From: Ligura, Italy
Taste: While Punta Crena’s wines are easy quaffers, it is also possible to geek out about them, if that’s your thing. Rossese is a somewhat obscure Ligurian grape with a knack for communicating its terroir—in this case, Varigotti’s red clay—which brings uncommon roundness, the wild Ligurian brush with its herbal notes, and the emblematic coastal air salinity.
This is a magical wine, as much so as Liguria, the place in Italy from where it originates. The terrain here is dramatically rugged, with hand worked terraces of vines on mountains that drop into the Mediterranean. Rossese’s aromas are at first are musky and exotic, but the moment of palate contact elicits cranberry, pomegranate less tannin/more acid and subtle spice. This juice is a quaffable joy!! Pair this glorious, light bodied red with spaghetti al pesto, sit back and let the magic happen.
- BLR (from the 2020 vintage, but just as true for the 2021 vintage Rossese)
Pairing: Go for regional fare with this wine! The region of Liguria, home to the Cinque Terre, Portofino and Genoa, boasts some of the best food in Italy—including pesto genovese, minestrone and focaccia. Because Liguria is on the coast, seafood and fish are a big part of the diet here, and many of the region’s famous foods and recipes were first invented, or eaten, on ships or by fishermen. We especially recommend pairing this Rossese with any of the dishes in bold below (keep going for a recipe highlighting the gorgeous pesto by Nigella Lawson to pair with this wine).
Ligurian Risotto by Nigella Lawson
Not a big seafood fan? Don’t worry! The sea breezes and mineral-rich soils mean that the region is also famous for its herbs (especially basil and rosemary), wine, olive oil, pine nuts, porcini mushrooms, and other delicious foods.
Focaccia: Ah, focaccia! This Ligurian bread has made its way around the world, and it’s no surprise: It’s delicious either on its own, dipped in sauce, or with a spread. A flattened bread (like a pizza without tomato sauce), it’s meant to be eaten hot from the oven. It might be flavored with anything from just olive oil and salt to cheese and sausage. And it’s a street food, so don’t feel as if you have to be sitting down at a restaurant to enjoy it.
Paniccia: Paniccia is made from chickpea flour and served hot. But it’s softer, more like a polenta.
Farinata: Another Ligurian street food, farinata is a bread made from chickpea flour. As with focaccia, of course, olive oil and other flavorings (often rosemary or onion) are added in. It’s also best eaten piping-hot and fresh out of the oven.
Ciuppin: Ever heard of “cioppino”? Well, that’s a dish that was developed by Italian immigrants in California in the 19th century—and it’s based on Genoa’s ciuppin. The original version, made up by fishermen on Liguria’s coast, was meant to use up the fish that were too small or damaged for anyone to buy. The fish are slow-cooked for up to two hours, making for a delicious soup. There’s also much less tomato than in the Italian-American version.
Cappon magro: This dish looks like a salad… but it’s much more complicated! Hard-tack biscuits (yes, a holdover from Liguria’s seafaring times) are soaked in olive oil and salt water. They’re layered on top in a pyramid (something that takes a fair amount of artistry, and balance, to pull off!) with a mixture of fish, shellfish, olives, and eggs, and dressed with a sauce flavored with anchovies and capers. It’s a traditional dish to eat on Christmas Eve.
Ravioli: Ravioli, or stuffed pasta, are said to have been invented here in Liguria—in the town of Novi LIugre, in particular. It’s unclear how true this is, but we do know that ravioli was served to sailors. That’s because, at the end of a meal on board, anything left over would be chopped and mixed altogether, stuffed into envelopes of pasta… and served at the next meal.
Ravioli alla genovese: Just one kind of ravioli you’ll find in Liguria, this “Genovese ravioli” is stuffed with veal, egg, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, chard, nutmeg… and sweetbreads, udder, and brains! It’s all a part of Liguria’s cucina povera, in which no part of anything would go to waste.
Pesto alla genovese: In short, while there are lots of kinds of pesto in Italy (“pesto” can refer to any paste of herbs that’s mashed up with a mortar and pestle), pesto alla genovese is the most famous. It’s D.O.P. protected, meaning it can only be made in a very precise way, with specific ingredients (including D.O.P. basil from Genoa), to be considered the “real thing.” The ingredients themselves are simple–basil, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, garlic, salt, and olive oil—and when it’s done properly, it’s absolutely delicious over penne or another pasta!
Tocco di funghi: Fresh porcini mushrooms (abundant in Liguria) are cooked with garlic, rosemary, butter, oil, and the ever-ubiquitous pine nuts. It’s usually served with risotto or pasta.
Torta pasqualina: If you like some pastry with your greens, you’ll love this dish. Pastry is layered with a mix of green chard, parmesan, ricotta, and other herbs, and the filling is indented with eggs and butter. The pastry layers are supposed to number 33. Sound random? Each one is for a year of Christ’s life—this dish actually got its start as an Easter tradition, although many people eat it year-round now.
Ravioli dolci: Like ravioli, but not! These “sweet ravioli” are envelopes of sweet egg dough, filled with a pesto of citrus peel, candied squash, citron, and beef marrow.
Punta Crena via KLWM. The tiny village of Varigotti sits on the Mediterranean, just a few rows of houses and restaurants on a pristine beach, with its back against steep hills. Climb up into the hills and you will discover neatly terraced vineyards on the slopes and in hidden clearings further up on the peaks. The Ruffino family has been tending these vineyards for over 500 years, hardly changing a thing as they pass their knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next. Today the estate is run by four siblings: Tommaso, the eldest, is the winemaker; Paolo is the salesman; Anna handles logistics; and Nicola helps out in the vineyards and winery. Their mother, Libera, was a strong businesswoman who revolutionized sales by dealing directly with clients rather than working with the merchants who controlled the market at the time; but today she stays in the background, happily cooking for the constant flow of guests and tending the home-grown vegetable stand in the courtyard as her numerous grandchildren scamper around her. These unpretentious people are firmly rooted in Varigotti, and the wines they craft are infused with local tradition and character.
Ask Paolo if the family follows organic methods in the vineyards and he’ll laugh. We’re not “organic,” he says as if you had asked about some crazy new technology. We just do everything the same way our ancestors have for hundreds of years. They even build their stone terraces by hand, using the method established here three thousand years ago.
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