New vintages seem to arrive here in the US right when they “should”—rosés in spring and summer, reds from Burgundy and Rhône in the late fall. The wines from Punta Crena, our Ligurian farmhouse gem of a winery, always arrive late August or early September. On the surface, the wines from Punta Crena seem like they are meant for easy summer drinking, as they are grown in Varigotti, a touristy beach town that is over-run during the summer season. But these wines have an extra gear, particularly the whites, that take them out of the “just kick it back” category. That’s fine to do of course—vignaiolo Paolo Ruffino is no stranger to doing just that—but there’s something about the seasons where we spend more time indoors that helps you to focus a bit more on what’s in your glass. I change my go-to Punta Crena white each year and right now I’m reaching for the 2017 Mataòssu. It’s highly likely that you’ve only heard of the Mataòssu grape in our newsletter, as Paolo claims he is the only grower of this variety. The Mataòssu draws you in with fresh-cut white flowers on the nose, but that extra gear I was talking about? That kicks in on the palate—first, a hint of honeydew melon; second, a texture and grain that sink in; third, a rich, mouth-coating honeyed note; and fourth, all of that combines and lingers.
The vineyards of Punta Crena (which is named for a large promontory jutting into the sea at the edge of the village) are all within 1200 meters of the water and enjoy sea breezes that help keep the grapes healthy and happy. The Ruffino family are proud to work almost exclusively with local varietals, but they dont have much company. As a result, several of Punta Crenas wines are one of a kind: the Mataòssu and Cruvin are entirely unique, and the Barbarossa is the only one produced in Italy. They believe that their only job after the harvest is simply to avoid ruining their lovely fruit as it turns to wine. These are light, fun wines with no pretension.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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