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Emilia Delfino
June 5, 2024 | Emilia Delfino

Liguria and Her Wines: A Journey Through Italy’s Coastal Vineyards

La Riviera Ligure

Driving along the Ligurian Riviera is one of life’s travel pleasures, one hand, there are the stunning beaches, white and sometimes rocky skirts for the glittering Mediterranean Sea, and on the other hand, the cliffs and towering outcroppings are often laced with pastel-colored buildings, creating a picturesque and captivating landscape.

Liguria lies along the Mediterranean coast of Italy, stretching from the French border near Monaco in the northwest to Tuscany in the south. In terms of wine neighborhoods, it is adjacent to a few world-class friends: Piedmont to the north, Provence due west alongside the majestic Alps, and Emilia-Romagna to the east. Liguria itself boasts eight DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and two IGTs (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).

Liguria DOC wine appellations include:
- Cinque Terre and Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà
- Colli di Luni
- Colline di Levanto
- Golfo del Tigullio-Portofino or Portofino
- Pornassio or Ormeasco di Pornassio
- Riviera Ligure di Ponente
- Rossese di Dolceacqua or Dolceacqua
- Val Polcevera

Liguria IGT wine appellations include:
- Colline del Genovesato
- Colline Savonesi
- Golfo dei Poeti La Spezia or Golfo dei Poeti
- Terrazze dell’Imperiese

The Terraced Vineyards of Liguria

One of the most unique and impressive aspects of growing grapes in this area is that the cliffs and outcrops that make the region so naturally beautiful are also the same landscape that must support the vineyards. The terraced vineyards of Liguria are an engineering marvel, with vines grown on steep, narrow terraces carved into the cliffs. This challenging terrain, while breathtakingly beautiful, requires a tremendous amount of manual labor and dedication.

These terraces, known as "muretti a secco," are dry stone walls that support the thin strips of vineyard. This ancient technique, used for centuries, helps prevent soil erosion and maximizes the use of the steep, rocky terrain. The construction and maintenance of these terraces are labor-intensive, often requiring the manual transportation of stones and soil. Yet, it is this very method that allows the vines to thrive in such a rugged landscape, producing grapes that embody the essence of the region.

Imagine hustling a mechanical harvester along those staggering paths! Growers in the area have had to adapt, wedging the vines into available spaces and cultivating and harvesting in some relatively tricky positions. In Liguria, even home gardens are grown in the nooks and crannies of backyards populated by beasts of stone.

The Vineyards of Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, which means "Five Lands," describes a string of UNESCO-elected communes and the associated national park balanced along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. The villages are stunning, with pastel stacks of buildings, each framing their own set of harbors and coastlines. Each village is unique and can be reached by train or by boat. Cars are a rare sight here, with wayfaring taking place on foot, from the top of each town down to the beach or harbor.

The predominant native grape in this region is Bosco, often blended with Vermentino (Rolle) or Albarola to create structured, aromatic wines that lean toward crisp minerality, as seen in Cinque Terre DOC wines, or as sweet passito wines like Sciacchetrà DOC. Grapes for passito wine are dried on racks and then fermented in steel. In the case of Sciacchetrà, the result is a honeyed orange wine that is integral to the history of Riomaggiore and Manarola, the two southernmost towns of the Cinque Terre.

A Truly Special Place

What makes this area truly special is the familial fragmentation of the vineyards. It’s rare to find a large-scale vintner here, in a land where there are only about 80 hectares of planted vines, split among a single consortium and less than 30 producers. Visiting and sampling the wines may be the best way to fully grasp what the environment and history hold. Many visitors opt to hike the interwoven trails of the national park, but admission is limited to prevent landscape deterioration. 

Liguria, with its breathtaking views, unique wines, and rich history, is a destination that offers more than just a visual feast. It’s an experience that connects you with the land, the people, and the deep-rooted traditions of Italian winemaking. Whether you’re savoring a glass of crisp white on a sunny patio or exploring the rugged trails of the Cinque Terre, Liguria’s wines provide a taste of a truly special place.



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