The part of Liguria east of Genova is known as the Levanto (a permutation of the French “levant,” which means “oriental,” or “east”), and it is without a doubt one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in Italy. You’ve got the swanky resort town of Portofino, perched atop the Gulf of Tigullio, while further east are the vineyard terraces of the Cinque Terre. For the wine lover, there are some interesting things to drink here and there, although I’m gonna level with you: Cinque Terre’s dizzying heights may inspire, but its wines rarely do.
The Levanto has three major wine appellations (DOCs) of interest to the serious wine lover, the common denominator being the herbal, tangy vermentino grape. On our list (and no doubt on others) you will see both red and white wines labeled “Golfo del Tigullio,” although they are more likely to be whites. The best wines in this zone are made by Enoteca Bisson, a terrific wine shop/winery whose roster of vermentino-based whites always has a home at Babbo. As noted before in this space, vermentino is one of our favorite indigenous grapes, producing crisp yet well-structured whites that magically capture some of the briny flavors of the nearby sea. Even though Mario makes calamari “Sicilian Lifeguard Style,” I often find myself gravitating toward Ligurian vermentino when someone asks for a wine with that awesome caper- and pesto-laden stew.
Another up-and-coming appellation in eastern Liguria is Colli di Luni, a wine zone that actually bleeds over into neighboring Tuscany but is centered on the Ligurian town of La Spezia. Lately I’ve tasted a number of nice whites (also based on vermentino) from the Colli di Luni, but also interesting are some light, spicy reds that incorporate the bright, cherry-scented ciliegiolo grape, which is also found in coastal Tuscany (see my recommendation below).
And then there’s good ol’ Cinque Terre, where the typically light and flinty whites combine a little vermentino with bosco and albarola grapes. One producer in the Cinque Terre, Walter De Batte, has made a bit of a name for bosco with his unusually extracted and luscious Cinque Terre whites, which really break the Cinque Terre mold in every way (especially price!).
But the story in the Cinque Terre is the rare dessert nectar called “sciacchetra,” which a number of producers make but is best exemplified by the wines of Walter DeBatte. Sciacchetra is a dried-grape wine made from the classic local grapes, and it combines the honeyed richness of the dried fruit with a cleansing blast of acidity so typical of these varieties. It is a rich and rare “vino da meditazione” (meditation wine) and something totally different to try with a cheese plate on your next visit. My current Levanto faves:
Golfo del Tigullio Vermentino “Intrigoso,” Enoteca Bisson 2002 Terrific depth for a coastal white; briny, citrusy, herb-scented; great for seafood dishes.
Colli di Luni Rosso “Auxo,” Lunae 2001 A bright and spicy red combining sangiovese, canaiolo, and ciliegiolo. Lots of Mediterranean savor.
Cinque Terre Sciacchetra, Walter De Batte 1999 One of the most interesting and intense dessert wines on our list. Honeyed, spicy, unctuous, yet crisply acidic as well.