Rossese: The Italian Riviera’s Red Star

When one thinks of the Italian Riviera, images of Portofino or Cinqueterre come to mind full of colorful little buildings on steep mountainous slopes that overlook crystal blue water. Rarely, does one think of wine. That’s because Liguria, the crescent shaped coastal region that stretches from the French boarder toward Florence, is small in comparison to the larger regions of Tuscany and Piemonte. Very little wine is grown here due to both lack of useable land and the manpower it takes to harvest all grapes by hand.

The two highest quality grapes in Liguria are the white Vermentino and the red Rossese. The most famous culinary aspect that comes out of this region is their pesto. I was lucky enough to taste local pesto with Vermentino while visiting Cinqueterre myself, but when I asked for Rossese there was none to be found! Alas, it was January and the little that had been made (only 200 acres are planted with the grape) had all been happily drunk… both the wine and the people afterward, I supposed.

One year later, back in Los Angeles, I was overjoyed when a bottle of 2018 Ka*Mancine “Galeae” practically fell in my lap, gifted to me by a friend who is an Italian wine rep. It’s from the Dolceacqua DOC which is known for the Rossese grape. A lot of Italian regions cater their style of wine to the local cuisine and, since Liguria specializes in seafood and pesto, both their reds and whites tend to be on the lighter side. I decided to follow suit and pair my Rossese with, of course, a pesto pasta topped with shrimp and proscuitto.

This Rossese is light in body, only 13% alcohol, and on the fruiter side. I got a lot of ripe cherry and strawberry bursting through mouthwatering acidity and light tannin. This is a good food wine. I knew it wouldn’t overpower the pesto or shrimp but decided to add proscuito and olives to stand up to the wine’s slight smoke and earthiness. I also found a spice and balsalmic quality on the finish that I thought would blend nicely with fresh tomatoes and asparagus.

I really enjoyed this pairing! It may not have been the most complex combination I’ve ever put together, but it was thoroughly enjoyable and brought to life a true sense of place, or terroir as us wine nerds like to call it. I felt like I was reliving my time sitting outside in a quaint courtyard watching the tiny rowboats dance in the sea below as grape vines grew on the hills above. When you can’t travel, the next best thing is to create the experience at home!

If you want to create this yourself, you can find Rossese on the Vivino app, like Foresti’s Rossese di Dolceacqua for $21.99. I’ve also found one at Whole Foods in the past. They’re worth checking out beacuase, of any grocery store, I’ve found the most extensive wine department with lesser known grape varieties. Enjoy the Italian Riviera!

Vernazza: a town in Cinqueterre where I first tried Ligurian pesto.

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