Monday, 28 February 2011

Liguria and its wines – an introduction (part 2)

DOC Golfo del Tigullio was established in 1997 and covers 36 communi. Production include Bianchetta, Bianco, Vermentino, Rosato, Rosso, Ciliegiolo, Moscato and Passito. The Bianchetta of the Tigullio being richer in body than the Val Polcevera one, it is at its best when paired with typical Ligurian minestroni, the apex of vegetable soups. As for Ciliegiolo, this cherry-coloured wine derives its name from "cerasuolo", i.e. a wine making technique that processes red grape musts with no contact on marcs. Ciliegiolo is a Mediterranean must, in fact it arrived in Liguria from Spain via Tuscany, where it brings the roughness of ever-present Sangiovese under control. In Liguria it goes varietal (85% at least), shows modest alcohol contents (around 11%), a brilliant colouring — claret to purple — , pleasant scents (fruity and herbaceous, with a mineral hint), and graceful, dry flavours, well-balanced and full. Serve at 15°, young (1-2 years' aging ) and enjoy with tomato-sauce pasta dishes, e.g. tasty "taggiaen a o tocco" (taglierini with Genoese meat sauce), risotti, soups, ripieni (stuffed vegetables) and tomaxelle (veal rolls), but also with fish stews, "buridde", and genial stoccafisso accomodato (yes, drinking red wine with fish is no longer a capital sin!). Rarity hunters are advised to enroll for the discovery of Val Fontanabuona’s Ximixà (serious explorers should also aim at the passito version), a rare white recently saved from oblivion that ideally suits fish soups.

Doc Colline di Levanto was established in 1995 and covers 4 communi at the gate of the Cinque Terre It features both Bianco (known for its almond notes) and Rosso.

DOC Cinque Terre DOC was established in 1973 and includes Bianco, Rosso, and Sciacchetrà passito, the glory of oenological Liguria. The area’s wines have always enjoyed widespread repute, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio featuring among fans. Vineyards are literally grown on the rock and on the aforesaid vertical terraces.

DOC Colli di Luni DOC was established in 1989. Tuscany is a few metres away: you can feel it in your glass of Bianco, Vermentino and Rosso.

Among the 3 regional IGTs (a label guaranteeing geographical provenance and tipicity), the most stimulating one is the IGT Colline Savonesi (the other two are the IGT Colline Genovesi and IGT Golfo dei Poeti). The IGT Colline Savonesi treasures Lumassina, a distinctive dry white (a.k.a. Buzzetto, Mataossu, Garella, Uga Matta…, a hundred names for the same vine variety) and remarkable red Granaccia. Lumassina almost certainly takes its name from snails (lumasse in the Ligurian dialect), a local delicacy, while Buzzetto derives from "buzzo" (i.e. unripe) and Mataossu from "matti" (the vernacular for children and “early” things). They all suit fried fish, seafood, stuffed vegetables and vegetable frittate (omelettes). Granaccia is the local declination of Grenache, Alicante, Cannonau, red Tokaj, Gamay and Tinto. The best matching of this elegant wine are beef, game, and palatable cheeses.

The IGT Colline Genovesi (or del Genovesato) offers an array of whites, rosés, and reds, each of them also in sparkling versions. The IGT Golfo dei Poeti (province of La Spezia) provides (also sparkling), red (sparkling and nouveau, too), rosé, and passito.

Let me end this introductory outline of Ligurian oenology with the simplest of recommendations: go for field testing – and tasting. Four out of eight regional DOCs featuring Vermentino, plan your own horizontal tasting (i.e. wines that come from the same vintage) and discover the wonders of microclimate and terroir. Take our advice and start the examination of the “fab four” with western Liguria wines, then move eastward. Enjoy the differences and make sure to live a rewarding (and responsible) experience.


Stuffed lettuce leaves are an exquisite 18th century Easter dish. Boiled leaves are stuffed, rolled, cooked in broth or baked. The ripieno is a classical one and includes the lettuce core (fundu de tusciu in the local dialect); alternatives range from sausage to herbs, greens or peas. Wine matching: rosé, DOC Pornassio Sciac-trà or light red, DOC Riviera ligure di ponente Rossese.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Liguria and its wines – an introduction (part 1)

Luigi Veronelli (1926 – 2004), the father of Italian wine journalism, used to define Ligurian wines as unique, rich in personality, always recognizable yet never predictable. The reason of his admiration for the oenology of the Italian Riviera stands in the proximity of coastal and mountain environments, a combination accounting for the unmatched character of the region’s wines. For centuries this has been the laboratory of heroic winemakers, who still commit to hard work and sacrifice in order to culltivate 2,400 hectares of rugged, vertical terrain (think of the vineyards grown on steep dry stone terraces in the Cinque Terre!). Furthermore, wine estates are small and family run, yields are low and production rarely exceeds a scant 100,000 bottles for each winery. Nevertheless, Liguria boasts eight DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata quality label), and three IGTs (Indicazione Geografica Tipica quality label), a parterre de rois featuring glories such as Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà passito wine, sea-scenting dry whites (e.g. Pigato and Vermentino) and unexpected reds (e.g. Rossese di Dolceacqua and Granaccia).
The following is but a primer introducing Ligurian wines, an outline of local oenology from the French border to Tuscany. Moving eastwards along the slender regional arch, here are our notes on the eight Ligurian DOCs. (DOC = Denominazione di Origine Controllata, controlled origin denomination, a legally defined and protected quality label).

DOC Rossese di Dolceacqua was established in 1972 and derives its name from the dreamlike entroterra village of Dolceacqua (Claude Monet’s choice, too) . This vine variety - cited for the first time in the 16th century - almost certainly draws its name from “Rocense”, a word suggesting the rocky quality of the soil. This notable red is the “Frenchest” of Ligurian wines, especially in its Rossese Superiore version, which features longer aging (one year). Connoisseurs yearn for white Rossese, a rare beauty of very limited yield.

DOC Riviera Ligure di Ponente was established in 1988 and boasts the bounty of Vermentino, Pigato and Rossese. It extends from the province of Imperia on past Albenga and Finale Ligure in the savonese to Cogoleto and Arenzano (the westernmost tip of the province of Genoa). Pigato is an indigenous variety named for the first time in the first half of the 17th century. Its name comes from “piga” (little speck), the minuscule, rusty-coloured dot covering ripe grapes. Vermentino is a classic all over the Mediterranean: it is grown also in Sardinia, Tuscany, and Corse, not to forget Piedmont and the Pyrenees. “Vermentino” probably derives from “ver”, an ancient word root, hinting at its red shots.

DOC Ormeasco Pornassio was established in 2003, but the cultivation of this “variation on the theme” of the Piedmontese Dolcetto variety dates well back in time – it was made compulsory by the Clavesana household in the course of the 14th century. The DOC covers a border territory between Liguria (i.e. a section of the provinces of Imperia and Savona) and Piedmont (Ormea and the Val Tanaro are at a stone’s throw). It features all the declinations of Ormeasco: Pornassio Rosso (red), Rosso Superiore, Sciac-trà (rosé), Passito, and Passito liquoroso.

DOC Val Polcevera was established in 1999 in an area of the first Genoese entroterra - the rural communi of Campomorone, Ceranesi, Mignanego, Serra Riccò and Sant'Olcese (home of the famous salame) - just around the corner form the city’s industrial outskirts. The DOC features Bianchetta (white), Bianco (white), Vermentino, Rosato (rosè), and Rosso (red). Bianchetta is the best companion of vegetable savoury pies and polpettoni, chick pea flour farinata and panissa, baked anchovies… Last but not least, after decades of neglect, Coronata white wine is a rare, simple gem to enjoy.


When the going gets tough... the tough can do with a bit of help!

Lasagne (from losanga, i.e. lozenge) are a very ancient Italian tradition, mentioned in a 1282 notary act kept in Bologna. Broad and long (10-15 cm), they differ from piccagge, which are a larger (1-2-3 cm) version of fettuccine. Both lasagna and piccagge can be verdi (green, because of their marjoram-flavoured dough), matte (mad, made with chestnut flour) or avvantaggiate (literally… helped by wholemeal flour), too. Dressings are almost numberless, but go classic and choose basil pesto. Mandilli de saea (silk handkerchiefs) are the thinnest of lasagna, their dough more resistent thanks to a spoonful of durum wheat flour. the word mandilli derives from the Arabic mindil, a reminder of the ancient, tight relationships that linked the shores of the Mediterranean basin. Try them also with delicate fish sauces (scallops, baby octopus…). Wine matching: white, DOC Riviera ligure di ponente Pigato

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Only water (up to 80/90% ) and nitrogen, cholesterol-free (0%), 50 calories per 100 grams, scantily nourishing, a bit toxic. This is the portrait of wild mushrooms, which count by the thousands (but only a hundred are edible). Each rural area boasts its own varieties as well as a plethora of local names. Ligurian mushrooms have been prized for centuries. Gourmet musician Gioacchino Rossini had dried mushrooms (from a convent in Varese Ligure) been sent to his Paris residence on a regular basis. Once widespread and economical, nowadays they are a rather expensive treat - but expert control does deserve the price. Baked with potatoes, porcini are an exquisite dish - an Autumn must! - alternating layers of thick potato slices and scenting mushrooms (red ovuli - amanita cesarean - make a deluxe alternative…). Wine matching: white, DOC Riviera ligure di ponente Pigato

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The epicurean version of the horn of plenty

The premiata ditta Romanengo was established in 1780. A few decades later, in 1838, 34 confectioners operated in Genoa. Candied fruit is a long-standing Genoese hit, the process – repeated boilings in a sugary solution, more and more concentrated) being successfully applied also to vegetables, seeds and flowers. Put your skill to the test with orange zests and chestnuts (the home confectioner classics). Candied fruit is the welcome co-star of several desserts and cakes such as panettoni and cassate. Wine matching: DOC Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Olive oil is one of the keys for a succesfull fritto misto

Fritto misto is a stronghold of traditional Ligurian cuisine. Vegetables and meat (beef, veal, poultry…) chunks, offals, fruit slices, amaretti and latte dolce (custard) cubes are fried (separately) in first quality olive oil and set up in a sumptuous heap. The abundance of simple but delicious vegetables such as scorzonera (black goat's beard salsify) and cabbages is witnesses for the rural origin of this golden artwork – fritto di pesce (mixed fried fish) is in fact a recent innovation of coastal restaurateurs. Wine pairings: go for white sparkling IGT Colline Savonesi Lumassina.

Monday, 21 February 2011


The Santuario di Montenero overlooks Riomaggiore

Regretfully to say, Liguria often features an unaccomplished expression of its food and wine bounty. But good things come to those who wait – or, shall we say, to those who make things happen?
Thursday 17th 2011 was in fact a great day for Genoese wine lovers. The 9th meeting of the “eVINings” wine festival proved to be a superb evening dedicated to the king of Ligurian wines (i.e. Sciacchetrà) and the hard work of heroic Cinque Terre’s winemakers.
Wine writer and ethnogastronomer Umberto Curti, the author of the website, planned the “eVINings” cycle as a celebration of Ligurian oenology. The organization of the seminars has been carried out by, an arts and crafts exhibition centre (set in Palazzo Imperiale, an astounding 16th century palace of the historical centre) dedicated to the promotion of regional artisanal manufactures.
The Sciacchetrà eVINing was a feast of the senses… as well as of the mind. The presence of Walter de Battè, Cinque Terre’s winemaker par excellence, provided plenty of opportunities for lively Q &A and audience participation. First, Umberto Curti gave full details about the role of Sciacchetrà in the regional oenological panorama (the name itself hints to the ancient history of this passito wine – shekar was the Hebrew – Aramaic for inebriating wine). Then, the interview developed with an outline of both the Cinque Terre’s vine growing techniques (a story of hard work and sacrifice, vineyards being lovingly cultivated on steep dry stone walls terraces) and Sciacchetrà making. De Battè took time to explain the whole process – harvesting by hand–to-fermentation, explaining his personal point of view on the subject. As regards Sciacchetrà De Batté opts for fermentation on the grape’s skins (a process similar to the one followed in making red wines), the same white grape varieties - Bosco, Albarola, Vermentino – used in the local dry white according to the DOC rules. This 21st century wine philosopher (also a consultant winemaker for important Italian estates) reminds us that the skins are the mirror of the terroir, and speaking of the Cinque Terre they also reflect the effects of sea, sun and wind.

Finally, the time came for serious Sciacchetrà tasting: De Battè 2006, Forlini Cappellini 2005, Terre di Bargòn 2004, these were the “magnificent three” that satisfied the thirst for knowledge (and the epicurean quest) of the participants. Each wine was a protagonist in itself: Umberto Curti and Walter de Battè discussed the different hues (a symphony of amber and ancient orange gold), scents (dehydrated yellow fleshed-fruit, spices…) and flavours (with a remarkable mineral note) of the three Sciacchetrà, conveniently paired with two important Ligurian cheeses and slices of lavish pandolce Genovese.
The night ended with a toast to the “heroic viticulture” (a definition we owe to journalist and wine lover Mario Soldati) of the Cinque Terre and with an arrivederci to Thursday 3rd March, when the eVINings will celebrate the DOC Rossese di Dolceacqua.
Luisa Puppo


Baccalà, one of the stars of Ligurian frisceu fritters

Frisceu fritters definitely call for flash frying… and eating. Their foamy batter (a mix of flour, yeast and water) ideally matches either vegetables or baccalà (salt cod). Please note that Ligurian people have always had a knack for proverbs: one of their favourite is "Bocce, frisceu e vermentin, e da vitt-a battitene u belin" (a game of bocce, a dish of piping hot frisceu and a glass of refreshing Vermentino white wine), a clear anticipation of Baloo’s bare necessities… Wine pairings: Vermentino, of course, or DOC Val Polcevera Bianchetta).

Thursday, 17 February 2011


a typical baking pan

Together with pesto, Genoese focaccia is the gourmet symbol of Liguria. Its renown is a long-standing one: the first mention of focaccia dates back to 1312, and its very name probably derives from Latin focus (hearth). In the late 16th century the forerunner of street food was banned from churches by bishop Matteo Gambaro, horrified at the sight of munching worshippers. This scenting flatbread also comes in variants: sage, onions, olives (skin or pulp) and the less orthodox rosemary, oregano, thyme and zucchini flowers. The art of focaccia making relies on three milestones: first quality extra virgin olive oil, dexterity (the surface is to show skilfull finger indentations) and… lots of time for the rising of the dough. So… have a slice of oven hot focaccia and do not forget to eat it…upside down, letting salt crystals pleasantly tick your tongue. Wine pairings: go local and have a glass of Vermentino, featuring in 4 regional DOCs: Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Val Polcevera, Golfo del Tigullio, Colli di Luni.



Once upon a time, when Saracen raids forced the dwellers of the Ligurian coast (not yet branded as the Italian Riviera) to run away from their homes and hamlets up to the mountains of the entroterra, feeding was definitely a tough task. But when the going gets tough… the tough get going, so to say, and cunning Ligurians from the Tigullio area found the way of turning a handful of flour and the only dairy products at hand (i.e. goat or sheep cheese) into what is nowadays known as one of the world’s gourmet wonders: focaccia col formaggio. Centuries later, Fred Plotkin thus defined this mouthwatering delight: "Probably the most addictive food on the planet". Tradition called for focaccia col formaggio to be eaten on November 2nd ,All Souls’ Day. It is made with the thinnest of dough, the crispy sheets filled with the tangy flavour of fresh "mollana vaccina" cheese from Sori or with Crescenza. Wine pairings call for white DOC Golfo del Tigullio Bianchetta or DOC Cinque Terre bianco. Red wine fans can have their pick from the region’s enological supply and opt for DOC DOC Riviera Ligure di Ponente Rossese d'Albenga.