It’s not such an unusual phenomenon that people from Tokyo to Texas visit such attractions as the Riviera or Cinque Terre – the Ligurian coast (and the entroterra (“inland”) as well) offers verdant mountains running down to azure seas, impossibly charming towns and a cuisine that is arguably the greatest in Italy, especially for seafood lovers. Liguria makes a fair bit of really idiosyncratic and high quality wine, but a trip to any but the best wine shops outside of the region will likely turn up precisely zero examples of its viticultural produce. The obvious question is “Why?” Well, here’s why…
The first major reason is related to the robustness of Liguria’s tourist trade. Due to the great demand for wine at the countless restaurants dotting Liguria’s extensive coast, most Ligurian winemakers can sell most if not all of their products by simply picking up their respective telephones and jingling the cells of their friends Giovanni or Emma or Ugo that are more or less neighbors and whom they and their fathers and granfathers have been dealing with for decades. An afternoon’s work at their desks, and the sales aspect of the business is put to bed for the season. Why bother with overseas importers, shipping issues, getting payment from customers residing halfway around the world when all this can be taken care of over a plate of pasta and a grilled fish with Giovanni or Emma or Ugo, with a likely payment in full, in cash?
The second major factor for the relative rarity of Ligurian wines outside of Liguria lies with the nature of Liguria as a place. For all its beauty, the terrain is steep and rocky and indeed precisely because of all of this natural pulchritude, land is very expensive. These two factors wind up making almost all Ligurian wine concerns little more than cottage industries. Most Ligurian winemakers just don’t have a lot of wine to sell, and the opportunities to acquire more land are scarce indeed, so why create a worldwide taste for your products if you can only dribble out to 5 or 10 cases to any given client?
So on to the brass tacks of this evening’s wine, which is made entirely of a grape called Pigato. This is a variety that for a very long time that has been held up as the signature white grape variety in a region that produces mostly white wines. So when recent genetic testing revealed that Pigato is more or less identical to Pigato’s frequent vinyard-mate Vermentino (they may be “brothers from another mother” in that they descend from different clonal lines) there was a bit of disappointment. But even with this information, most winos (this one included) note some consistent differences in the bottle between these two grapes, with Pigato tending to be a bit softer, bigger and deeper than the more sprightly Vermentino; mind over matter? Perhaps, but the perception remains.
This evening’s example of this very Ligurian wine comes from a producer who exports very little of its small production, and which is universally considered to be one of top few producers of Pigato, full stop. As a grape, Pigato has a very round and amiable nature; it’s pliant, but it knows just as well how to draw lines in the sand with even the most imposing dishes and not be overwhelmed by them, so it makes the perfect match with oh-so-Ligurian dishes like Pesto alla Genovese, and since I’ve got a few pots of basil that I’ve got to get to before the cold weather does, this became the first course. For the main, I made pan-fried battered chicken cutlets with a tangy lemon, butter, wine and parsley sauce and side of baby peas with pancetta and sage.
Azienda Agricola Bruna Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente “Maje`” 2013
Slightly green-tinted, pale “white gold” color. Pretty, almost perfumed nose of white peach, lemon curd, fresh pineapple, almond milk, shiitake mushroom, hay, broom, and a touch of vanilla egg custard. The palate is medium in body with an intense, soft and supple texture that is balanced by a briny minerality and a freshly elegant acidity that push forward flavors of yellow cherry, Anjou pear, white currants, sliced celery and fresh ginger. Long, bitterish finish. A paradigm for the grape.