. The region is shaped like a “boomerang” with it’s western side facing the Ligurian sea. Bodering with France to the north, then Piedmont and Emilia Romagna in the middle and further south with Tuscany, Liguria’s olive groves outnumber vineyards by five to one. Like Valle d’Aosta, the land in Liguria is inhospitable to vines. Vineyards are located on steep terraces and unforgiving slopes and therefore the high cost of production means Ligurian wines can be pricey.

The mention of Liguria brings to mind the touristy Portofino – along the famous Italian Riveria. Olive oil from Liguria (considered one of the best in Italy along with those from Tuscany, Veneto and Sicily) are more delicate in flavour and paired best with fish. Other typical food / produce includes artichokes, pesto, garlicky fish stew, wild mushrooms and focaccia bread. In Genoa, fritto misto (assorted fry [in olive oil of course] usually of calamari [squid], gamberetti [shrimp], sarago [bream] etc) is also another popular “street food”. The coating is crispy and just slightly moist and the meat inside tender and juicy. Some eat them hot on the spot while others prefer to take them home and spread on top of salad and serve cold with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.

The focal point for Ligurian wines is the legendary Cinque Terre (referring to the five land or villages ; Corniglia, Manarola, Monterossa, Riomaggiore and Vernazza), a white wine made with grapes planted on the network of splendid vineyard terraces above Cinque Terra, carved from the rock thousand years ago by the Liguri tribe (hence the name of the region). Cinque Terra (mostly bosco and albarola grapes) remains now for the most part a light vacation white, save for a few notable exceptions from a few dedicated producers. The sweet version Cinque Terra Sciacchetrà are made from grapes left to dry after the harvest (amarone method) and it’s definitely worth trying if you can find it.

Near La Spezia and crossing the border of Tuscany is the DOC zone of Colli di Luni where red and white wines, notably Vermentino, show class. Here, it is little more delicate and perfumed than their counterparts in Sardinia, which is often of a fuller body version. However, even better versions of Vermentinos can be found near Imperia, on the western side of Riviera Ligure di Ponente zone. They boast scents of wild fennel and herbs and pleasant savoury quality (saltiness) on the palate. These Vermentinos gets you salivating for a bowl of fish stew or a bite of crispy fried calamari and the taste evokes feelings not only the sea but also the foggy, piney mountain forest nearby. The other star white wine of Liguria is Pigato, similar to Vermentino in that both share some of the same herb, forest scrub and salty quality. However, Pigato tends to be more perfumed and intensea and offer more spiciness on the finish whereas Vermentino are rounder and softer and slightly fruitier. Like Vermentino, Pigato is a white of undeniable class whose prospects seem limited only by lack of vineyard space. In these days where the market is flooded with sweet, often oaky and overly alcoholic whites, the Vermentino and Pigato of Liguria is a refreshing and welcoming change and these are wines that speak clearly of where they come from. Most other wines of Liguria are mere curiosities and are usually best drunk young and are found only close to the zone.