After nearly a week of sampling the reds of Tuscany, we headed to Cinque Terra for sea air, seafood, and a chance to sample the crisp local whites.
Winemakers and grape growers the world over will readily tell you that theirs is a difficult craft, full of long days and much hard labor. This is doubly so for the winemakers of Cinque Terra. These vineyards are literally carved out of the rock wall of the slopes that rise steeply to form peaks overlooking the villages and the sea. Each day the winemakers hike up to tend to their vines and during harvest, quite often hiking down laden with a bin of grapes on their shoulders.
Simply put, to get to the vines, you hike – a lot. Trails among the terraces provide access but these are no easy strolls. And while the growers do incorporate some mechanization in the harvest – particularly a trolly cart of sorts to get the grapes down the hill more effectively and efficiently — according to Michele Shah, a studied authority on Italian wines, cultivation is still done using traditional methods, with hardly any mechanization and most growers have small patches of vines dotted over the hill side.
He notes one winemaker with 1.7 acres of vines which are divided over 15 different vineyards in Riomaggior. Walter De Batté, a winemaker from Riomaggiore makes a total of 2500 bottles Cinque Terre DOC and 600 half bottles of the sweet, late harvest ‘Sciacchetrà’. He is the only small producer to export to the US and that’s only a total of 10 cases of Cinque Terre DOC and 48 bottles of Schiacchetrà.
Shah also notes that one of the initiatives promoted by Riomaggiore is to give uncultivated land and offer free technical assistance to anyone who is interested in growing grapes. In this way they hope to increase the potential of cultivated land hectares from the actual 250 acres to a between 750-1000 acres within the next ten years.
Bad luck for us — a steady rain and rough winds prevented a more extended hike of the wine trails. I had one good morning that was relatively rain free and so focused on those impressive and intimidating terraces where the work involved in growing these grapes is readily evident. Four hours of vigorous huffing and puffing up and down, and I came away with deep respect for the wine makers dedicated to Cinque Terra winemaking.
The wines are readily available in enotecas and other stores throughout the five villages but curiously, we found no tasting opportunities. Fortunately with a three-night stay and fresh seafood abundant, we had ample dining opportunities to match wines with cuisine.
Though I’m not a great lover of white wines, I found the Vermentino a pleasant surprise showing a more subtle fruit than anticipated. A beautiful pale straw color, the Vermentino complemented my fresh sea bass quite nicely, and I found myself returning to it several times over our three-day stay. More of white wine fancier, Leslee sampled the Pigato DOC Riviera Ligure di Ponente that again surprised in its restrained fruit subtleness. And we both quite liked the namesake Cinque Terre Doc Cooperativa 5 Terre, dry and tasty with an enjoyable finish.
And a perfect end to a Cinque Terra evening — Sciacchetrà, a rich desert wine made from the near-grapes left over from the harvest. At nearly 18 percent alcohol, this is a nightcap wine, ideal for pushing weary legs happily to bed.
Next stop for us is four days in Lake Garda where I intend to sample and photograph Bardolino, Valpolicella and perhaps a bit of Soave.
Below are photos of the Cinque Terra vineyards and a few favorites of the beautiful (if over-touristed) villages as well. Ciao!
(For specifics on the wines of Cinqe Terra, click here: http://www.liguriafoods.it/prodotti/eng/prodotti/liguriawines.htm