Chapter 11 – Liguria
Raise your hand if you ever dreamed of a glamorous vacation in Portofino, of a romantic boat tour around the famousand charming Cinque Terre villages, while drinking some amazing wines and eating delicious food of all kinds?
The dream can be real, if you have ever visited the beautiful region which is the protagonist of our today’s food and wine pairing.
Liguria is a thin, crescent-shaped coastal region of northwest Italy running 250km along the Mediterranean Sea from the border with the south of France in the west to northern Tuscany in the east.
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Known as the Italian Riviera, this thin, beautiful strip of rugged land with its Mediterranean climate and poor, stony soils is dominated by hills with sheer drops that almost fall straight into the sea. These steep elevations make vine growing a challenge, resulting in what is worldwide known as “heroic viticulture” with a very limited production. In some areas the slopes are so steep that the land has to be cultivated by hand.
There are only around 6,000 hectares of vineyard in the wider Ligurian area, of which just over 500 hectares are classified as DOC/DOPs.
Nonetheless, Liguria remains the region with the second-lowest output of wine in Italy.
Most wine is the work of small, artisanal producers who have to grow their vines on terraces carved from the rocky slopes. The steep elevations are a blessing too, as they protect the grapes near the sea from the coldest winter winds blowing down from the Alps.
The soil’s high limestone content is particularly good for white grapes, as it gives the wines their minerality. It is unfortunate that the wines are almost as difficult to find as the land is to cultivate; very few of these wines find their way across international borders.
Although there are dozens of varieties grown in this region, Liguria is generally known for its white wines made from Vermentino and Pigato which takes its name for the spots (pighe) that appear on the mature grapes.
The Vermentino from this region produces wines with a fragrant nose reminiscent of the Ligurian landscape’s pine-wood and sea-salt aromas, as well as an underlying minerality.
The Rocche del Gatto winery is one of the leading wineries in Liguria for natural wines, and in particular in the Savona area, which focuses on a traditional interpretation of its wines, working carefully to ensure the most authentic expression of the aromas and tastes of the area. Founded by Fausto De Andreis in 1982, the winery officially made its debut in the world of wine with the 2002 harvest.
The 4.5 hectares of Rocche del Gatto vineyards are distributed between valley and low hills, at an altitude ranging from 30 to 40 meters above the sea level, and are planted with Pigato and Vermentino, indeed. The vines have their roots in soils characterized by red earth, rich in iron and minerals.
Fausto De Andreis began as a child to be passionate about the world of wine thanks to the teachings of his father. Over the years he has developed his own unique and unconventional style, so much that he has been defined affectionately as “the anarchist of the Pigato”. The production philosophy sees a balanced relationship between secular tradition and technological modernity, in order to recover the knowledge and the flavors of a harsh land cultivated with effort and passion. For this reason, they adopted a meticulous care in the vineyard, fermentations are activated spontaneously thanks to the exclusive use of indigenous yeasts and long macerations are carried out on the skins, which allows to extract those aromatic, mineral and tannic substances that characterize their wines and which genuinely express the territory of the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente.
When in the winery, Fausto likes to let people taste his wines starting from the steel tanks, where Vermentino and Pigato are still turbid and moving: in this phase there are no lies or half-truths and you can already understand the quality and the potential of the wines.
Rocche del Gatto wines show an authentic character and a strong personality and surprise everyone with their complexity. He used to describe his wines with musical metaphors which are very beautiful and expressive: Vermentino is “a good soloist” while the more complex Pigato is “an orchestra”. They are wines for attentive and patient listening.
The wine that me and Carlotta decided to taste for our regional food and wine pairing is his Vermentino 100%, vintage 2016. Fausto’s decision during the vinification phase is to let the must rest in contact with the grape skins, so that the maceration gives greater thickness and depth. This orange wine comes from a specific work in the vineyard in which there is no intervention but only following nature. Fermentation takes place only thanks to indigenous yeasts and after having carried out the malolactic fermentation, the liquid rests for a few months in steel before bottling.
The colour is beautiful and inviting, golden and brightful. In the nose it presents notes of citrus fruit, cider, orange peel, candied oranges, dried fruit, a light bitter note like almonds, medical herbs, mediterranean bush and a lot of mineral notes like wet stones. In the mouth the wine enters pure and round, the sip wraps up all the notes you can feel in the nose, the acidity is pretty high and the finish is long and mineral.
The pairing with the Farinata made by Carlotta was absolutely successful as this Vermentino is a very versatile wine, thanks to his acidity and minerality. I would also suggest trying it with more complex food, like seafood pasta or even the Pesto alla Genovese.
Carlotta’s food story:
But let’s move onto the important part, the food. Every town has its own local product, whether it be a native wine, fish species, basil or artichoke variety. But one of the most marvelous aspects of Ligurian cuisine is what the locals have always and continue to make with the products they are gifted with.
Focaccia Genovese, focaccia di Recco, pesto genovese, torta pasqualina, friceu (tiny fish fritters), pansoti, pesto di noci… I could literally fill up the article just by listing wonderful ligurian dishes.
Today’s recipe is made up of just four ingredients: chickpea flour, salt, water and extra virgin olive oil, all of which are vital in the dishes’ creation, especially the chickpeas. Chickpeas were already consumed throughout Italy in the Middle Ages, introduced during the Arab reign, in fact many sources state that it was through the port of Genoa and thanks to its merchants that the legume diffused throughout the boot.
Evidence of a dish similar to farinata – pureed legumes transformed into cake breads in an oven – was found in ancient Latin and Greek recipes. A dish with simple and ancient origins that demonstrates, once again, how the best things are really the simplest ones.
Until recently, you could enjoy a slice of farinata accompanied by a good glass of wine in little “savoury cake” shops and bars known as Sciamadde, which also happened to be frequented a lot by artists, Fabrizio de Andre, born in Genova, was often sighted in them.
Nowadays most people buy a slice of farinata as they take a stroll through town or to take home and eat as a variety of bread or focaccia. As the traditional recipe requires it to be made in a wood fired oven, most people who live in Liguria and can find it in most shops tend to not make it at home. For those of us who are not lucky enough to live by the seaside and have delicious savoury cakes at a stone’s throw, here is the recipe.