Traveling Through The Wines & Vines of Italy's Breathtaking Cinque Terre

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copyright art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc,excerpted from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati TM Blog

A train cuts towards the Italian coast in the Liguria region. It passes picturesque hills with villages and houses and church spires perched on top, like crowns. It stops at the bustling town of La Spezia before plunging into dark mountain tunnels. There’s an opening in the side of the mountain, and for about a minute, there is a tantalizing view of blue blue sea and cliffside, before the mountain envelops the train again. It is headed for the Cinque Terre.

The Cinque Terre is a string of five villages or “five lands” along the Italian coast. They are all precariously and breathtakingly situated on the steep cliffside, and brightly colored houses spill down towards tiny harbors and the sea. Tourists come to take in the scenery and walk the cliff paths connecting the villages. And the incredible thing about these cliffs is that they aren’t bare and rocky. What appear to be green stair steps cover the mountainside – these are terraced vineyards, and you might even catch a glimpse of a farmer out tending the grapes or watering the vines.

For thousands of years, since Roman times, determined farmers have been at work turning these remote rocks into fertile ground. Hundreds of years ago, the locals at first focused on crops for sustenance, but stacking up rocks to build those terraces was thirsty work, and soon they began growing grapes and producing their own unique wine. The popularity of the wine grew and it was praised by popes and poets alike. Authors and artists from all over Italy sent for it, claiming it was necessary as their inspiration!

Modern-day visitors looking for such inspiration just might find it, in a little shop down the narrow streets of the villages, or in a restaurant overlooking the sea. The sweet raisin wine is similar to what the ancient poets loved, but a few centuries have seen the name change several times. At first it was known as Cinque Terre Amabile, but now it is known as sciacchetra or simply the Cinque Terre DOC. Sciacchetra is made from bosco and albarola grapes, grown on those cliffside vineyards and then dried before being fermented. The taste is sweet and the wine has a golden hue – but what other color would a wine produced in such a sun-soaked idyllic spot be? And it’s been said that the sea breezes and the fragrant mountain flowers impart some of their magic to the wine as well.

The locale is beautiful, but dangerous as well. A few hundred of years of wear and tear on the terraces have seen many of them abandoned, and put even the cultivated ones in danger of collapsing and falling into the sea. Luckily programs have been set up to protect the vineyards, and to encourage locals and outsiders to protect and rebuild the terraces. There is even an “Adopt-a-Vineyard” program, which offers 20-year cultivation rights to anyone willing to repair the walls and grow the grapes. With the help of such measures, the Cinque Terre vineyards are still hard at work producing sweet golden “inspiration” for today’s visitors.

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