The Wines of Calabria: Southern Italy is Hot, in More Ways than One

While most Italian-Americans (like me) trace their roots to Southern Italy, much of what Americans know about Italian wine and food comes from Central and Northern Italy (Tuscany, for example). That’s changing. In September, I visited Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, with journalists and food and wine buyers as guests of the Italian Trade Commission.

Italy has more wine grape varietals than any other country and Calabria has some 174, 76 of which are unique to the region. Calabria has eight appellations or DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). Most of the wine we drank was from the Ciró DOC, the best known of the appellations along the Ionian coast. White Ciró is a dry wine made from at least 90 percent Greco Bianco and should not to be confused with Greco di  Bianco, a sweet wine in an appellation of the same name. (Greco, of course, is Italian for Greek. Many Italian grape varieties in the South were brought by Greek colonizers.) Reminiscent of Malvasia, one of Italy’s most widely planted grapes, Ciró is fruity with decent acidity and more texture than most Italian white wines.

We tasted two brands of Ciró at an all seafood dinner that included mussels, dime-size clams, squid, prawns of every size, and meaty swordfish (spada in Italian), a local specialty. (Calabria is almost completely surrounded by water.) The Enotria Ciró was crisp and fresh while the Librandi had more body with lovely citrus and fig flavors and a nice touch of bitter almond on the finish. I Greco, Ippolito and Vinicola Zito wineries also make good Ciró whites.

Label of Librandi Ciro in CalabriaRed Ciró is made with at least 95 percent Galliopo, a grape that thrives in the very warm (it hit 100 degrees one day of our trip), dry climate of Calabria. It is typically dark, ripe, tannic, and full-bodied. The unoaked 2006 Librandi Ciró Rosso Classico was fruity with fresh acidity and a meaty nose. A step up is the Ciró Reserva, called Duca San Felice, which also has no oak but spends three years in stainless steel. The 2005 vintage (which was especially good in Calabria) had meaty, earthy, almost barnyardy aromas with ripe cherry fruit and a good mouthfeel.

Librandi is one of the most modern wineries we visited. It is constantly testing older, obscure varieties to see if they can make interesting commercial wines. One of those grapes is the Magliocco, which some think is variant of or even the same as Galliopo. The 2005 Magno Megonio (100% Magliocco) spent 12 months in French oak and another year in bottle emerging with a deep dark color, meaty aromas and spice and chocolate notes.

Logo of Zito Winery in CalabriaZito was the most impressive winery we visited (with Librandi a close second). The 2006 Zito Ciró red was fresh with bright cherry and berry fruit, good color and fewer tannins than any Galliopo-based wine we tasted. The Zito 2006 Krimisa ($25), made from old vines, ramps up the body with six months in barrique, but retains its bright raspberry fruit. Another notch up is the 2005 Zito Ciró Classico Superiore ($25), made from low-yielding old vines. After a year in barrique it comes out dark and delicious with a good acid balance. Though it wasn’t on the market as of our visit, keep an eye out for the 2004 Zito Ciró Classico Reserva, a big, ripe and powerful wine that is drinkable now but can last in your cellar another five years or more.

While the wines were more interesting than the packaged food (as opposed to the food we had in restaurants, which was generally quite good), there is some Calabrian food exports worth trying. Sheep’s milk cheeses are more common in the South than cow’s milk cheeses. Fattoria della Piana makes two of note. Pecorino Monte Poro, aged three months, has a nutty flavor and good mouthfeel. The buttery Pecorino Calabrase Riserva “Max,” aged 12 months, has a deeper flavor and more pronounced sheepiness (which I like; you may not) than the Monte Poro.

Azzurina is a carbonated espresso drink with good coffee flavor and just the right amount of sweetness. Keep it in the fridge for instant iced coffee for those 100-degree days.

How to Get It

Because most Calabrian products are not widely known, you’ll have to contact importers or distributors to find out where they are sold.

  • Ranieri Fine Foods Inc, Brooklyn, NY, 718-599-9520, (Fattoria della Piana cheese)
  • Winebow, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, 800-445-0620 07423, (Librandi wines)
  • Wine Emporium, Brooklyn, NY, 718/486-3913, (Ippolito wines)
  • Tuscany Distributors, Florida (various locations) (Zito Wines)

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