Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wines I'm drinking: Cinque Terre

Having decided to stay in Riomaggiore, we found an inexpensive yet spacious apartment for a night. Had a good dinner at restaurant Dau Cila, right at the marina in Riomaggiore. There is a terrace with a view of the sea (reservations more or less required). The interior is attractively decorated and comfortable if you can't get a place outside. Not great food, but very good food, and there is an excellent selection of Cinque Terre wines by the glass. Dau Cila turned out to be a perfect place to get a feel for the local wines.

I knew very little about the Cinque Terre wines, having only heard of the sweet wine made here, known as Schiacchetrà (which I did not taste), as a rarity of the wine world. The Cinque Terre also make dry white wines that simply bear that name--Cinque Terre (granted DOC status in 1973). Both these and the sweet wines are made mostly from three grapes, Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino blended. The wines must contain at least 40% Bosco. Up to 20% can be other white grapes approved for winemaking in the area more generally, besides these three. The vines are grown high on steep, terraced hills that recall the vineyards on the Duoro river that make port or some of the steep plantings along the Moselle and elsewhere in Germany. The vines are trained high and flat--almost espaliered.

Schiacchetrà is made from the same blend, but it is a passito wine. Essentially, some of the harvest is reserved and allowed to raisin in the sun (typically on straw mats; these wines are sometimes known as "straw wines") or hung in the rafters of buildings until partially dehydrated, which greatly increases the sugar content, allowing a powerful dry wine or production of sweet, concentrated wines like Schiacchetrà or Recioto della Valpolicella, the sweet wine made around Verona, of which Amarone is the better known dry version.

How have I missed these to date? I had no idea such interesting wines were made here. The only logical explanation is that production is so small (the entire producing area is only 200 acres), that they rarely make it far from home. I feel lucky to have had a taste. I understand that most of the wine labeled Cinque Terre DOC is made at a cooperative, but there are bottlings by individual producers as well. All four of the wines I tasted were of the latter type. They are likely to be unavailable outside of the Cinque Terre. Indeed, searching on WineSearcher yields nothing available for purchase from the Cinque Terre DOC at all*.

I tried four wines. I didn't take extensive notes, but a few comments based on the notes I did take will serve to give some sense of what these wines are like. I had the 2009 Cantina Litàn Casata dei Beghee Cinque Terre (from Riomaggiore), with an intriguing smoky, bacon fat scent. It was bone dry, but richly flavored and very long on the finish. I had the 2008 Luciano Capellini Cinque Terre (from Volastra), which was interesting for its lemon rind scent and extremely dry, slightly bitter character--but again tempered by an intense richness. All the wines were remarkable for seeming very rich and lush yet extremely dry at the same time. This was a more alcoholic, headier wine. The 2008 Agricola Campogrande Cinque Terre smelled of honey, anise, and watermelon. It was similarly intense, yet dry. The 2008 Walter de Batté Cinque Terre was one of those wines that just keeps on going on the palate, lingering a minute or more. Perfumed, rich, giving the impression of sweetness and opulence without being sweet at all. It had a deep, brandy-like color. All the wines were the tawny hue of an old white wine, but they were fresh and crisp, despite the concentration of their flavors. Excellent. What a shame they are so hard to come by!

*More recently searching WineSearcher I see that some of these wines are, in fact, available. They are worth trying.

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