Compared to most of Italy's regions, Liguria produces relatively little wine -- the second lowest output of any region. The steep seaside cliffs don't always provide the most hospitable climate for vines -- or people. In fact, some vineyards are accessible only by boat [source: Ligurien-netz]. There's virtually no flat land, and estates are too small and fragmented for mass production [source: Italian Made].
However, the relative scarcity of grapes allows Liguria to specialize in local vines -- roughly 100 different varieties [source: Wein-Plus]. Liguria grows almost no international varietals in any significant quantity [source: Reiss].
The soil of Liguria is high in limestone -- with an emphasis on the "stone." With so little flat land, growers must raise grapes on terraces carved from the rocky slopes. The slopes do offer one advantage, though: the mountain peaks protect the grapes near the sea from the coldest winter winds blowing down from the Alps [source: Wein-Plus]. And the limestone soil is particularly good for white grapes, which acquire mineral flavors.
In the Cinque Terre, the soil is constantly buffeted by harsh, salty sea winds. It has been described as lean and parched [source: Italian Made]. But hardship for grapes can lead to extraordinary wines; dry conditions mean higher sugar content in the grapes, so it's no wonder that Cinque Terre is known for its sweet Sciacchetrà.
Unfortunately, because Ligurian wine rarely leaves Liguria, outside merchants tend to hoard it -- sometimes past its prime [source: Esposito]. If you've tasted a Ligurian white in the U.S., you may well have been disappointed. The place to drink Ligurian wine is in Liguria -- preferably at an outdoor cafe, in a temperate Riviera breeze, at one of the resort villages.
What should you order when the camariere brings the wine list? On the next page, we'll take a look at some of Liguria's notable wines.