Terra di Bargon Sciacchetrà, photo courtesy of Martino Buzzi
A sweet wine produced in the hills of Cinque Terre, Italy, Sciacchetrà is typically paired with desserts or cheese. Central to the identity of this region, families have been passing down this winemaking tradition for generations. In order to appreciate Sciacchetrà, I must first share a sweet tradition of my own with you.
A Tradition: It Begins In The Past
Traditions hold together family histories and leave behind the legacy of our lives. In my family, we have a very special tradition we share once a year on Good Friday. It began about twenty years ago when my Grandfather was itching for a delicacy his Grandmother used to make on Easter called Abietz, a type of bread that Italians cook for the holiday.
Abietz – an Italian Easter Bread. Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeager.
While the recipe for this special bread was never written down, my Grandfather remembered the signature ingredients: mozzarella, locatelli, pecorino romano, prosciutto, capicola, soppressata and over 18 eggs per loaf. He began experimenting on his own, eventually finding just the right proportions to make the savory provision he always remembered.
Proud of his delicious accomplishment, he invited all the grandchildren over to learn how to make Abietz for the upcoming Good Friday. Interestingly, he put a unique twist on the tradition: he barred any adults from joining the event.
“Kids only!” he’d said, with an ear-to-ear grin.
And so it began, an Italian Grandfather and his seven grandchildren cooking the past right into the present. We made twelve large rectangular loaves of bread that year, sharing them with family and friends.
During one of our Good Friday cooking sessions, I remember my Grandfather telling me, “Jessie, one day I’m not going to be here anymore, but I never want you to forget me. That is why I started this tradition—not only so you will remember me, but so our family legacy will always live on. You will make this with your children one day and they will make it with their children and what we began together will live on for generations.”
Pop-Pop, as I called him, is gone now; yet his legacy continues, just as he hoped it would.
Pop Pop proudly checking on the Abietz. Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeager.
A Tradition: Links The Past To The Present
The law of attraction says we draw to us whatever we think about. Always thinking of my Grandfather, his pride in our Italian heritage and our beautiful family tradition, it isn’t coincidental that I somehow find myself in Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre, with its face of beauty, has a soul brimming with its own distinct family traditions. As I have come to learn, families have been passing down the art of making a special dessert wine, Sciacchetrà, for generations.
Looking down on the beautiful Vernazza in Cinque Terre courtesy Jessica Yeager
While tourism is a current driving force behind Cinque Terre’s economy, long ago it was based substantially on winemaking. Incredibly, the mountainous coastline was turned into terraced vineyards by way of dry stone walls. Two types of wine have supported the livelihood of this region—Cinque Terre D.O.C. and Sciacchetrà D.O.C.—but it’s the Sciacchetrà that captures my attention.
Resembling dark rum, the amber-colored wine is smooth and silky. Hints of honey, apricots and figs dance on your tongue. As you sip, a burst of flavor reaches your palate—and the tastes of Vermentino, Bosco, and Albarola grapes explode in your mouth.
Sciacchetrà, photo courtesy of Martino Buzzi
After a laborious harvest, the wine is crafted with precision and detail. Every grape chosen is meticulously inspected and tossed for even the slightest blemish. Drying the grapes into golden raisins — a time consuming process known as ‘passito’—concentrates the sugars and natural essence. The Bosco grape is responsible for most of the flavor, as its thick skin allows it to raisin well and preserve the juice inside. Slow fermentation follows for at least two years until finally, the sweet Sciacchetrà is born.
Lining the shelves of local enotecas and listed as an after dinner drink on restaurant menus, it’s a must-try for anyone wanting an authentic cultural experience when visiting Cinque Terre. I still remember the first time I tried the drink, sitting with a local friend from Cinque Terre.
“A spirit lives within each bottle—the current winemaker and all those that came before him,” he’d said. “This wine represents the hard work that families endured for generations to sustain an economy and preserve a family tradition.”
Sciacchetrà winemaking is a long standing tradition in Cinque Terre. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
He spoke about this wine with such passion. Smiling, he told me to bring a bottle home for my family to “bring them good luck.”
Looking around the vineyards, I immediately notice the older age of the workers. Sadly, the younger generations have left the fields to find other jobs in town. If you look into the hills you will see dry walls crumbling, overgrown vineyards and collapsed terraces. It seems a thousand-year-old tradition could be slowly disappearing.
Who will preserve the generations of history connected to this wine when the current generation of farmers simply cannot do it anymore?
A Tradition: Carrying It Into The Future
All it takes is one, as my Grandfather proved, to save a tradition and push its story into the future. Good Friday cooking of Abietz is still a big event and even includes the adults now, although the kids — now grown — still do most of the work. Pop-Pop handed down a recipe that has strengthened our family and connected the generations together again. The next wave of children is already learning the art of cooking this special bread in hopes that they too will share it with their children one day.
Growing up in Cinque Terre, children no doubt observed their parents and grandparents making this wine. While this younger generation has chosen to travel different paths in life, they still hold the memories, experiences and knowledge of Sciacchetrà. The day will come when one of these youths will get the desire to taste the wine of their ancestors and begin a new chapter of Sciacchetrà winemaking.
For now, we can still enjoy the sweet taste of Sciacchetrà from the current winemakers who continue to produce it with passion and fortitude. Salute!
Sciacchetrà, a local specialty from Cinque Terre, Italy
Contributed by guest author Jessica Yeager.