Some forty or so miles up the Riviera, a different tradition endures through the hands of the Ruffino family of Punta Crena. For more than five hundred years, the Ruffinos have farmed the dry-stone terraces overlooking the adorable seaside village of Varigotti. Unlike in Dolceacqua, Vermentino has long been a staple here, along with a host of other native varieties primarily responsible for helping locals wash down the day’s catch. Less commanding than wines from Dolceacqua, those from Varigotti have a lighthearted nature that seamlessly matches the ambiance of Liguria’s seaside towns. Punta Crena’s Vermentino, for example, is crisp, lemony, and slightly salty, echoing the abundant citrus trees that bask in sunshine and breathe in balmy breezes coming off the Mediterranean. Their Rossese is not concentrated and sappy, like Anfosso’s, but juicy and brimming with fresh fruit and herbs, plus a dusting of peppery spice. In other words, these are the wines to pair with a plate of pesto-coated pasta, or to sip on a lazy day spent on the beach—after all, this is Liguria.
There’s not much to complain about during winter in the Bay Area, but even on a sunny 59-degree day I occasionally catch myself daydreaming of the balmy scent of a warm Mediterranean breeze. Uncorking a bianco from Punta Crena always gets the job done, and the first fragrant whiff of juicy lemon, dried herbs of the Ligurian brush, and sea spray is enough to eradicate the mild discomfort of being slightly underdressed on an unseasonably warm winter evening. They say wine is liquid sunshine, so why not choose the radiant sunshine from the Mediterranean coast, courtesy of this lively Vermentino.
Over a cool glass of bright, juicy, peppery Rossese, I phoned Paolo Ruffino, who carries the flag for the Punta Crena estate after more than five hundred continuous years of familial wine production along the idyllic Ligurian coast. What, I asked, makes a great Rossese?
For Rossese, there are two important factors. First is location: Rossese must be planted at least 200 meters above sea level, and it needs plenty of sun to ripen properly. Second, it must grow in soil of very low fertility. The variety is highly productive, and it requires poor soils to restrict yields and make interesting wines.
The Ruffinos planted top-quality Rossese clones from Dolceacqua in their Isasco vineyard, where terraced slopes of terra rossa (red clay) overlook the Mediterranean perched at 240 meters elevation. All the care, attentiveness, and backbreaking labor required to farm this site result in one of the most joyful and lighthearted reds you will encounter. Taking a sip is akin to crunching into a just-ripe cherry tomato, its nectar bursting onto the palate with sweet, spicy, piquant goodness. Serve it when you would normally open a white but feel like drinking a red.
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