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Flavio A couple of weeks ago, I received an E-mail question - one of hundreds that I field from readers around the world each month - asking my opinion about an obscure Italian red-wine grape, Rossese. "Hardly anything," I confessed; this grape is used in Liguria - the Italian Riviera along the Mediterranean coast west of Genoa - but hardly anywhere else.

But my ignorance turned into a treat when I found that my correspondent, a guy named Flavio Lenardon, owns a wine shop in Liguria, and it just happened to be located along the route my wife and I would be driving between Dogliani in Northwestern Italy and Bandol in Southeastern France. Naturally, Flavio invited us to drop by, and just as naturally we accepted.

He described the shop - Liguria D.O.C. - as "a little oasis on the highway," and we quickly discovered that this is literally true. Located in the vast, sun-baked plain of a major service area on the main A10 Autostrada along the Med coast between Genoa and Nice, it appears from the outside to be nothing but another forgettable fast-food highway stop. But inside, with Flavio's enthusiasm and expertise at work, it is not only a first-rate wine shop specializing in the wines of the region, but also a quick but impressive eatery offering fare far superior to what you would expect of a highway stop.

Over a delightful light lunch of foccacia with assorted toppings - pesto, anchovies and tapenade - Flavio (who speaks excellent English) opened several local wines for us to enjoy:

Terra Rosse 1999 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato - Pale gold, highly aromatic earthy mineral notes. Crisp, full and dry.

Terre Bianche 1999 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vermentino - Pale brass color. Fresh white fruit and pleasant grassy notes. Crisp and dry, clean and long.

Acinirari 1996 Bisson Vina Tavola Dolce Ottenuto da Uve Lungamente Appassite della Varieta Bianchetta Genovese e Vermentino - Clear amber. Orange blossoms, cloves and spice aromas. Sweet and rich, extremely long finish.

If ever you're driving on the Italian Riviera, I strongly recommend planning a pit stop at Ceriale Sud, where Liguria D.O.C. is located just to the right-hand side of the larger highway-service building on the south (eastbound) side of the highway. If you're headed westbound, toward France, don't despair - it's almost as easy to park in the service area on that side (Ceriale Nord) and walk underneath the autostrada to Flavio's place.

You won't regret taking the time for a lunch or snack stop and a bottle or two of local wine.

Wine shop info: Liguria d.o.c., Autostrade dei Fiori A10, Area di Servizio Ceriale Sud, 17023 Ceriale. Tel: (0)182 931971.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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