Summer is upon us, the next heat wave only an AccuWeather forecast away. Time for those of us who love Italian wine to uncork bracing, acidity-driven whites from the coastal hills. Maybe a Verdicchio from the Adriatic shores, a Tuscan Vermentino or Vernaccia, perhaps Campania’s ancient grapes such as Falanghina, Fiano, or Asprinio. Definitely Sicilian Carricante and Grillo. How about something from Liguria, the maritime arc that runs from the Cinque Terre to the French border?
The problem is that very few Ligurian wines find their way stateside. A Vermentino or Pigato here and there, but what of a varietal such as Bianchetto Genovese? I’d heard of the “little white grape from Genoa”, and it was probably in the field blends I consumed while visiting the region years ago, but that meant that its inherent characteristics were lost in the mix, and remained a mystery.
To find it in a PLCB store was on the order of discovering a 1936 Margaux in your grandfather’s cellar. I’d had two other Bissson wines and was familiar with the name Pierluigi Lugano, but was ignorant of the fact he was the first to produce a monovarietal Bianchetta. His two estates near the Golfo di Tigullio DOC showcase his dedication to preserving indigenous Ligurian grapes. Alongside more recognizable names can be found Albarola, Bosco, and Ciliegiolo. The region’s steep, rocky terrain necessitates all vineyard work be done manually. Bisson wines, both red and white, are fermented and stored in tank to maintain those qualities and specific fruit profiles unique to each varietal.
In local dialect, u pastine is a parcel of land chosen as ideal for viticulture. Lugano hit the mark with his site selection. The nose has a tinge of saltiness, wildflowers, and that breezy, terroir-specific aroma of scrub pine-thyme-fennel Italians refer to as macchia. It’s full bodied for a white, but not in a wood-fueled Chardonnay sense. Richly textured and vaguely tropical sensations of white peaches, pear, and melons are invigorated by bursts of salinity and minerals. Bisson U Pastine 2010 has attitude and a presence that isolates it from the usual shelf hogging suspects that have come to represent Italian white wine. I’d rather have a sip that captures Liguria in a bottle at $21.99 than pay a dollar more for yet another overpriced Pinot Grigio (do the initials S.M. sound familiar?). Not to mention that the latter would have been a pale companion for the plate of sardines grilled with lemon and breadcrumbs accompanied by orzo tossed with lemon oil, toasted pine nuts, and sage from the garden, and a bowl of assorted olives that was devoured al aperto. That and the Bianchetta? Love at first bite.