Welcome to part two of my series on the enchanting Cinque Terre. If you would like to read part one Part One; Cinque Terre: A Tapestry of History and Beauty, it includes an introduction of the region and covers each of the five villages. In this installment, I will be focusing on the world of the Cinque Terre DOC, a region renowned for its exceptional grape-growing and the production of exquisite wines while also sharing some of the local cuisine.
In the embrace of the Ligurian Sea, five tiny, vibrant villages perch precariously on rocky spurs, their colorful facades reflecting in the turquoise waters below.
Cinque Terre DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is located in the Liguria region, along the northwestern coast of Italy.
Liguria DOC encompasses a larger area, while the Cinque Terre DOC (including Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà) is located on a narrow coastal strip along the Italian Riviera, stretching between the town of Monterosso to the major city of La Spezia.
This designation includes the villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Coringlia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre wines were granted DOC status in 1973.
The geology of Cinque Terre DOC is characterized by ancient marine sediments, including limestone, sandstone, and clay. The diverse geology of Cinque Terre DOC contributes to a range of soil types. The terraces closer to the sea feature sandy and sandy-clay soils, which offer good drainage. As you move further inland, the soils become more stony and rich in limestone, providing excellent mineral characteristics that influence the flavors of the wines.
Over millions of years, tectonic activity and erosion shaped the rugged coastline, creating steep slopes ideal for grape growing.
Grapes have been cultivated in the Cinque Terre region since ancient times. Historical records indicate that vineyards have existed here since the 11th century and the history of winemaking in Cinque Terre goes back to Roman and Etruscan times. Maritime trade played a significant role in introducing grape varieties and winemaking techniques to the region. Over the centuries, the local communities honed their winemaking skills, adapting to the challenging terraced landscapes and preserving their viticultural heritage.
Immersed in the breathtaking landscapes of Cinque Terre, one cannot help but marvel at the engineering mastery displayed by the region’s dry-stone walls, known as “muretti a secco” in Italian. These walls stand as a testament to the indomitable spirit and centuries of hard work undertaken by the local inhabitants. For generations, they painstakingly shaped the slopes, carving out terraces that cradled vineyards, olive groves, lemon orchards, and more. The rows supported by these serpentine walls remain gracefully snaked across the hills.
The legacy of this millennium-long endeavor culminated in the 19th century, when these narrow strips of cultivated plots covered nearly 4,000 acres. Acting as the backbone of Cinque Terre’s terraces, these dry-stone walls serve multifaceted purposes. Not only do they regulate water flows, acting as natural irrigation systems, but they also act as vital fire barriers and contribute to stabilizing the slopes. In addition, these walls play a pivotal role in mitigating the risks of landslides, floods, and avalanches, while simultaneously combating erosion. Moreover, they contribute to the overall health and productivity of the cultivated soil, ensuring a bountiful harvest for generations to come.
The agricultural terraces of Cinque Terre, supported by the steadfast stone walls, are renowned worldwide. Hundreds of these walls were meticulously built to support the steep and rugged terrain that dramatically descends from heights of about 400 meters down to the sparkling sea. The locals, in the 11th century, migrated closer to the coast, constructing homes and embarking on the daunting task of transforming dense forests and treacherous slopes into thriving cultivated terraces. They toiled tirelessly, erecting these dry-stone walls with precision and planting grapevines, olive trees, and an assortment of vibrant vegetables. Farming became a way of life, a necessity born from the isolation of this rugged coastal enclave.
Grape growing in Cinque Terre is a testament to human ingenuity and adaptation to the challenging terrain. As you wander through the picturesque villages, you’ll be captivated by the sight of terraced vineyards that have been meticulously carved into the landscape.
Italians have aptly dubbed the wine growers of Cinque Terre “Heroic Winemakers,” paying tribute to the physical intensity and determination that define their lives.
In the early days, men and women alike would painstakingly descend the hillsides, their heads adorned with baskets laden with precious grapes, symbolizing the epitome of dedication and tradition. Over the years, the winemaking techniques in Cinque Terre have evolved, with winegrowers embracing modern equipment and technology since the 1970s to enhance and streamline the winemaking process. This harmonious blend of traditional terraced vineyards and innovative winemaking practices has resulted in the production of exceptional wines that reflect the rich heritage and natural beauty of the Cinque Terre region.
The vineyards of Cinque Terre are not only blessed with an exceptional terroir but also benefit from innovative infrastructure. To navigate the steep hillsides with ease, a remarkable monorail system has been constructed. These 50 small trains gracefully transport grapes, tools, and workers, streamlining the vineyard’s operations. However, despite this modernization, the viticultural work remains arduous, demanding unwavering dedication and passion from those who tend the vines.
As you wander through the picturesque landscapes of Cinque Terre, you really have to take a moment to appreciate the magnificence of the dry-stone walls. They stand as silent witnesses to the centuries of toil and perseverance that have shaped this land and its people. In their presence, one can truly grasp the remarkable fusion of human ingenuity, natural beauty, and the enduring spirit that defines the soul of Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre DOC experiences a truly remarkable microclimate that owes its distinctiveness to the area’s proximity to the Ligurian Sea. This maritime influence plays a pivotal role in shaping the region’s viticultural landscape, fostering optimal conditions for grape cultivation and producing wines of exceptional quality.
One of the key advantages of this microclimate is the moderation of temperatures throughout the year. The maritime influence acts as a natural regulator, preventing extreme heatwaves or harsh frosts. As a result, the Cinque Terre DOC experiences warm summers and mild winters, offering an ideal environment for vineyards to thrive. The temperate climate allows the grapes to ripen gradually, resulting in balanced and nuanced flavors in the wines.
The sea breezes that sweep across the vineyards are another crucial aspect of the microclimate. These refreshing coastal winds provide a cooling effect, preventing excessive heat stress on the vines during the summer months. The combination of the sea breezes and the surrounding mountains creates a natural amphitheater-like effect, shielding the vineyards from extreme temperature fluctuations and creating a microenvironment conducive to grape cultivation.
The longer growing season in the Cinque Terre DOC sets it apart from many other wine regions in Italy. The mild climate allows for an extended period of vineyard activity, giving the grapes ample time to develop complexity and depth of flavor. This extended ripening period contributes to the unique character and elegance found in the wines of the region.
Additionally, the influence of the Ligurian Sea contributes to the distinctive characteristics of the wines produced in the Cinque Terre DOC. The proximity of the sea imparts a subtle salinity and minerality to the grapes, resulting in wines that often exhibit a delightful coastal influence. The marriage of the essence of the sea and the terroir of the vineyards creates a unique flavor profile that showcases the region’s maritime heritage.
In the 1960s, the region boasted a sprawling expanse of around 1,600 hectares of vineyards. However, the arduous and intricate cultivation methods, reliant solely on laborious manual work, led to the abandonment of nearly 90% of the vineyard area. Today, only around 100 hectares of vineyards remain, etched into steep terraces supported by ancient dry-stone walls.
Cinque Terre DOC primarily focuses on white wine production, with the main grape varieties being Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola. Bosco, a local grape, is highly regarded for its ability to thrive in the region’s climate and soil conditions. Cinque Terre DOC wine must contain at least 40% of the Bosco grape, and can contain up to 40% of the Albarolo and/or Vermentino grape. Up to 20% of other approved white-berry grapes can be added.
Bosco and Albarolo are both local grapes that grow predominately in the region of Liguria.
When discussing the wines of the Cinque Terre DOC, it is impossible not to mention the renowned Sciacchetrà. This sweet wine holds a special place in the hearts of wine enthusiasts and is highly regarded for its exceptional quality and uniqueness.
Sciacchetrà is a labor of love that reflects the passion and dedication of the winemakers in the region. It is crafted from a blend of local white grape varieties, primarily Bosco, with small additions of Albarola and Vermentino. The grapes used for Sciacchetrà are left on the vine to ripen further, allowing them to develop concentrated sugars and complex flavors.
What sets Sciacchetrà apart is its production process. After carefully hand-harvesting the grapes, they are laid out on mats or hung in well-ventilated spaces to undergo a natural drying process. This process, known as appassimento, allows the grapes to partially dehydrate, intensifying their flavors and sugars. It is not uncommon for the drying period to extend for several weeks or even months, as winemakers patiently wait for the perfect balance of flavors and sweetness.
Once the grapes have reached the desired level of concentration, they are gently pressed, and the resulting juice is fermented and aged in small oak barrels. This extended aging process enhances the wine’s complexity, allowing it to develop rich aromas of dried fruits, honey, and floral notes. Sciacchetrà is characterized by its luscious sweetness, balanced by a refreshing acidity that prevents it from becoming cloying.
The unique terroir of the Cinque Terre, with its steep terraced vineyards, sun-kissed slopes, and maritime influence, contributes to the exceptional quality of Sciacchetrà. The combination of the sea breezes, the mineral-rich soil, and the microclimate creates an ideal environment for the grapes to thrive and produce wines of unparalleled character.
Sciacchetrà is typically enjoyed as a dessert wine, sipped slowly to fully appreciate its intricate flavors and velvety texture. It pairs wonderfully with a variety of desserts, such as almond-based pastries, fruit tarts, and creamy cheeses. The wine’s complexity and sweetness also make it a delightful choice for special occasions and celebrations, as well as a thoughtful gift for wine aficionados.
The production of Sciacchetrà is limited, and its reputation has earned it a place among the most coveted Italian dessert wines. The dedication and craftsmanship required to produce Sciacchetrà are evident in every sip, making it a true gem of the Cinque Terre DOC and a testament to the winemaking heritage of this captivating coastal region.
Due to the limited production and the labor-intensive methods required for cultivation, these wines tend to be more exclusive and less widely available compared to wines from larger wine regions. As a result, they can command higher prices in the market.
A couple more wines that you will find in the Cinque Terre DOC include;
A typical Cinque Terre DOC wine is made from three white grape varietals Bosco and Albarola (both indigenous to the area) along with Vermentino (a varietal grown in the coastal areas of Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia and Corsica).
The cost of Cinque Terre wines in general can vary depending on factors such as the producer, the specific wine, and its age. Generally, due to their limited production and reputation, Cinque Terre wines are considered premium and can be priced accordingly.
During our time in Cinque Terre we had a fantastic tour guide that appreciated wines as much as we do and he introduced us to a really remarkable wine, Possa ‘U Veciu’ Vino Bianco.
The name ‘U Veciu’ pays homage to the ancient winemaking traditions of Riomaggiore, where this exceptional wine is meticulously crafted. Translating to ‘the old one’ in the local dialect, it signifies the rich heritage and unique character of this extraordinary creation.
Crafted from the indigenous Rossese Bianco grape variety, the vines that produce the Possa ‘U Veciu’ cling to steep rocky slopes that cascade directly into the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. This dramatic terroir infuses the wine with a distinct coastal influence, capturing the essence of the rugged landscape and maritime breezes.
What sets the Possa ‘U Veciu’ apart is its winemaking technique, which draws inspiration from ancient traditions. The grapes undergo extended skin contact, reminiscent of the process used for ‘orange’ wines today. Macerating on the skins for an impressive 80 days allows for the extraction of a wealth of flavors, textures, and nuances.
Following the maceration period, the wine is aged for 8 months in aromatic acacia barrels, imparting further complexity and finesse. The result is a truly captivating wine that showcases a symphony of flavors. Bursting with vibrant notes of tangerine, ginger, and soft herbs, it tantalizes the palate with its aromatic richness and depth. The finish is characterized by a delightful salty kick, a nod to its coastal origins.
The Possa ‘U Veciu’ Vino Bianco stands as a testament to the winemaker’s dedication to preserving local traditions and crafting wines that capture the essence of the land. Each sip is a sensory journey, evoking the rugged beauty of Cinque Terre and the soulful expression of the Rossese Bianco grape.
For wine enthusiasts seeking a unique and unforgettable experience, the Possa ‘U Veciu’ Vino Bianco offers a taste of history, terroir, and craftsmanship in every bottle. This limited-production wine embodies the spirit of Cinque Terre and exemplifies the region’s commitment to producing exceptional and distinctive wines. We enjoyed this wine so much that we brought a couple bottle home with us.
No journey through the Cinque Terre DOC is complete without indulging in the delectable local cuisine that perfectly complements the wines of the region. As you explore the charming seaside villages, you will uncover a culinary paradise that celebrates the bounties of the sea. Seafood definitely takes center stage on most of the menus, with freshly caught delights like anchovies, squid, and shrimp, prepared in traditional ways that have been passed down through generations. From the simple joy of a classic seafood pasta dish to the more elaborate seafood stews and grilled delicacies, the local cuisine dances harmoniously with the vibrant flavors of the Cinque Terre wines.
Our tour guide, Angel Fuentes the owner of Enotropea Wine Tours, who I highly recommend if you want to discover Cinque Terre and other locations in and around Tuscany, booked us the perfect spot for lunch, Cecio Ristorante Camere in Corniglia.
Situated overlooking the glistening Mediterranean Sea and the picturesque city of Corniglia, Cecio Ristorante Camere offers a setting that is nothing short of enchanting. The panoramic views of the sea and vibrant colors of the surrounding landscape create a breathtaking backdrop for an unforgettable dining experience.
Cecio Ristorante Camere, served up some memorable dishes using fresh, locally sourced ingredients that ensured each bite was bursting with the true essence of the local Cinque Terre cuisine.
From succulent seafood dishes that showcase the bounty of the Mediterranean to delectable pesto pasta, every plate at Cecio Ristorante Camere is a celebration of culinary excellence.
Before the meal arrived we were treated to a glass of Cecio’s table wine, a classic Cinque Terre DOC white blend.
Our meal started with a delicious mixed seafood platter with squid and anchovies.
This appetizer forever changed my perception of two remarkable ingredients: anchovies and squid. The tender squid, meticulously prepared to perfection, offered a delightful combination of tenderness and subtle brininess. It was a revelation, a revelation that continued with the anchovies, which surprised me with their delicate texture and nuanced flavors. The intense umami notes harmonized beautifully with the squid and other seafood, creating a medley of flavors that left an indelible mark on my palate.
Fun Fact: The anchovies of Monterosso have gained a well-deserved reputation throughout Italy. The local Cinque Terre fishermen have honed their skills in anchovy fishing over generations. The pristine waters of the Ligurian Sea provide the ideal habitat for these small, silver fish to thrive, resulting in anchovies that are incredibly flavorful and sought after by culinary enthusiasts. The anchovies of Monterosso are known for their delicate texture, rich umami taste, and a subtle hint of saltiness, making them a prized ingredient in traditional Ligurian cuisine.
There’s always something magical about savoring local wines, and Cantina Cinque Terre Bianco truly captures the essence of the region.
The Cantina Cinque Terre Bianco 2021 is crafted from a blend of Bosco, Vermentino, and Arbstola grapes, resulting in a dynamic profile that showcases the essence of the Cinque Terre minerals.
The Cantina Cinque Terre Bianco 2021 boasts a remarkable body and an ideal level of dryness. Reminiscent of a refreshing New World Sauvignon Blanc, it reveals a vibrant character that delights the senses. This versatile wine pairs exceptionally well with our seafood dishes as well as the pesto pasta, harmoniously complementing the flavors without overpowering them. Its balanced acidity delivered a pleasant and refreshing wine and food experience. Notes of zesty lemon, green apple, juicy pear and stone fruit along with a lingering minerality intermingle creating a delightful symphony of flavors.
The perfect fusion of flavors and the balance of the wine make it an excellent accompaniment to the region’s culinary treasures.
One of the dishes that we shared was a flavorful pasta with pesto, featuring a unique twist with the addition of potatoes and green beans. This traditional Ligurian delicacy showcased the region’s renowned pesto, a culinary masterpiece crafted from aromatic basil leaves, garlic, salt, smooth olive oil, toasted pine nuts, and flavorful pecorino cheese.
The vibrant green pesto coated the al dente pasta perfectly, infusing each bite with an explosion of fresh and aromatic flavors. The addition of tender potatoes and crisp green beans added a delightful texture and a touch of earthiness to the dish. It was a true celebration of the local cuisine.
A culinary highlight of Cinque Terre is the mouthwatering seafood pasta that showcases an array of delectable treasures from the sea. This delicious and beautiful dish brings together an assortment of fresh seafood, including plump mussels, succulent shrimp, tender squid, and an assortment of other seafood delights. The seafood that we had was cooked to perfection, infused with aromatic herbs, garlic, and a touch of white wine, creating a tantalizing aroma.
Indulging in the bakery treats found in the quaint shops of Cinque Terre is a delightful experience for anyone with a sweet tooth. These delectable creations showcase the culinary artistry and local flavors of the region. Make sure to save room after your meal for a delightful pasticcini, small pastries filled with luscious creams, fruit jams, or chocolate.
A trip to Cinque Terre offers not only breathtaking landscapes and charming villages but also an abundance of delectable food and beverage items that make for perfect souvenirs to bring home. As you wander around the villages be sure to keep an eye out for local specialties to take home and savor their unique taste.
Bringing a taste of Cinque Terre home will allow you to savor the memories of your trip and share the culinary delights with friends and family.
Exploring the enchanting region of Cinque Terre is an unforgettable journey that delights both the palate and the senses. From the unique wine culture of Cinque Terre and the remarkable Cinque Terre DOC, to the rugged terraced vineyards, with their labor-intensive cultivation methods, and exceptional wines that embody the character of the land and the passion of the winemakers, there is so much to discover in this region.
However, the experience of Cinque Terre goes beyond the vineyards and the wine. The local cuisine, intertwined with the coastal bounty of the Ligurian Sea, completes the sensory journey. From the delicate anchovies of Monterosso to the mouthwatering seafood pasta that showcases an assortment of fresh seafood, the flavors of Cinque Terre’s gastronomy are deeply rooted in tradition and the bountiful resources of the land and sea. Pairing these exquisite dishes with the local wines creates a harmonious symphony of flavors that truly captures the essence of this remarkable region. the culinary experiences of Cinque Terre will leave an indelible mark on your palate and create lasting memories of this enchanting destination.
Whether you’re exploring the terraced vineyards, savoring the local cuisine, or immersing yourself in the vibrant culture of the five picturesque villages, Cinque Terre offers a sensory feast that lingers in the memory. The timeless beauty of the landscapes, the warmth of the locals, and the exceptional wines all contribute to an experience that transcends mere travel. Cinque Terre is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered, a destination that leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of those fortunate enough to explore its wonders.
One of my most cherished memories from our visit to Cinque Terre is captured in a photograph taken by my husband. Wine glass in hand and a smile on my face tells the whole story. It reflects the sheer happiness and joy I felt immersing myself in the breathtaking beauty of this stunning region of Italy. The photo encapsulates the carefree moments spent exploring the narrow cobblestone streets, savoring the flavors of the local cuisine, and breathing in the salty sea breeze. It’s a reminder of the magic that unfolded during our time in Cinque Terre, a truly treasured memento of an unforgettable experience.
I hope you enjoyed this two-part series on Cinque Terre, delving into its wines, local cuisine, and the enchanting beauty of the region. Stay tuned for more journeys through the captivating lands of Italy.
Cheers everyone and thanks for Reading!
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