Rossese is the king of Ligurian wine!
liguria vini

Ligurian wine to savour! Liguria is certainly a land of white wine, but autumn is an excellent season to discover Ligurian red wine (like Rossese) and its wonderful hinterland


If it is true that speaking of Ligurian viticulture “white wine beats red wine 64 to 36”, given that black grape varieties are only 36% of the total vine area in the region, it is equally true that Liguria can offer a couple of interesting suprises regarding red wine, too. The discovery of these lesser-known Ligurian wines (than the more famous Vermentino and Pigato) can also be a nice way to enjoy “the other Liguria”, the one that is not made of sea, but undiscovered valleys with small villages and delicious dishes.

And autumn with mushrooms, chestnuts and pumpkin is just the ideal season for the two itineraries that I am going to offer you in the Ligurian hinterland to discover the two main types of Ligurian red wine: Rossese and Ormeasco.


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Val Nervia, the Kingdom of Rossese di Dolceacqua wine

Val Nervia starts from Bordighiera and climbs up to Pigna, passing through Dolceacqua. This village is famous for its beautiful Doria castle, so far that Claude Monet made it the subject for his paintings.

It is one of the most beautiful valleys of western Liguria: about twenty kilometres long, it goes from the sea to the peaks of the Maritime Alps. It is entirely crossed by the stream that gives it its name and, at the mouth of this steam, there is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Do not miss a visit to Apricale and Bajardo, two picturesque villages among the most beautiful in Italy, surrounded by pine and chestnut trees.


ligurian wine

Apricale – Flickr, phot.otto


A beautiful sunny autumn weekend is therefore the ideal season to climb this valley to discover its villages and the Ligurian Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC or Dolceacqua wine. This Ligurian red wine is produced from the homonymous grapevine in 14 municipalities with Dolceacqua at the epicentre.

This is the most “French” Italian wine, since the fruity and spicy scents recall the best red wines from Bandol and the Côtes du Rhône. An assonance with the cousins from beyond the Alps that is not only given by the proximity, but also by the fact that the Italian Rossese grape and the French Tibouren grape are substantially identical from a genetic point of view.

It also seems that the Rossese / Tibouren grape arrived via the port of Messalia, now Marseille, thanks to the commercial exchanges of the Greeks, and then spread to present-day Provence and Dolceacqua area, taking two different names. Tibouren is currently used for the production of rosé wines in the AOC Provence, together with other less aromatic grapes. Only in Italy it has always been used alone to make Rossese wine.


rossese wine
Rossese di Dolceacqua – Flickr, npasquali


This Ligurian red wine with a light, fruity and floral aroma and strong hints of Mediterranean scrub (thyme, rosemary, pine, helichrysum) has got a beautiful ruby red colour, a savoury and fragrant flavour and, if properly aged, it becomes intense and persistent, with more complex and articulated hints of slightly dried rose, red fruits, spices and other Mediterranean scents that confirm the close link between sea and mountain.

In the simpler versions, this Ligurian wine can have a very light structure, while the best selections express softness and a high alcohol content. A very particular characteristic is the extremely marked sapidity which, combined with good acidity, make it a very pleasant wine to drink.


Ligurian red wine


Food pairing with this Ligurian wine

A Ligurian wine that, climbing the Val Nervia and lingering in its beautiful villages, you can pair with traditional dishes from this surprising valley.

You can taste the younger and less structured Rossese wine with the traditional “Pissa cun e erbe” from Dolceacqua, a little-known focaccia outside the Val Nervia that takes its name from the vegetables on the pizza dough and which owes its traditionality to local ingredients. Or with Erbun, a yellow pumpkin pie minced with polenta, milk, leek, salt and olive oil.

A ready-to-drink Rossesse wine is also correctly paired with Brandacujon, a traditional dish from Isolabona (although widespread throughout Liguria) based on stockfish and potatoes, flavoured with chopped garlic, parsley and pine nuts, an influence from nearby Provence. As well as with Perinaldo artichoke, called the “Provençal artichoke” and today grown exclusively in Perinaldo and on the heights of the neighboring Provence between 400 and 600 metres above sea level: this is the commonly called “French violet” variety.

This artichoke is a Slow Food Presidium and can be paired with Rossese. As this Ligurian wine is a low tannin red wine, it is among the few wines to be paired with artichokes.


wine from Liguria
Pigna, Flickr, ANTONIO BUSSO


The more structured and aged Rossese versions, on the other hand, are a perfect pairing with the traditional goat stew with Pigna white beans (also a Slow Food presidium), with the Ligurian-style rabbit and with small cheeses from the Alta Val Nervia.

This area has been hit in the last 10 years by a real wine revolution and Rossese di Dolceacqua enjoys increasing recognition, thanks to advanced wine making techniques that bring greater finesse and uniqueness into the glass. The Slow Wine 2020 Guide, for example, awarded the Rossese di Dolceacqua 2018 produced by Terre Bianche winery and the Luvaira 2017 by Maccario Dringenber winery in the slow wines category, i.e. those wines selected by Slow Food as produced respecting organoleptic, territorial, social and identity values.


In Pornassio, the “Dolcetto Made in Liguria”

If Rossese is the French wine of Liguria, Ormeasco is the Ligurian red wine that everyone associates with Piedmont because it genetically belongs to the same family as Dolcetto grape variety. It is not for nothing that Pornassio, homeland of Ormeasco, is in the middle of the valley which, starting from Imperia and going up towards Pieve di Teco, leads to Piedmont.

The Pornassio DOC consists of 5 types:

  • Pornassio
  • Pornassio Sciac-tra
  • Pornassio Superiore
  • Pornassio Passito
  • Pornassio Liquoroso

All these Ligurian wines are obtained from a clone of Dolcetto grapevine cultivated since 1303. At that time the Marquis of Clavesana, who ruled the lands around Pornassio and Pieve di Teco, ordered with an edict, under penalty of beheading, to plant only this grape variety in his fief.


Vineyards in Liguria – Flickr, Francesco Moroni Spidalieri


Also for this Ligurian red wine my personal advice is to discover it in the territory it belongs to: that stretch of land in the province of Imperia where the mountains reach the sea and alluvial deposits of gravel and sand have formed a soil which is particularly suitable for viticulture, but also for the development of a hilly landscape so pleasant to walk on an autumn weekend.

And while discovering this wonderful territory, you cannot fail to go and taste a Ligurian red wine such as the Ormeasco Sciac-trà. The name means “crush and pull” as the pressed grapes are left to macerate for a short period together with the skins, which are then eliminated before fermentation. This rosé wine making gives life to an Ormeasco wine with a wonderful coral colour, but also with absolutely unique aromas of red flowers and berries.


ligurian wine
Wineries in Liguria – Flickr, Sergio Presbitero


Ormeasco is certainly a Ligurian red wine less renowned, widespread and important than Rossese. However, it has won an award in the latest Slow Wine Guide in the daily wine category, i.e. bottles with an excellent quality/price ratio that cost 10 euros maximum.

Among Ligurian wines this recognition was won by the Ormeasco di Pornassio 2018 produced by Cascina Nirasca from Pieve di Teco. This is a young winery in every sense, both because it was recently established and because it is the result of the passion of two young winemakers, Gabriele Maglio and Marco Temesio, who were soon able to conquer the red snail.


The other Ligurian red wines

If I have chosen to tell you about two wines from Western Liguria – an ideal destinations for a nice autumn weekend based on mushrooms and chestnuts -, there are some other Ligurian red wines that deserve to be remembered.

Since we started from Ponente and Rossesse wine, Rossesse di Campochiesa also deserves a mention. This Ligurian red wine is very different from Rossese di Dolceacqua (it is considered its younger brother), but it has got its own typicality and some noteworthy peculiarities. With a typical pale ruby colour, Campochiesa is medium-bodied and slightly tannic. It should be drunk young.


liguria wine
Terraced vineyards – Flickr, Sofia Erto


In the area around Savona, and in particular in Quiliano, the Granaccia grapevine is widespread: it was imported by the Quilian paper makers from Spain (where it is known as Alicante) a few centuries ago. It is a warm, savoury, velvety, full-bodied Ligurian red wine, with great personality.

You will find in Genoa the Ciliegiolo grape variety, which is widespread in the central and eastern areas of Liguria and whose name, which refers to cherry, is not accidental, as it takes its name from the colour and the characteristic aroma that recalls this fruit.

Ligurian red wines from Val Polcevera, Golfo del Tigullio, Colline di Levanto, DOC Colli di Luni areas are produced with Ciliegiolo grapes. In these last two areas in the province of La Spezia, we find Sangiovese in addition to Ciliegiolo, obviously thanks to the influence of the nearby Chianti. As in Colli di Luni red wine, which is produced with Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero, Ciliegiolo, Pollera Nera and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Discover the DOC Colli di Luni Liguria wine with Italia Delight:

In short, Liguria is not really a land of red wines, but its red wines deserve to be discovered and above all tasted!

Did you like the article on Ligurian wine by Laura Bullio, Sommelier and Food Ambassador of Italia Delight? All you have to do is go to discover Liguria wine (and not only!) with our food and wine experiences and food tours in Liguria! 😉


About Author

Laura Bullio
Classe 1969, è giornalista professionista, sommelier Fisar e responsabile delle risorse umane in una società finanziaria. Coltiva un’insana passione per l’enogastronomia e scrive di cibo, vino, annessi e connessi.


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