Those of you who follow my Instagram know I was doing a LOT of wine tasting in Italy recently.
You also know that I got to try sciacchetrà, a sweet wine made only in the small region of Cinque Terre, on Italy’s Ligurian coast.
There are so many things that make this region special, from the impossibly blue water and candy-colored houses to the centuries-old trails that weave through the hills, created thanks to stone terraces built by hand over the same hundreds of years.
Given the challenge of the topography, it’s no wonder that grapes were the crop of choice: among other reasons, you don’t need an animal to farm them. This is primarily white grape territory – vermentino, albarola and bosco are the three varietals, though you’ve probably only heard of the first one. Little pockets of cannonau – a red grape – can occasionally be spotted, most of it planted so the owner can make some red wine for home consumption.
Until the 1950s, the region’s hillsides were covered with vines, despite how labor-intensive the work was. At harvest, for example, heavy baskets of fruit had to be manually carried down the narrow, winding paths. Then the worker had to climb back up for the next load.
To eliminate the back-and-forth for day-to-day work in the vines, farmers built small lean-tos for stashing their stuff. He would hike up in the morning, put on work clothes, come back around midday for lunch and a bit of rest, then reverse the process at the end of the day.
It’s probably not a coincidence that grape acreage began declining in the 1950s, when the first cars came to the region. Even today, carts and other technologies that would make the process easier are few and far between. There is one major winery in the area, though there are a few artisanal producers as well.
Most of the wine made here is dry, and I am sad that a taste of it wasn’t on the menu during my visit. However, getting to enjoy a bottle of sciacchetrà completely made up for it.
The locals consider this a celebration wine, brought out for special occasions like a wedding. The first thing you notice is the color: a dark amber reminiscent more of rum or whisky than wine. Then the nose: it’s a touch oxidized, like sherry. Next, take a sip: the liquid moves like velvet over your palate, rich and full with flavors of almond, orange and apricot, with a slight touch of honey.
Though nominally a dessert wine, the sciacchetrà was amazing with our little snack of dried apricots and pecorino cheese. Noon, halfway through a challenging hike, seems an odd time to enjoy such a wine. In this case, though, the view, sunshine and rough-hewn table combined to make for the perfect pairing.
It’s a scenario impossible to recreate at home. Among other things, only one wine store in the US has any sciacchetrà, though there are many in Italy that will happily ship some. But for right now, I have the remaining half-bottle from that day. I will drink it soon – it’s too good not to. But you & I both know it won’t be the same!