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Liguria has got to be one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. Those who might have heard of this little crescent-shaped region likely envision photogenic Cinque Terre or glamorous Portofino… But across the Ligurian Sea from these hotspots, on the crescent’s western side lies a quieter stretch of coastline and the village of Varigotti. In this tiny seaside town, idyllic cottages painted in gelato-like hues face the sea and the smell of fresh focaccia wafts from the bakery. A mere 700 residents live here; most families have been here for generations. The Ruffino family of Punta Crena has farmed the land above Varigotti for over 500 years, crafting wine from ancient grapes grown nowhere else on the planet. Those who know our portfolio well have seen wines from Punta Crena grace the pages of our newsletter for nearly a decade, yet the Ruffinos (like the humble fishing village they call home) remain under-the-radar—they don’t seem to mind. Quietly tending to dizzyingly steep, sea-misted vines co-planted with lemons and olives, their operation is a family affair, with three generations helping out. “The grapes grown here, nature selected. The vines are married to the land,” says Paolo Ruffino. Native grape varieties reigned in the 19th century, though most growers have since ripped out the historical vines to replant more productive, less fastidious varieties. Not the Ruffinos, who instead focused their efforts on recuperating the traditional vines which have grown in Liguria for thousands of years. These indigenous varieties produce less fruit and require more work, but provide the soulful essentials needed to create Punta Crena’s elegant, distinctive wines. For all of the backbreaking labor that goes into crafting them, I marvel at how lighthearted and joyous these wines are to drink. Every bottle offers a strong sense of where it came from: the sea, the land, the people, their purpose—sharing with us the fruits of an ancient family craft. This sampler will introduce you to some of the most rare and purely made wines in all of Italy.
2017 Colline Savonesi Lumassina Frizzante $21 Late-ripening (“lumasse” means snail in local dialect) and hard to cultivate, the Lumassina grape would be lost to extinction if not for a handful of families with the patience to grow it. Naturally and gently sparkling, Punta Crena’s Lumassina Frizzante is lively yet soft, floral with hints of citrus and pepper. A dream with all things from the sea, Kermit recently served it with deep-fried fresh anchovies at his daughter’s wedding in Cassis.
2017 Colline Savonesi Rosato “Pettirosso Allegro” $20 A bubbly rosato made from indigenous Rossese and Cruvin. Light, palate-cleansing, fruity, and extremely easy to drink. One of those go-to bottles to keep in the fridge at all times.
2017 Colline Savonesi Mataòssu “Vigneto Reiné” $28 Grown only in this little enclave of Liguria, Mataòssu is a rare treat. One sniff and you’re at their cliffside vineyards—citrus, wild herbs, seaspray. Their most structured white, it’s the perfect companion for anything topped with olive oil and garlic.
2017 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato “Vigneto Ca da Rena” $28 This is another hyper-local grape, and the freckled cousin of Vermentino. “Pighe” means small spots in Ligurian dialect, referring to the flecks of amber that develop on the skin of mature grapes. Punta Crena’s Pigato is a classic expression: citrus blossoms, acacia, fresh basil, cream, beeswax... Enjoy like the locals with pesto, vegetables, and fish.
2017 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Rossese “Vigneto Isasco” $30 Rossese is the elemental red grape of Liguria. Light, thirst-quenching and delightfully chillable, this one is a staff favorite for barbecue season. Refreshing as a white with the punchiness of a red. Pair with salumi, tuna, crudo, or whatever is on your grill.
2017 Colline Savonesi Rosso “Cruvin” $34 This “Cruvin” is one of a kind. No, really, it’s the last of its kind—yet another indigenous variety uprooted due to its low yields and difficult nature. Luckily, the Ruffinos still cultivate this rare breed, and the resulting red is deep purple, juicy, super fresh, and utterly swallowable.
Paolo Ruffino with one of the estate’s youngest helpers
Punta Crena in the distance, the point after which the estate is named
For all of the backbreaking labor that goes into crafting them, I marvel at how lighthearted and joyous these wines are to drink. Every bottle offers a strong sense of where it came from: the sea, the land, the people, their purpose—sharing with us the fruits of an ancient family craft.
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.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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