In the planning of our latest trip to Italy we set our sights on two specific & unique winegrowing niches of the country’s western coast–Dolceacqua on the northwestern extreme of Liguria & Alto Piemonte to the northeast of Alba. Just a short time previously, I was really taken, bordering entranced with several of the Rossese di Dolceacqua wines I tasted from this DOC (officially recognized in 1972), including the Tenuta Anfosso single parcel designated bottlings–Poggio Pini & Luvaira AND the single parcel bottlings–Beragna & Galeae–from Ka’ Manciné. They were a far cry from Rossese based red wines I had had from other parts of Liguria AND VERY different from the Tibouren (supposedly the same grape variety or somehow related) from Provence, right around the corner in southern France. In short, they were like NO other red wine I had previously encountered.
I then started researching more into this appellation & its wines. Dolceacqua is located in the far reaches of northwest Liguria, only 10 to 15 kilometers or so away from Monaco & a bit farther from southern France. It is tucked away in the hills & valleys 15 kilometers or so away from the coastline, but is still greatly influenced by the cool ocean winds, because of the channeling running hills configuration. I read once there were roughly 3000 hectares planted pre-phylloxera, but today only 70 to 90 hectares remain. The steep, labor intensive hillsides, the vertically remote locations, the imposing lack of water & the shocking, increasing plight of wild animal issues (eating of plants, vine leaves & grapes), bordering maniacal, have made many give up on their parcels. Who, after all, would want to work so hard with so little return in the end. Still, pictures of the almost mythically steep vineyards, then convinced me that this is where we needed to go, in lieu of our originally thought of Bierzo & Ribera Sacre of northwestern Spain.
The first stop was to Ka’ Manciné & his Beragna vineyard. We met in one of the small towns located down below in a parking lot. As we soon discovered, there was NO way, we would ever find these remote vineyards up in the mountains ourselves. It was a pleasure to finally shake hands with Ka’ Manciné owner/winemaker Maurizio Anfosso. Joining him, in an effort to make our Dolceacqua visit more convenient for us, was his cousin Alessandro Anfosso of Tenuta Anfosso, our next scheduled visit.
Maurizio is the 3rd generation of his family to run this small 3 hectare estate. His 1.5 hectare, single parcel, Beragna was planted in 1864 & many of the vines still on their own roots. Breathtakingly steep, this venerable site is unusually north facing. While so many of other sites we could see were south to southwest facing to capture a more full sun exposure, I think Beragna’s north facing seems better suited for today’s increasing sun warming & allows a more necessary, longer hang time. Seeing the flysch/schist influenced soils & feeling the continual cooling coastal breezes at the 400 meter elevation AND tasting the grapes as we walked the site gave us a much more complete understanding of the resulting wines AND what its takes to grow & produce these wines.
The 1 1/2 hectare Galeae parcel, on the other hand, was planted in 1905, with significant replanting done in 1998. Equally high in elevation, southeast facing & with some limestone to the flysch soil mix resulted in wines more ethereal in the nose & more structure & masculinity on the palate.
With my first taste, I was really taken with the Ka’ Manciné wines, especially their Beragna & Galeae single parcel wines. Each were so wonderfully & intoxicatingly savory in their core with a faintly similar kind of earthy pungency one experiences with porcini mushrooms & even truffle, at least to a certain degree. On this visit, interestingly, I discovered that Ka’ Manciné, in comparison to the others, stylistically produces red wines (roughly 20% whole cluster) with more transparency, refinement & delicate nuance than the others we visited & tasted during the 2 days, as well as the wines we purchased at the local restaurants & town wine store.
We were also quite taken with Maurizio Anfosso. He was jovial, good fun & had a very outgoing, welcoming charm & was very & seemingly unassumingly passionate about his vineyards & his wines. One could also readily see the respect that both his cousin Alessandro Anfosso & later Erica of Perrino Testa Longa reverently had for him. It was a great & truly memorable visit!
The next stop was the at Tenuta Anfosso. This 6 generation run estate is currently operated by Alessandro Anfosso. Alessandro is much more reserved than Maurizio but quite charming & welcoming nonetheless. He was the straight man & Maurizio the character of the duo. He owns & farms 5.5 hectares of incredible, steep, hillside parcels–Luvaira–2.5 hectares planted in 1905 & some in 2004, Poggio Pini–2 hectares planted in 1888 & Fulavin–1 hectare planted in 1977 & 1998. The vineyards also feature flysch soils (“flysch is a sedimentary rock consisting of alternating strata of marl and sandstone; proportions of clay and sand vary between each vineyard, and within each vineyard“). The common practice here is roughly 50% whole cluster with fermentation & aging in stainless steel & bottle–Fulavin–12 to 13 months in stainless & 4 to 5 months in bottle & for Poggio Pini & Luvaira–more like 17 to 18 months in stainless steel & 7 to 8 months in bottle before release. The wines in comparison to Ka’ Manciné are much more masculine with more “flesh on the bone” & more vehement structure. The Poggio Pini was wonderfully savory & gloriously vinous–impressive to say the least. The Luvaira bottling was much more showy–Burgundian/compost like funk, mega savory, rounder, fuller with a pillowy middle. Alessandro also produces a small amount of Rossese Blanc (150 to 170 years old, own rooted, intermittently scattered throughout the Poggio Pini vineyard). He insists that the Blanc is not directly related to the red Rossese–showing us how the leaves, stems & grapes differ in sight & taste.
We were so thankful for all of the time these two generously gave us & patiently they explained & shared all of their knowledge. It was so immediately evident they are entirely all about the vineyard & how they cultivate what these special, unique vineyards want to say.
Both of these vignerons highly recommended that we go to visit Perrino Testa Longa, another standout producer of the DOC founded in 1961. Run by (uncle) Nino & (niece) Erica, this is a truly garagiste with 2 hectares of vineyards (60% Rossese & 40% Vermentino) & a typical production of 300 cases of wine. The soils are also flysch with every small parcel having some slightly different. The vines are grouped–70 to 75 years; 40 to 45 years; 20 years & the newest parcel, but 3 years in age. They produce but 2 wines–a Rossese di Dolceacqua & a Vermentino–foot pressed, 100% whole clusters for the red, fermented & aged in 6 to 7 year old barrels using native yeasts, with NO temperature control & fermented dry. There is a small amount of SO2 used from November to June to stabilize the wines AND none used at harvest or bottling. Upon first whiff, one can immediately identify, these are done in the more natural minded genre, really growing in popularity amongst the world’s sommelier community.
Their one white wine was quite “orange” in style–full of orange character but still quite standout in quality. The 2018 Rossese di Dolceacqua red was quite macho/masculine, wild & wooly reminiscent in style of Giovanni Montisci of Sardegna (quite the compliment) though with more funk & VA. We were really taken. The 2011 was more about roasted/savory character with chocolate, humus & spice nuances. At 8 years old, it was still so youthful in the core, along with the remarkable development in the nose. The 1983 was quite the adventure–still VERY fresh & alive in the core with a resounding savory, stony base–lean in the fruit department ( as opposed to juicy in the younger versions), a firm acid structure & moderate, intricate tannins in the finish. I loved the wine & was quite surprised it was 36 years in age.
During our 2 day visit to the area, we were able to taste several “other” wines from the area as well. One, which we purchased from a small, very good wine store in the newer part of town, had a production was but roughly 360 bottles (30 cases) & yet another which we thought was quite delicious & charming Terre Bianche (at a restaurant in the old medieval, hillside town of Aprecale) was very delightful. It was undeniable however, to me that Ka’ Manciné, Tenuta Anfosso & Perrino Testa Longa were the real standouts.
Our visit to Dolceacqua though brief, provided us with much more insight than I could have ever wished. The wines were solid, so very unique, interesting, savory & truly unlike anything else I have experienced. I was really taken with their grass roots authenticity & character. The vineyards & vertically remote countryside, as well as the people is something I will treasure remembering forever.
What a visit!!!!!!