If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Liguria region of northern Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Liguria, also known as the Italian Riviera, is located in the northwest corner of Italy. It borders France, Monaco, and has a 350 kilometer (over 200 mile) coastline on the Ligurian Sea. The region is hilly and mountainous, but has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Romans captured Liguria in the Second Century B. C. It was subsequently conquered by Barbarians, and by the Lombards. In area it is the third smallest Italian region with a population of about 1.6 million.
The land in Liguria tends not to be particularly fertile. Agricultural products include flowers, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables. Some claim that Liguria introduced pasta to Italy. Most of the pasta is wheat. Pesto is a regional specialty. A wide variety of seafood is available. Heavy industry is on the decline. Tourism is so important that in some areas the July and August population is ten or fifteen times that of the slow season. The area is particularly popular with retirees.
Liguria’s capital and largest city is Genoa, a city of six hundred thousand. Parts of the old city have been placed on the World Heritage list as of 2006. Among its many sights are the home in which Christopher Columbus was said to be born, and La Lanterna, the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Another special tourist destination is Cinque Terre, five tiny villages along the coast. They are a hiker’s paradise, but make sure that you are in good shape before attempting the complete route of about 13 kilometers (8 miles). This area is home to two DOC wines, Cinque Terre and Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà, neither of which is often found in North America.
Liguria devotes slightly under twelve thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 19th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 4.4 million gallons, also giving it a 19th place. About 34% of the wine production is red or rosé, leaving 66% for white. The region produces 8 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin. Almost 14% of Ligurian wine carries the DOC. Liguria is home to almost three dozen major and secondary grape varieties, somewhat more white than red varieties.
No international white grape varieties are widely grown in Liguria, whose most important white grapes are Bosco, Pigato, and Vermentino. Given its limited wine production, little Ligurian wine is exported to North America. In the unfortunate absence of any Ligurian wines, we are reviewing a Vermentino-based wine from Tuscany. If I am ever in Liguria, I promise to drink and review a few local wines.
No international red grape varieties are widely grown in Liguria. The best-known Italian red variety is Sangiovese, which is grown elsewhere including California. Other Ligurian red varieties include Rossese, Ciliegiolo, and Ormeasco, also known as Dolcetto.
Before reviewing the Ligurian-style wine and Italian cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Torta Pasqualina; Artichoke Savory Pie.
For the second course try Cappon Magor; Ligurian Seafood Caponata (you may have to order this dish in advance).
As dessert indulge yourself with Pandolce; Sweet Bread From Genoa.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Rocca di Montemassi Vermentino Maremma Toscana IGT 12.5% alcohol about $12.50
Let’s start with the marketing materials. “Vermentino is an attractive, aromatic grape variety that is widely grown in Sardinia and Liguria. Montemassi believed that the conditions along the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany would be ideal. Their instincts were correct and the result is a pear/peach aroma wine that would be ideal as a sipping wine or with mildly spiced Mediterranean cuisine.”
My first pairing was with chicken thighs slowed-cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. The wine was floral, light tasting and refreshingly acidic. It was an excellent accompaniment to the dessert of thin, dry biscuits containing pistachios and almonds, which brought out the wine’s subtlety.
I then tried this wine with poached Tilapia fillets in a red pepper, onion, and chicken broth sauce accompanied by potato patties and green peppers in tomato sauce. The fish was delicate and not overwhelmed by the wine, which presented fruit and a bit of pepper. But frankly, the wine was too light and too short.
The next meal was kube, or kibbe, a Middle-Eastern specialty, balls of ground rice filled with ground meat. They were cooked overnight with potatoes in a somewhat spicy sauce. The wine was fruity and floral, with just enough acidity to counteract the meat’s fat and soften the spices. It was a fine companion for a side of more powerfully spiced Moroccan carrots. Just when I was thinking that the wine was a chameleon, changing itself to match the food, I tried it with fresh pineapple. The pineapple was excellent, its sweetness and acidity was a great way to end the meal. But in its presence, this wine was flat.
The cheese pairings had mixed results. Asiago is a nutty-flavored cheese from northeastern Italy. The wine went well with this cheese and seemed to pick up fruitiness. On the other hand in the presence of a strong, actually overripe, Pecorino cheese from nearby Tuscany it seemed to lose its flavor.
Final verdict. I don’t plan to buy this wine again. As a Tuscan wine it can’t meet the stiff local competition. I think I’ll wait for a true Ligurian wine. It may be a long wait.
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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com .
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