Better Know a Grape: Rossese

Rossese is a grape variety most commonly encountered in Liguria, in Italy’s Northwest.  As with many grape varieties, it is not as cut-and-dry as Rossese is Rossese is Rossese.  Rossese from the Dolceacqua commune of Liguria has recently been determined to be the red grape variety Tibouren of nearby Provence.  However, there are other genetically distinct varieties that also go by the name Rossese, even light- and pink-skinned variants.

About the place: Liguria is a small province in the northwestern corner of Italy, and area that seems to cling to the coast, wedged between the steep mountains of the Alps and the sea.  The main municipality here is Genoa, a significant port in Italy and the Mediterranean.  Naturally, since so much of the area is seaside, white wines pair best with the seafood-heavy diet of the Ligurians.  Cinque Terre is probably the most well-known wine region here, producing crisp and fresh whites from the Bosco and Vermentino grapes.  There is a place for red wines as well, with most reds being produced from the Rossese grape and Ormeasco (aka Dolcetto) in the western part of the province, and the shared Tuscan varieties of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Canaiolo in the eastern part.

Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren) is described as being a lighter-bodied wine, with spice and earth flavors being more central than fruit components.  This seems logical, since the area is cooler and the soils are extremely poor.  In my lead-up to trying this wine for the first time, I frequently ran across descriptors of sandalwood and floral notes.  The wines were generally regarded as being pretty rustic and earthy, embodying the typical Old World red…so I had high hopes!

I was able to get my hands on a 2010 Rossese di Dolceacqua from Azienda Agricola Ramoino recently, not an easy feat in the Midwest where you are lucky if people have even heard of Liguria.  The wine was indeed earthy and spicy.  Medium-plus tannins and a medium-plus acidity helped to amplify the spiciness, which was definitely in the warm allspice, cedar, sandalwood camp.  Even though the wine was stainless steel-fermented, it really had a woodsy, oaky quality to it, which was interesting.  I didn’t really detect any floral qualities in the wine, which was a bit of a disappointment.  I really love floral wines, so I’m always on the lookout for a grape variety outside of the usual suspects of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.  However, this was but one example of the grape variety.  According to Vino Italiano, wild mushrooms are also a specialty of the region, and I could really see the two pairing well.  Overall, it was a good experience and I’m always excited to add another grape variety to my list.  However, I can’t really say that I’d seek the wine out again, especially considering how prohibitively expensive Ligurian wines are.

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