Photo: vineyards for Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC. Much of Liguria’s wine landscapes have not yet been discovered, unlike those of Piemonte and Tuscany, even if they are more or less situated in between.
Like Piemonte also Liguria boasts unique grape varieties, historical vineyards, and a lot of original wines. A fantastic wine region that is full of remarkable surprises. But unlike Piemonte, most of Liguria’s wines are still waiting for discovery by a bigger audience. It has not to do with the quality but with the fact that all wine producers are small, they have to work on small parcels often on steep slopes which makes working extremely difficult. Visiting the wine producers in Liguria can give a great satisfaction, because they will show their wines with much pleasure to everybody. Wines that are only possible with much handcraft on steep, terraced vineyards. This is what makes them unique. And still many wines are very reasonably priced. It gives you a feeling of admiration for the producers who continue this hard life out of love for their small parcels, which they inherited from their parents and grandparents. In these times with so much easy food, often industrially processed and easy accessible through big supermarkets, it is worth realizing that some of the best food and wine is only possible when people persist in having a hard life, which is not well paid and with no other satisfaction than that they can continue to produce the work that has begun by their ancestors.
Photo: Apricale in the high mountains in Liguria
Liguria represents a very important part of our wine culture. But a part that tends to be forgotten: the part of handcraft, hardworking families on small scale working for a small profit. Never will you find any of these wines in your supermarket because production is so small that professional distribution is almost impossible (most supermarkets are filled with wines produced with mechanical means on big flat spaces, where handcraft has been reduced to the minimum). Only small importers, who are as crazy as the producers themselves, will continue to sell Ligurian wines. Such fatigue, such hard existence used to be a normal situation for every farmer family in France, Germany, Italy, etc, but by now this has been forgotten in most agricultural regions. And it is also forgotten by most consumers who are looking for something easy drinking for accessible prices.
Photo: steep terraced vineyards in Liguria: it is logical that production and maintenance of these vineyards is costly and wine production can only be done with great physical efforts. Often it does not pay off and as a result much of these vineyards are abandoned. Many wines from Liguria are still cheaper than many wines from Piemonte or Tuscany: a clear sign that it is not only the work in the vineyards that makes the price.
Photo: Pieve di Teco, a small town in the Valle Arroscia, seated along the medieval salt roads which were important ways of communication in Middle Ages
Liguria’s (wine) culture is historically related with Piemonte, especially West Liguria (Liguria Ponente). Very probably the origin of the much loved Dolcetto from Piemonte is the area of Pornassio. Along the old pathways through the high Langhe hills from Liguria to Piemonte, there are old existing vineyards of Dolcetto, near Cortemilia for example: a proof that this hypothesis might be true. In earlier centuries these were the salt roads, where salt and other commercial ware were taken by foot across the mountains and probably also grape varieties.
The steepness of the soils is not the only problem for the producers, it is also the rocks structure and the physical difficulties to preserve the terraces. It is logical that many vineyards have been abandoned, but near Dolceacqua, Imperia, Pieve di Teco and Pornassio there are much vineyards still in production.
This wine region in Liguria is such a contrast with the mostly flat vineyards in nearby Provence and even with the hill vineyards in Piemonte. And still many wines from Provence and Piemonte fetch higher prices than those from Liguria. It almost gives a sense of injustice. Yes, also in Piemonte producers have a hard work on the hills, but in Piemonte there is more mechanization possible for treatments of vineyards and other proceedings. In Liguria often even small tractors cannot enter.
Photo: Liguria’s gastronomy offers many fresh vegetables and healthy food
But the rocky soils give the local grape varieties excellent conditions: first of all Vermentino. Vermentino is one of my preferred white wines from Italy. It gives its best results at vineyards with view on the Mediterranean.They offer delicious, easy drinking wines, with depth and a wealth of different flavors, with some tropical accents, mint or white almond, often very refined and finishing with a fine mineral touch. Often they have a lengthy finish, without being too dominant and maintain their elegance. There is much production of Vermentino along Italy’s west coast, in Sardinia, in France and in Spain. But for me many of the best Vermentino are from Liguria, especially from the area’s of Imperia and Dolceacqua because of the combination of depth, elegance and refined minerality.
Still there is more. Pigato is a local version of Vermentino, but with slightly different leaf shapes and a more intense wine style. It matures best at higher positioned vineyards. Genetically Pigato is identical to Vermentino, but the wines can be more strong have some nuttiness and need more aging. There are even producers who produce very strong versions with the idea of longer aging.
Photo: Dolceacqua village in the Val Nervia.
Red wines are also present. Most unusual is Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC, only produced in two small valleys near Ventimiglia, rather light colored with expressive aroma’s, herbal notes and a mineral finish. Its taste is very specific but there exists a group of passionate Rossese-lovers. Very special too is Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC. The wine can only be produced in a mountain region in the Valle Arroscia around the small hamlet of Pornassio at heights between 400 and 800 meters above sea level. We are at ca 30 kilometers distance from the sea and climate is very different, more alpine with sometimes some fresh, warm air coming in from the sea but also much rainfall and some frost in spring. The wine can be fine, fruity, dark, with hints of strawberries, cherries, marmelade of prunes, violet, nettles and works more elegant than Dolcetto from Piemonte, which often has a more tannic style. The ‘Superiore‘ version is more intense colored with also more strong aroma’s and mature fruit, dark forest fruit, some oak and a balsamic note.
Ormeasco is less structured than Piemonte’s Dolcetto but more easy drinking. There are also the versions Passito and Passito liquoroso. And when made as rosé it is called Ormeasco Sciac-trà DOC (a dry rosé wine, other than the sweet Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà, a rare sweet wine).
Many of these vineyards were created by the Benedictines in early Middle Age, although it is also possible that the origins go back to Roman times. It is sure that the Romans started viticulture at many places along the Ligurian coast. Maybe also the Benedictines were responsible for introducing Dolcetto in Piemonte, first in the Alta Langa and later also in the rest of south Piemonte.
Granaccia is Liguria’s version of Grenache, often it has a more light character than Grenache from Provence.
In short: Liguria is a most special and characteristic part of Italy’s wine world. Here no big companies with cellars like cathedrals but small tiny plots, and many passionate family producers working hard for a small income.
Photo: Some producers in the vineyards of Pornassio, second from left Massimo Lupi.
These producers merit our appreciation because they persist to continue the wine production in these heroic conditions and some wines that took my attention :
– Maria Donata Bianchi, small company with old vineyards high above Diano Marina. From vineyards with a mixed soil of sands and clay they produce some wonderful wines. Winemaker Marta Trevia is one of the few winemakers from Liguria with a master in oenology. Her experience certainly helps to improve the wines, which have been of high standard for a long period. A winery to follow:
Vermentino 2017, wonderful and very elegant wine, with hints of fine tropical fruit, mint and intense but refined fruit in the finish
– Lupi, an old wine trading house, with seat in the beautiful town of Pieve di Teco. The winery is gradually in a transformation process from negociant into producer of own produced grapes. It is always a delight to spend some time with Massimo Lupi. He is a passionate Liguria promotor and has affected many others, among them some of his colleagues and his enthusiasm certainly works. He not only transmits his enthusiasm and passion on everybody but pays much attention and time to everybody who wants to spend some time to learn about Liguria:
Pigato Petraie 2017: nice, intense and typical Pigato
Pigato Vignamare 2012, fantastic aged version, it shows the potential of this grape
– Ramoino, small producer from Sarola near Imperia with vineyards in the Valle Arroscia:
Montenero 2017: a good and typical Vermentino
Rossese di Dolceacqua Serro di Becchi 2017: fine and pure style of Rossese
– Innocenzo Turco, small winery from Quiliano in the Valle Arroscia with old history going back to 19th century. They have old terraced vineyards:
Granaccia, Capuccini 2016: fine and elegant style of Granaccia
– Berry and Berry, owned by passionate oenologue and consultant Alex Berriolo. He has some very old vineyards of 25-50 years old and manages to produce some remarkable wines. A great guy and a very creative winemaker to follow. Fantastic to see how passionate guys like Alex create new life in this old ambience where for long periods nothing new happened. He decided to leave all existing DOCs and IGTs in order to concentrate on the wines he wants to make:
Poggio del Santo 2016 (a 100% sangiovese) a pure and elegant wine, this has nothing with Tuscany, it shows the elegance and the typical terroir of Liguria.
– Eredi Guglierame, small historical winery owned by the brothers Agostino and Raffaele Guglierame. They have cellars in an old historical mansion high in the Pornassio hills. Their vineyards are from the old property of Marquis Scarella, their ancestor. They started bottling their wine as early as 1958, which is very early for Italian standards. As can be expected they are specialist in Ormeasco di Pornassio:
Ormeasco di Pornassio 2015
– Fontanacota, created by Marina Berta in 2001 with vineyards partly near Imperia and partly in the area of Pornassio.
Ormeasco di Pornassio Superiore 2015
– Cascina Nirasca, owned by two young winemakers who wanted to create their own experience in this region. They have 5 hectares in the area of Pornassio, divided among 22 different parcels.
Ormeasco di Pornassio 2017
Photo: vineyards near Pornassio
Photo: market in the centre of Pieve di Teco: this town is such a wonderful example of authenticity in the high mountains of Liguria. Here time is standing still.
Photo: landscape of Pornassio in autumn
Photo: some fine examples of rosé wines from Liguria: Lupi, Guglierame, Maria Donata Bianchi, Ramoino, Nirasca, Fontanacota
More information about Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC:
Many thanks to Massimo Lupi for organizing a fantastic tour in the area of Pornassio, Pieve di Teco, Imperia and Dolceacqua. Many thanks to all wineries: Maria Donata Bianchi, Lupi, Berry and Berry, Cascina Nirasca, Eredi Ing. Guglierame, Fontanacota, Innocenzo Turco, Ramoino.