Vermentinos are not native to Italy; they were originally brought by the Spanish. At the beginning of summer, I discussed the Vermentinos of Sardinia. There is another region of Italy that excels in Vermentinos, the region of Liguria.
Liguria is a thin strip of land that runs along the Mediterranean. On its western border is the French Riviera. To its north, as you move west to east, is Piemonte and then Emilia-Romagna. To its east is Tuscany. Liguria is a continuation of the Mediterranean Riviera. Yet, this area is more a product of its geography, than its neighbors. Going inland from the sea, the soil is rocky with steep slopes. There are roughly one hundred different grape varieties grown here.
Historically, Liguria was part of Genoa, a seafaring nation. In 1162, Genoa became in independent Republic dependent on its maritime prowess for food, commerce and defense. Genoa flourished as one of the dominant maritime powers, however, eventually with the rise of France, England and Spain, their influence diminished. Finally, in 1805, the area that would become Liguria was annexed by France. Then in 1814, it became part of the kingdom of Sardinia remaining so until Italy was unified in the mid-1800’s.
Unfortunately, not a lot of wine is produced and much of what is produced is consumed locally. Most wineries are small artisanal producers. There are no mega-producers in this area. This is both of function of splintered land ownership and lack of suitable farming areas for large production farming. The best Vermentinos come from either end of Liguria. In the western end of Liguria, the wine tradition is more influenced by the practices of Piemonte. The DOC Riviera di Ponente covers most of the western third of Liguria. The name means “the coastline of Liguria at the place on the horizon where the sun sets”. The wines made here will list the varietal name on the label. The DOC regulations require 95% of the varietal named. Although there are multiple reds and whites produced, for my tastes, the Vermentinos are the best.
At the eastern end of Liguria, the Colli di Luni DOC (which includes parts of Tuscany as well), allows for blends of Vermentino, Trebbiano and other varietals. However, if the wine is labeled as Vermentino, then it must have 90% Vermentino grapes.
Look for wines that are light yellow gold in color. They have crisp steely mineral notes with nice citrus (lemon) flavors. So how are these wines different from the Vermentinos I recommended from Sardinia last May? The Ligurian take on these wines has more elegance and more refinement. They are more delicate in style with more perfumed aromas. At the same time, they have a bit more acidity, more zip in the step. Both are good, but perhaps these are better at the table.
So what foods go best with these wines? As you might suspect from a white wine made in a maritime community, these wines are made for seafood. Scallops and oysters are natural matches. The Ligurians enjoy cappon magro which is a seafood salad. Fish soups called buridda and ciuppin are popular local fare. Other popular seafood’s include anchovies, sardines, dried tuna and dried cod.
Producers to look for include Terenzuola, Terre Bianche, Durin di Antonio Bosso, Tenuta Giuncheo, Ottaviano Lambruschi (especially the Sarticola), and Colle dei Bardellini (especially their single vineyard Vigna U), and Enoteca Bisson. It is the last producer whose wines are most available in the United States. The basic Bardellini Vermentino costs around $16 with the higher ends wines perhaps in the mid-$20’s. Some of the other wines also should cost around $20 to $25. As these wineries improve their marketing, their exposure should increase. Due to the small artisanal nature of these wineries, I suspect most make good or better wines and I would not be afraid to try any I saw locally. The Lambruschi Sarticola may be the best of all, but its price is in the mid-$40’s.
In terms of vintages, these wines are best consumed young. Look for wines that are within two or three years of vintage. Right now, the 2006’s are on the market with and perhaps some 2007’s. I would be a bit more wary of 2004 and older. If, however, well stored, and the price is right, it would be worth trying.
I hope you can find a bottle and try it. I would love to know what you think.
Loren Sonkin is an IntoWine.com Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars.