Un Bicchiere di Vino con Il Postino… Wines of Calabria

Domenico Cellucci

This week’s article deals with the wines of Calabria. A region of stunning beaches, wonderful cuisine and historically, a crossroads of many cultures. Calabria is situated at the extreme southern point of the Italian Peninsula. It is known as the “toe” of Italy. It is surrounded by the region of Basilicata to the North and Sicily to the south-west, separated only by the Strait of Messina. It has 2 coast lines: on the west, the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east, the Ionian Sea.

Like many parts of Southern Italy, the Greeks played an initial role in the spreading of viticulture in Calabria. In the 7th and 8th century B.C. they introduced many grape varieties and techniques to the region than known as Magna Graecia. The local tribes that were than present in Calabria were so successful at producing wines that a wine produced in Kremissi was used to toast the victorious athletes at the ancient Olympic games! Pliny the Elder, a Greek scholar that wrote extensively about wines in the new Greek colonies included wines from this region as part of his listings of quality wines.

Today Calabria can boast of over 174 wine grape varieties, 76 of which are found only in Calabria. Like other parts of the Italian Peninsula, the region of Calabria is composed of coastlines, hills and major mountain ranges in the middle. This contributes to diverse microclimates and great potential for winemaking. The majority of winemaking takes place on the 2 coastlines and more specifically in the central areas. The soil is of volcanic origin and is mostly calcareous marl with clay and sand deposits. Over 90% of wine produced in Calabria is red, with the Gaglioppo grape playing a leading role. Amongst the whites the Greco bianco is the principal grape.

Calabria has 12 DOC regions (denominazione di origine controllata) and 12 IGT regions (indicazione geografica tipica). However only 4% of the wines produced in Calabria consist of DOC wines. As of today, it does not produce any DOCG wines (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita). While other regions in Southern Italy are experiencing a wine renaissance, the wines of Calabria have much catching up to do. Given its climate, geography and unique grape varieties Calabria should be experiencing success both at home and abroad. It is beginning to increase investments in new technology and promote its unique grape varieties, especially Gaglioppo and Greco Bianco. The decades old practices of the co-operatives (the cantine sociali) whereby quantity over quality is still functioning has begun to change.

One area which is producing quality wines is the Cirò DOC region. Located along the Ionian coast, between the cities of Sibari and Crotone, the wines of this area, are Calabria’s best known wines. This area has been producing wines for over 3000 years. Both whites, rosé and reds are produced here with Gaglioppo and Greco Bianco being the most widely planted. A Greco di Bianco, a wonderful sweet white wine (not to be confused with Greco Bianco) is also planted here. It is one of Italy’s best dessert wines and least known abroad. While full ripening of the grapes is not a problem here, keeping alcohol levels down can be. Gaglioppo does very well in hot, dry climates. Accordingly, it will give you an opaque, dry, tannic and very full-bodied wine. Cherry and raspberry notes predominate on the notes. It goes well with red meats, grilled meats and sharp cheeses.

The Greco Bianco grape (perhaps of Greek origin) can be found across southern Italy. It requires a long growing season to fully mature. The grape cluster is quite compact and produces small berries. It is often used as a blending wine and as a stand alone wine. It is meant to be consumed young and is quite fresh, crisp and medium-bodied. Citrus notes predominate along with some green apple. This pairs very well with the many fish dishes in Calabria or light cheeses.

Other areas of Calabria worth mentioning are the Savuto, Donnici and Pollino DOC’s which also use the Gaglioppo grapes extensively. Microclimates are different because of higher elevations than the Cirò DOC region.

In terms of obtaining wines from Calabria in Canada, the LCBO has a few reds and whites from the Cirò DOC region: DU CROPIO DON GIUVA CIRÒ ROSSO CLASSICO SUPERIORE 2005 VINTAGES 250829 and IPPOLITO 1845 LIBER PATER CIRÒ ROSSO CLASSICO SUPERIORE 2008 VINTAGES 121061 . In whites I would recommend the SANTA VENERE GRECO BIANCO CIRÒ 2009 VINTAGES 222638.

Grazie e salute!

If you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, please contact me at vinumbonumest@yahoo.com.

Domenico Cellucci is a wine consultant and educator and is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Sommelier Program. He puts on food and wine matching events in the national capital area. He has visited wineries and vineyards in Italy, France, British Columbia, Ontario and the United States.