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Learn About the Wines of Cinque Terre From a New Vantage Point

17 August 2023
by Michele Becker
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Meet the Heroic Wines of Cinque Terre


Comprising five fishing towns perched along the cliffs of the Ligurian coastline, Cinque Terre National Park is a whimsical dreamland for lovers of both the sea and the land. Although its neighbor, Tuscany, is much better known for wine tourism, the wines of Cinque Terre are not to be missed. Dry, crisp, and golden in color, these wines represent a rich history of farming efforts that are truly heroic.  


Heroic Winemaking in Cinque Terre

The term “heroic agriculture” refers to farming practices that are made so difficult by geographic conditions that to successfully plant and cultivate crops is a heroic feat. To say that growing grapes on the side of a cliff is not an easy task is putting it lightly, yet the people of Cinque Terre have been doing exactly that for centuries. Dating back to the 11th century CE, the towns of Cinque Terre have primarily been farming communities, growing grapes, olives, and lemons. In the middle of the 20th century, many farmers left Cinque Terre for bigger cities like Genoa, where more job opportunities awaited them. However, as tourism in the area began to spike in the early 2000s, many winemaking families were able to return to their craft. Today, Cinque Terre is dotted with a number of small, family-run wineries producing around 5,000 bottles a year in the same way that those before them did.


Grapes are grown in terraced vineyards, protected by miles of i muretti a secco, dry stone walls made of massive rocks that are perfectly fitted together without cement. Upkeep of these walls is difficult and replacement stones, when needed, must be brought in via helicopter. As neither cars nor tractors can drive over the cliffs of Cinque Terre, winemakers rely on the monorail, a small, but extensive rail line with a tractor-like vehicle, to transport their harvested grapes. Despite the difficult conditions, the geographic climate of Cinque Terre is actually ideal for grape growing. The high altitude and proximity to the sea means warm, sunny days and cooler nights, a temperature differential that is known to be best for grape production. Once grapes are harvested, they are brought to wineries and bottled to be enjoyed throughout the region.


The Wines  

White wines are the true star in Cinque Terre. Crisp, dry, rich, and mildly acidic, each white wine in Cinque Terre pairs perfectly with the seafood-forward cuisine of the region. Most of the white wines that you’ll find in the Cinque Terre region are a blend of three grape varietals: bosco, vermentino, and albarola. To be certified as a Cinque Terre DOC wine, it must contain at least 40% bosco, a grape grown primarily in Liguria that gives the wine its wonderful richness and salinity. (It is also the main grape varietal used in Sciacchetrà, a local sweet dessert wine that is reminiscent of Tuscany’s vin santo.) To round out the wine blends, vermentino provides a bright acidity and albarola lends a floral aroma and golden color. While it can be a little more expensive because of the labor-intensive harvesting process, every bottle of white wine in Cinque Terre is truly special. Sip a glass after a long day’s hike, or even better, try it on a wine hike.


Did You Say Wine Hike?

Starting in Manarola and ending high up in the small town of Volastra, this hike takes you off the beaten path as you experience the beauty of the grape-lined cliffs on one side and the vibrant blue of the sea on the other. Native wild herbs thyme, rosemary, and scotch broom add to the charm and echo the herbal notes in the wines. You’ll be able to see the monorail from this path, giving you an even greater appreciation for the heroic winemakers. 

Once you reach Volastra, wander through the quaint cobblestoned streets until you reach a small winery, where you’ll learn about the winemaking process from start to finish. The hike ends with a trip to the small but stunning vineyard perched at the very top of the cliffs, where you can indulge in one of the wonderfully crisp white wines of Cinque Terre and a fresh slice of focaccia genovese. Between the serenity of the environment, breathtaking views, and delicious wine, there is truly no experience like it!



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