Ligurian Light

When I first went to Liguria I slept in a hostel on the Cinque Terra coast. There was plastic on the mattress and the lady who ran the place owned about a hundred cats. Never forget that smell.

The next time I went, I sat in the piazza of one of these same towns and ordered a bottle of local wine. They brought me Grechetto from Umbria! Fair to say at this point, Liguria wasn't my favourite place in Italy. Beautiful no doubt, vineyards diving down hillsides at impossible angles. The sun refracting off the sea as backdrop. Postcard stuff for sure, but a little underwhelming on the hospitality front.

So, for a decade I stayed away until I started tasting wines from the area again with winemaker friends in Piemonte. I started reading and researching producers, finding their wines where I could and trying to "unpick" the basics from what I saw in the glass. I'm now a convert, a zealot for the cause even.

The wines, both red (Rosesse) and white (Pigato), are not going to ever challenge Burgundy or Barolo for depth and complexity, but what the best of the breed do offer is that beautiful paradox of so many Italian wines - on the face of it simple and joyously drinkable but at the same time they demand something extra from the drinker, there's more here should you take the time to look! Visceral meets cerebral.

Last week, one of Australia's best importers came past with a two beautiful wines - a white Pigato from Cascina Feipu dei Massaretti and a red Rosesse Ka Mancine. The two wines epitomise the above sentiment. Both are family run vineyards and leaders in the push to reenergize their indigenous varieties within the incredible landscapes of terraced vineyards, where Italy blurs into Southern France.

Massaretti really only started in 1965 when Pippo Aponti inherited a farm without vines. He ripped everything out and started planting, mostly Pigato (the same as vermentino). At that time there wasn't even an appellation for the wines from the area so he named it after his locality, Massaretti. His reputation grew steadily over the years for the Pigato in particular (but also his Rossese), and they are now the go-to producer in the area. The estate is now run by daughter Brunella and her husband Mirco. They have been joined by other producers, mostly family owned and all now under the Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC.

Ka Mancine and the DOC of Dolceacqua is 20 minutes from Monaco and yet, a world away. Casinos and super yachts are replaced by terraced vineyards planted only to Rosesse (now known to be the same variety as Tibouren of Provence). Owners, Roberta Rapaci and Maurizio Anfosso manage ancient bush-trained vineyards, the oldest of which (Beragna) was planted in 1872, pre-phylloxera and on own roots. Incredible to think that fruit is still being used as the main component of that bottlings.

The wine itself is at once light on its feet and red fruited but there's also a depth on the palate nuanced up by spice and mineral. You could have it with a slight chill on it in spring and summer but it also accesses its Rhoney DNA and could match up with white meats or salumi.

There are some of my own reviews below as no third party action exists right now. In a nutshell, these wines are uncomplicated, delicious and embody the excitement and sense of discovery that is so much a part of the Italian wine journey. They speak to the artisanal but are totally contemporary in what they bring to the modern drinker. Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

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