Friday, August 8, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: The Wines of Cinque Terra, Italy

Oh to spend a day on the Italian Riviera, wandering through the streets of some of the most enchanting little towns you've ever seen, boating between the towns themselves, paddle boarding on the Mediterranean Sea. What could be better? Well, maybe if there was wine. And there was!!!

Cinque Terre terraced hills
The terraced hills of Cinque Terre
main street, Manarola, Cinqe Terre, Italy
Main street, Manarola
The Winey Family visited Cinque Terra (five lands) after spending a few days in Florence. These tiny towns line the coast of the
Mediterranean Sea on the Italian Riviera. For the record, the towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. To preserve their beauty, Italy has made the area a  National Park and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
gorgeous flowers, Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy
Are these gorgeous???
Monterosso beach, Cinque Terre, Italy
The beach in Monterosso

We visited on a cloudless, hot day - just the kind of weather you want as you hit the Riviera. We took a bus to the city of Spezia and then a train to the seaside town of Manarola. The first thing you notice in Cinque Terre is that the air has its own special scent: basil, thyme and sea air. As you travel to the area, you can see why. The towns are all built on the hills overlooking the sea and the hillsides themselves are terraced with grape vines, olive trees, herb gardens and flower beds. We took another train to Vernazza and then boarded a boat to Monterosso, the resort town of the Cinque Terre. By this time it was very hot and we were hungry, so we found an outdoor cafe with a gorgeous view of the beach and a big umbrella and settled in.

bottles of Cinque Terre wine
Our lunch table!
This was the perfect time to try out the wine of Cinque Terre. Basically, there are two kinds: Cinque Terre is typically a dry, crisp white and Sciacchetra is the very famous sweet wine from the region. Both wines are made from a combination of the Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes. The Sciacchetra is made from grapes that have pretty much been left to become raisins, hence the high sugar content (think Ice Wine).

It was so hot that we went for the Cinque Terre, but got two small bottles, each from a different winery. (There was also some limoncello involved, because it's so darn good.)
Lunch was followed by a swim in the Mediterranean  and our first attempts at paddle boarding. Let me say that paddle boarding looks a lot easier than it is. Thankfully, the water was very warm (and very salty, which I discovered numerous times while squealing as I fell off the board).
Cinque Terre wine bottles
So of course I bought some of this wine home with us. I chose four bottles of Cinque Terre from different wineries.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy
The Winey Family in Riomaggiore
Each one was crisp and juicy and alive with tart and sour flavors. Cheo winery's (12.5%, 2013) had some white grapefruit taste to it with a bit of grass on the top of it all. Sassarini's (13%, 2013) was full of minerals and  dissolved in my mouth the same was a very dry sparkling wine does. Cantina Cinque Terre  (12.5%, 2013) had the same minerality as Sassarini, but with some lime and green pepper in it as well. The local co-op's had a hint of ginger to it. (If you need a comparison for Cinque Terre, think of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. )

This wine is the perfect summer sipper, which is how I will always remember Cinque Terre: pastel buildings climbing the hills, burning sand, bright sunshine, scents of herbs and sea water and flowers everywhere. Add to that the warm, salty water and the sound of waves crashing on the shore and you have a beautiful memory.

These aren't the easiest wines to find here in the US. You may be able to order the Cinque Terre on line, but the Sciacchetra is very elusive. So consider yourself forewarned: if you ever get to Cinque Terre, bring some bubble wrap and save some room in your suitcase. Or go for it and ship some home to yourself. (Pricey option, though!)


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