Loonie for Lunae

Like comedies at the Oscars, white wines at GAMBERO ROSSO’S TRE BICCHIERI awards are a minority class. They’re few in number and have to work harder to get some respect.

So I was thrilled the first time a Vermentino from Liguria make the cut. (In my debut column for UNCORKED this week, I discuss Vermentinos from the whole maritime triangle of Liguria, Tuscany, and Sardinia.)

The Ligurian awardee that year, 2010, was CANTINE LUNAE, a producer I wasn’t acquainted with. But after sampling their lip-smacking Vermentino Colli di Luni at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in New York, I was so impressed that I promised Diego Bosoni, there pouring his family’s wines, that I’d pay them a visit the next time I was in Liguria.

I kept my word.

Lunae is surprisingly easy to reach. Unlike most Ligurian wineries, which are inconveniently located at the end of a torturous switchback up some mountain, Lunae is five minutes from the A12 autostrada. In easternmost Liguria just a few miles from the Tuscan border, it’s close to the ancient Roman port of Luni (Portus Lunae, or Port of the City of the Moon), from which it takes its name and logo, and from which Romans used to ship local products like white marble from Carrara, foodstuffs from Parma, and wine from the steep, terraced vineyards of Liguria.

Lunae’s tasting room was also a surprise. In a region of tiny wineries, it's as big as any Chianti showroom and was crowded with Italian visitors on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Some were buying vino sfuso, filling up demijohns using gasoline-pump-style dispensers. Others were browsing the locally made jams and marmalades. Others were sampling exotic liquors crafted by Diego and the dozen wines made by his father, Paolo Bosoni.

Diego and his sister could both pass for Williamsburg hipsters: she’s a pixie with short purple hair; he’s sporting Converse sneakers, a plaid scarf, thick-frame glasses, and a straw fedora.

Their father is a different species. Now 64, the mustachioed Paolo is an old-style Italian, comporting himself like Giancarlo Giannini in 7 Beauties, kissing the cheeks every woman who enters the tasting room (which is decorated with a painted plaster statue of him, seemingly lifted from a pizzeria or BigBoy drive-in). After greeting me with multiple kisses, padre Bosoni steers me over to a wall displaying black-and-white photos of himself as an 18-year-old vineyard worker—though ‘worker’ seems an overstatement; he’s either glugging wine from a leather flask, popping grapes in his mouth, or posing with a rakish grin.

But work he did. For generations, Paolo’s family had run a traditional farm, with vineyards, fruit trees, olive oil, and animals. In 1966, Paolo decided to end all that and focus on the wine. “He understood that in this territory, there was the potential to express something more, something higher enologically,” says figlio Diego. History suggests that the territory had the right stuff. “Vine was produced here in Roman times—and of high quality,” Diego continues. “There are two important Latin writers who recount that in the Colli di Luni, close to the sea, there was wine of high quality that was transported to Rome by boat.”

Paolo tore out the fruit trees and planted more vines, then started to research and analyze the terroir and indigenous varietals. “Our DOC was born little more than 20 years ago, so my father preceded that,” says Diego. “At the time, there was no bottling, no labeling, no culture of wine.” Paolo Bosoni and three or four other pioneering producers laid the groundwork, with Vermentino their star grape.

“Over the years, this research has had interesting results,” Diego notes. “Every zone has its characteristics: From one kilometer to the next, the terrain and climate change. So our cantina has grapes with very different characteristics. There’s never a lot of quantity, because we don’t have much land. In Liguria, there’s so little space. But the characteristics of the territory, the climate, and the closeness to the sea allow a Vermentino that, over the years, has had notable success.”

Indeed, Lunae was back in the Tre Bicchieri winners’ circle in 2011 and 2012, and picked up a trophy from Decanter’s World Wine Awards 2011, among other honors.

Lunae makes more wine than most Ligurian producers, working with 60 hectares overall. The majority comes from its own 15 vineyards (45 ha) dotted throughout the Apuan Alps; the remainder comes from 150 tiny growers who are overseen by Lunae’s agronomist and enologist. That adds up to 450,000 bottles, 200,000 of which are Vermentino—enough to see Lunae imported into the U.S.

Their basic gray-label Vermentino Colli di Luni captures the freshness, minerality, and aromatics of the maritime macchia with a clarity second to none. The black label (the Tre Bicchieri winner) is a step up, with a rigorous vineyard selection, 36 hours of maceration on the skins, and long lees contact, which results in a rounder wine with deeper color and concentration. The rarer Cavagino cru, coming from a historic vineyard at high elevation, is even more precise and focused. Though 40 percent was fermented in used barrel, there’s no taste of wood, just a greater complexity and softness while retaining Vermentino’s refreshing acidity.

“I do believe that the marble in these hills influences our Vermentino, giving it a great minerality,” Diego muses. If Lunae’s flavors glisten, maybe it is due to the white marble veins of Carrara that have inspired so many: First the Romans, then Michaelangelo, now Paolo Bosoni. Not a bad lineage. Perhaps that’s what put the grin on his face.

Contact importer LAIRD & COMPANYto find Lunae locally.