Flashback to 1888 on the steep mountainsides around Dolceacqua, not far from Ventimiglia. The Ligurian Alps, which emerge abruptly from the Mediterranean at the French-Italian border, are completely covered with vines—three thousand hectares of vines, to be exact, the majority clinging to near-vertical, rocky slopes terraced with dry stone walls. The Poggio Pini vineyard has just been replanted following the devastating phylloxera epidemic, its half-hectare of Rossese newly grafted onto resistant American rootstock. Now fast-forward to present day: only about eighty sparse hectares of Rossese dot the dramatic landscape. One of Liguria’s historically acclaimed wines once praised by the likes of Napoleon and numerous popes, Rossese di Dolceacqua fell victim to urbanization and mechanization over the latter half of the twentieth century—farmers deemed its precipitous inclines too difficult to farm and abandoned them to seek fortune elsewhere. The Anfosso family, proprietors of the breathtaking Poggio Pini vineyard, persisted. Alessandro Anfosso now farms this cru, proud to uphold the tradition his ancestors established over the five preceding generations. The 130-year-old vines at Poggio Pini give his greatest wine: a deep, silken Rossese that marries floral, smoky, and spice elements, culminating in a mouthwatering, stony finish. Equally adapted to fish, meat, vegetable, and mushroom dishes, this red is of unrivaled gastronomic value. But most of all, it is a riveting monument to one hell of a terroir, where the Rossese grape reaches heights that would make Alessandro’s ancestors, weary after a long day in their vineyards, proud.
In the hills of western Liguria you’ll find Tenuta Anfosso, located in the town of Soldano, and the growing area (or DOC) known as Rossese di Dolceacqua. The grape grown here is the same Rossese as is planted throughout Liguria, but the terroir of Dolceacqua takes the grape to soaring new heights. The wines are reminiscent of Côte-Rôtie, with their combination of floral and roasted/bacon fat aromas and silky mid-palate with stoniness on the finish. There is a level of concentration, structure, spice, and minerality that the more fruit-driven Rossese from further east in Liguria does not possess.
A long, crescent-shaped sliver of mountainous coastline ranging from the French border in the west to that of Tuscany in the east, Liguria is a region of unrivaled Mediterranean charm. This applies not only to its colorful seaside villages and carefree, welcoming people, but also to the wines it produces—crisp whites and light reds designed to be quaffed with locally caught seafood.
Viticulture has thrived along these coastal hillsides since Etruscan times. Ancient stone terraces line the steep slopes all along the Riviera, many abandoned while others still host olive trees, lemon trees, and of course, the vine. What Liguria lacks in acreage, it makes up for in diversity and originality: home to numerous indigenous grape varieties, it produces wines of infectious local character.
The hallmarks of Ligurian wines are fragrant aromatics and lively freshness. Whites from grapes like Vermentino and Pigato capture the pervasive flavors of wild herbs and citrus with a sea-breeze salinity, while the rare reds from Rossese, among others, have a brightness of flavor that allows them to complement dishes from the sea or land—served with a slight chill, of course.
While Kermit’s history in the region is relatively recent, Liguria has rapidly become one of his favorite places to visit. It’s hard to blame him—enjoying a crisp, perfumed white with a platter of fried sea critters on the Mediterranean is definitely not the worst part of the job.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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