Liguria is one of the smallest of Italy’s 20 administrative regions. Crescent-shaped, Liguria lies on the Ligurian sea, occupying the thin coastal strip in north-west Italy, from the border with Tuscany and the French border at Ventimiglia. Liguria’s Mediterranean coastline is known as the Italian Riviera. The 5 colourful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, as well as stylish Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, are on the eastern coast or Riviera di Levante. The western coast, the Riviera di Ponente, is home to Sanremo, a vintage resort with a turn-of-the-century casino and a flower-filled promenade. Crossed by the Alps and the Apennines mountain range, Liguria is roughly coextensive with the former territory of the Republic of Genoa.
Neighbours: Liguria is bordered by France (Povence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) to the west, Piedmont (Piemonte) to the north, and Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east.
History: In the first century BC the historian Diodorus of Sicily wrote that “in Liguria, neither olive, nor vine, only forests… but only because land is inaccessible to Ceres and Bacchus”. The Middle Ages bring the first reliable indications of grape growing in the Riviera di Ponente, in the La Spezia district and in the Cinque Terre area. Petrarch also mentions it in his poem “Africa” dedicated to the Riviera di Levante (Liguria’s East Coast). From these initial reports, it is understood that growing vines in Liguria has always been very difficult and cultivation is considered “heroic” because of the extreme conditions that farmers have to face when working on extremely steep mountainous slopes that plunge down into the sea below.
Vineyards: 5,000 hectares.
Terroir: The mountainous territory exceeds 60% of the total area, and the rest is totally hilly. The vines are often grown by terracing slopes, so as to be able to stand and carry grapes on such steep hills.
The climate is varied but still mild thanks to the influence of the sea and numerous waterways. Unfortunately, because of the difficulties in cultivation over the years, the production of wine has decreased and many sites have been devoted to the cultivation of flowers, activities that are both economically more profitable and less tiring. For this reason it is often difficult to find Ligurian wines outside the region due to the limited quantity produced.
DOCs: Cinque Terre or Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà DOC. | Colli di Luni DOC. | Colline di Levanto DOC. | Dolceaqua or Rossese di Dolceaqua DOC. | Golfo del Tigullio-Portofino or Portofino DOC. | Golfo del Tigullio-Portofino DOC Passito. | Pornassio or Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC. | Riviera Ligure di Levante DOC. | Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC. | Val Polcèvera DOC.
Native wine grapes: The most common red grapes are Rossese and Ormeasco (which is a local biotype of Dolcetto). Among the whites are Pigato, Vermentino, and Bianchetta Genovese (the local name for the white Albarola grape). Pigato and Vermentino are two biotypes of the same grape, although they give wildly different wines. It is not correct, therefore, to refer to them as identical, even if currently they are considered to be genetically identical. Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino are the three grape varieties that make up “Cinqueterre Sciacchetrà DOC,” a sweet wine made from air-dried grapes, a regional treat produced in small quantities. The Bianchetta Genovese is very common in the area of Genoa and the DOC area of Valpolcevera, giving life to very fresh, light, and early-maturing wines. On the west coast (Riviera di Ponente) are the Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC (made from Ormeasco or Dolcetto) and the Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC, the latter being probably the best regional red wine. Also in the Riviera di Ponente, the most common white grape variety is Pigato, which sometimes produces white wines of amazing structure thanks to the work of enlightened winemakers who were able to exploit the potential of this varietal.
Terroir: ‘The mountainous part of eastern Liguria is called the Levante. The main varieties here are Albarola, Bosco and Vermentino. The area is also rich in little-known natives: Frappelao Bianco, Ruzzese (also known as Rossese Bianco di Arcola), Piccabòn, Rollo (not Rolle, which is Vermentino), Rossese Bianco, and Scimiscià [sic]. Piccabòn was shown to be identical to Vernaccia di San Gimignano and to Bervedino (Bervedino had been thought identical to Vermentino). Frappelao Bianco was shown to be identical to Scimiscia’. Rossese Bianco, Ruzzese and Scimiscia were later registered in the National Registry,’ (Ian d’Agata, 2014: p.40-1, abridged).
‘Vermentino and Pigato are both native grapes, with Pigato thought to be a biotype of Vermentino that mutated over the centuries. Others claim they are different grapes. Albarola and Bosco from Cinque Terre [a UNESCO World Heritage site] are usually blended but pure bottlings can be found,’ (Ian d’Agata: 2014, p.40-1, abridged).