Where is the Logic?

Our guest writer, Amanda Courtney, based in Piemonte where she runs
pays a quick visit into Liguria and can’t resist the chance to chat
with locals about a topic close to her wine-lovin’ heart.

For me the topic of Vermentino and Pigato is something I talk about a lot. Not on paper but with friends, winemakers and especially with people who come from Liguria. There is so much confusion and mis-information about these two grape varieties that I too feel like I’m taking sides about how I feel about them. Having worked around them for many years, in my own humble opinion, Pigato has always been the grape whose wine I’ve enjoyed more. On a recent trip to southwest Liguria, in the area of Dolceacqua, while we were on a mission to learn more about their Olives and Extra Virgin Oils, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chat about – Vermentino vs. Pigato

The first place we arrived at was Uliveto Saglietto to taste their olive oil.

But it just so happened they also make wine and produce both Vermentino and Pigato. They have a wonderful little “Agriturismo” with a great view overlooking the sea where you could rent one of their rooms for a pleasant sea side vacation. We got talking with the owner Tiziana about her thoughts on Vermentino and Pigato. She said that from her studies she believes that Pigato is likely to be a hybrid of Vermentino with some suggestion that it might also be related to one of the Malvasia grouping.

When I get the chance to talk to Ligurian locals, those who’ve grown up with and worked with the both grape varieties, somehow their responses usually add to my confusion about the two. Yes, many believe and scientific studies suggest that Pigato is genetically the same as Vermentino, something that’s also said of Favorita (a grape grown in Piemonte). But from the characteristics of how the grape grows and the taste of the wines, you can’t help but sense that there is something very different between all three. Even when we are talking about Vermentino and Pigato growing in the same vineyard, there are so many differences. One thing Ligurian locals were brought up to believe was that these grapes may have been brought to their shore by the Spanish or perhaps Arab settlers. In either event, the first written indications of Pigato growing in Liguria were recounted in the 1600’s.

So what is it?

I recently bumped into 4 young Ligurians from the Sanremo hills who were here in Piemonte for a wine trip. After much conversation I asked them “At home how do you talk about the difference between the Vermentino and Pigato? ”. In unison they responded that it depends where the Vermentino is planted. You can have two rows of vines and depending on their position in the vineyards the Vermentino will change into a spotted variety that they later called Pigato. This name is derived from the local dialect where “Pigau” means spotted.

On our last day, touring the coast of Liguria, we met with Fausto De Andreis from LE ROCCHE DEL GATTO

A winemaker who is particularly passionate about these two grapes, Fausto has been working with both varieties for over 60 years at his winery in Salea d’Albegna, south west Liguria. If you ever have the chance to taste his wines I can’t recommend them highly enough. Both he and his wines were a very pleasant surprise, like a breath of fresh air. He’s the renegade of white wine in Liguria. Since the 80’s Fausto has been macerating his white wines like a red to give more structure and personality to them. He said that, depending on the vintage, he will macerate for 10 to 20 days. That’s a lot of skin contact!
After that the wines will remain in contact with their natural lees for months until he feels they are ready to be bottled. And as a matter of interest, during our visit, we tasted from tank the 2016’s and also a few wines that Fausto believed needed more time in tank from the vintages 2012 and also 2011.

This seems crazy but let me explain. For example, to make Barolo, you need to keep the wine in the cellar for 4 years. So today if you go to visit wineries in Barolo they will be sold out of the 2011 Barolo. This guy Fausto on the other hand has not even thought of bottling his 2011 Pigato, like he is out of his mind! You can tell that he too also had strong feelings for Pigato, the same way that I do, so we got along just fine. Interestingly, the wines still in the tanks will have to be declassified because in order to get the DOC Pigato, the color cannot show age as the wine needs to be fresh and young. So Fausto makes a wine under the name ‘Spigau’, as an IGP, in order to be able to create a wine with more complexity and age-ability.

So I asked Fausto: “Why do so many people say that Vermentino and Pigato are the same grape? What is the difference?” You can tell this question rattled him up a bit, and from that you know you are going to get a good answer. He brought us outside the cellar to where he had some canes cut from 3 different vines. “This here is a perfect example,” he said, “each one of these canes are very different you see, the nodes of the cane are completely different. The size, the way they have grown, and their colors. Not to mention the leaves of the vines and also the berries themselves.” Fausto went on to add, “what you have tasted in the tanks are coming from the same vineyards, all of my vines are old vines, we are talking since the 1950’s. You can taste that there is a great difference from these two grapes. I have in my vineyards the original Vermentino plants, they are more delicate and fussy where as Pigato is much stronger and more giving.”

With officialdom still calling it for Vermentino, I got the feeling from Fausto that Pigato is not getting the kind of attention and respect it deserves.

Can there ever be a conclusion to the debate ? Apparently not yet.

What I have learned while living in Italy is no matter how much scientific proof you might have, you will always find people who’ll happily maintain the traditional beliefs and stories handed down from generation to generation. It’s part of their fabric.

As to which came first – Vermentino or Pigato?

Perhaps no one will ever be able to tell us. It’s curious how you still can’t find as much information about Pigato as you can about Vermentino. Like Pigato is being kept in the shadow. But you know, the more I learn about it, the more it doesn’t seem so logical for things to stay that way.

Mysterious Pigato, you are coming into your own and I toast you with a full glass. Cin Cin!!

The Logical Song – Roger Hodgson & Supertramp

Amanda Courtney – profile:

An American now living and working in Piemonte, Amanda was born outside the Boston area and studied metal-smithing and jewelry design at the Maine College of Art in Portland ME. Later while working in Los Angeles, the passion of LA’s food & wine scene captured her imagination. From that moment on her passion for wine culture grew and led her to study with the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust. Working in wine education, she has found her true talent and recently started her own Wine Adventures company offering educational wine tours throughout Piemonte wine country. To learn more about Amanda and her activities, simply follow the link: AMANDA’s WINEADVENTURES

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