Rossese: "Alberello" vines >100 years old!

South of Piemonte and east of Monaco lies Dolceacqua, a place of immense beauty and discoveries. The medieval town is a sight to behold with the prominent Ponte Romano (bridge) leading to ancient Borgo (dwellings) that crawl up to the imposing Castello dei Doria (castle). The beauty of Dolceacqua was captured perfectly by Claude Monet in two of his paintings: “Castle of Dolceacqua” and “Dolceacqua Bridge”. For film buffs, the Oscar nominated film “I Am Love” was filmed here.

Nearby, the medieval towns of Apricale (291m ASL) and Bajardo (900m ASL) perched atop the mountains is utterly breath-taking. For the locals here, the phrase “building castles in the skies” has true meaning. Be forewarned though, the drive up can as harrowing as it is breath-taking. Best to hire a driver if you are not used to two-way-on-one-lane roads that winds about up, down and around.

Towards the coast is Bordighera which offers great seafood and beaches if you are willing to wade through the schools of tourists. Also within an hour's drive is the world-renowned gardens of Villa Hanbury in La Mortola.

Dolceacqua ranks in my book as one of the prettiest places on Planet Earth. Add to it the warm and friendly winemakers of Dolceacqua and it becomes very clear why I keep going back.

Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC: A Rare Find

Rossese is a black (violet to be exact) grape and Dolceacqua is the commune in which it is cultivated. Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC is a red wine.

The Rossese grape is believed to have originated from the Middle East and found its home in Liguria. A study in 2009 found Rossese to be genetically similar to Tibouren planted in Provence. While Provence makes rosé from Tibouren, Dolceacqua makes red wines out of Rossese. Liguria is just about the only place in the world that makes red Rossese.

Before World War II there were some 500 hectares of Rossese planted in Dolceacqua. After the WWII much of the vines were replaced with cash crops such as flowers, beans and nuts. Fortunately, the best vineyards were kept to vines.

Today, there are less than 100 hectares of Rossese producing some 300,000 bottles of Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC annually. To put things into perspective, Gevrey-Chambertin AOC (village + 1er cru) is 400+ hectares and produces 2.3 million bottles a year.

Vineyards & Vines: Where Only the Bravest Tread

In Dolceacqua, Rossese vineyards are scattered around 3 valleys – Val Nervia, Val Verbone and Val Roja. These valleys are at 250-450m ASL and sit between the Alps and the Mediterranean sea. The valleys run perpendicular to the sea creating a conduit between the cold Alps and warm sea. Warm winds blows in from the sea in the day, and cold winds blow down from the Alps in the night, resulting in very hot days and equally cold nights.

Rossese is typically grown as Alberello vines (bush vines known as “little trees”) on often steep slopes terraced with ancient stone walls. The vineyards are difficult to access and even more difficult to work on. Consequently just about everything has to be done manually. The average age of Rossese vines in Dolceacqua is a whopping 50 years with the oldest vines more than 120 years old. The flipside of this is that yields from such old vines are very low.

The Wines: Mediterranean Elegance

Rossese di Dolceacqua is truly a rare and unique wine with pedigree and character. The wine is ruby in colour reminiscent of Pinot Noir. It has pronounced perfumes of apricots, alpine pines, salty minerals, garrigue, roses, iodine and sometimes cooked ham. On the palate it is transparent and full of energy. Its medium frame carry through apricots, red cherry, provençal herbs and hints of saltiness. Acidity is moderate to high while tannins are elegant yet firm (most Rossese do not see any new oak hence no wood tannins). The best examples are energetic, well balanced and mouth-watering. They makes good drinking by itself or with cured/cooked hams, seafood, pasta, rabbit and goat (both the classic dishes of Liguria).

For a wine so rare and difficult to make, Rossese di Dolceacqua is still very affordable. It is undoubtedly one of the most exciting wine (and region) of Italy. Do remember you heard it first from the Authentic Wine Explorers.