The mystery of the name

According to tradition, this strange name is a fusion of the words sciac (‘press it’) and trai (‘leave it’) in the dialect of Eastern Liguria, indicating the manner of production of this truly unique straw wine. However, scholars have suggested more arcane etymologies for this word, such as shekar, the Armenian word for a wine offered to a deity, or sakkar (‘saccharose’, or sugary).

It is in fact likely that the ancient Middle Eastern practice of drying the finest grapes and pressing them into a straw wine was spread by the Greeks throughout the Mediterranean region, perhaps even to the Cinque Terre. The nectar that was extracted in this manner was considered a gift from the gods, and simultaneously, a gift fit for the gods. Unaware of these Classical references, the inhabitants of the five towns used to call this wine Refursà (‘fortified’ by the drying process).

A charming local tradition of old was to set aside flasks of this wine when a baby was born, to be opened at his or her wedding. It was only at the end of the 19th century that this wine acquired the name of Sciacchetrà, thanks to the great Florentine Impressionist Telemaco Signorini, who perfectly described it in the following words: “The finest grapes, dried in the sun, yield a fortified wine called Sciacchetrà, which is the name they use for a wine that is as strong as marsala -- a true liqueur, to be served in small glasses, exquisite in taste, the color of the most brilliant gold.”

It was not until 1973, however, that this ancient and exclusive wine of the Cinque Terre was finally awarded the appellation of DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or ‘Controlled Designation of Origin’).

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