Screaming Terroir (with Subtlety)
2010 Testalonga Rossese di Dolceacqua
Savory, Delicate, Intriguing, Delicious
I think of a love child between Poulsard from the Jura and Gamay from Beaujolais, steeped in garrigue for a long, long time.
This is how I try to begin to get my mind around the rather obscure Rossese di Dolceacqua. Rossese is a grape that manages to speak more strongly of its home than most any other grape is ever able to do.
In the far western corner of Liguria, just before you cross over into France, you'll find the hills of Dolceacqua, peering down over the Mediterranean. These are STEEP hills (check out the picture below), and they are the Rossese grape's home turf. They're so steep, in fact, that they often have to be terraced so that working the vines (or olive trees) in the area is even possible.
Just like these hills, wines made from Rossese are always full of striking herbal and scrub brush notes. They are distinctively savory - almost resolutely so - while they're also incredibly delicate.
Indeed it's hard to get further away from the notions of "fruit" or "power" when you're drinking a Rossese. It's also hard to beat them on the deliciousness and intrigue front. As I mentioned above, I think of a cross between Poulsard and Beaujolais - fine-lined, funky yet silken and subtle - that's been steeped in garrigue to give it a wild brushiness.
And then we come to the producer. Testalonga's Rossese stands out in its esoteric clan for the way these savory, wild herbal notes are rendered with such focus and elegance. Often what leads in a wine is the fruit character, but here the dark cherry fruit plays a supporting role (at best) as notes of pine needles, sage, rosemary, tar and dark earth take center stage. Everything shows a beautiful sense of harmony, delicacy and subtlety despite what sound like powerful elements.
Testalonga's vines are located in the Arcagna vineyard, which is considered one of the best vineyards for this grape. Here, the vines are gnarly with age (again, check out the picture) and trained in the traditional, low-to-the-ground albarello method to keep them anchored.
With this picture, it should go without saying that viticulture in Liguria is hard work. Yields are low, the labor cost high. Yet today we're able to offer this singular 2010 Testalonga Rossese at a very fair price for all the toil that went into its making and the quality as well as the uniqueness of the wine.
When you read up on Rossese de Dolceacqua, the name that looms large as the traditionalist and the quality leader is Mandino Cane. But he's no longer making wine... and many feel that it is now Testalonga who has assumed the status of the benchmark producer for the grape. While I can't personally compare, I can say unequivocally that Testalonga's is ultra-pure and the most refined version of Rossese I've encountered.
This is a shining example of terroir refined - yet never overwhelmed - by sensitive winemaking.
I also can't help but appreciate the sense of humility this wine shows. Testalonga really isn't about being a "world-beater" wine or a vin de garde. It's more about being expressive, evocative... and also gulpable, pungent and food-friendly. For me, there's a lot of value in this, particularly this time of year when the mood should be light, welcoming and convivial.
I first tasted this at importer Louis/Dressner's portfolio tasting this fall, and I was really impressed. When it arrived in the store last week, I took a bottle home just to be sure I wasn't crazy. I served it with rabbit braised in Rossese with herbs and olives - a typical dish of the hill towns around Dolceacqua. Unsurprisingly, it was a perfect pairing. Still, you certainly don't have to be that specific. Anything from a roast chicken to a simple pasta with herbs, olive oil and chili would do just fine.
Those looking to engage the more "obscure" corners of the wine world or anyone interested in a place where delicacy and savory flavors hold sway should pause to take a look here.
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