Italy’s 20 regions boast many beautiful wines and a host of delicious foods to accompany them. And, even if we’ve never set foot on Italian soil, most of us have become familiar with popular tourist destinations like Florence, Rome, Venice, and Milan. The more adventurous among us may have traveled to central Italy’s Adriatic coast, or perhaps to Piedmont in the far northwest. Maybe even to the island of Sicily. But I’d venture to say that few of us have touched down in the southern region of Calabria – the toe of Italy’s boot.
But that’s what the Italian Food Wine & Travel bloggers are doing this Saturday! Join us at 11 am ET on November 3rd as we chat about the wines of Calabria. If you’re interested in learning more, just follow the #ItalianFWT on Twitter at the appointed time; and make sure to add it to your tweets. Hope to see you there!
For a preview of what the rest of the group will be sharing, scroll to the bottom of this post.
It’s a shame Calabria isn’t better known, really, because there is much to recommend it: with 500 miles of coastline, it has more beaches than any other part of Italy. And with frontage along both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, natives enjoy the bounty of fresh seafood flooding into the markets each day. Calabrian chefs take advantage of that abundance, featuring swordfish and sardines on their menus, alongside the olives, peppers, and eggplant grown by local farmers. There is local wine, too, although much less is made here than in other Italian regions, and almost all of it is red. Compared to its neighbors Sicily and Puglia, Calabria barely appears on the radar screen of wine production. And, until recently, most of the wines made were earmarked for blending into bulk wines. But there are a few small areas that specialize in making respectable wines worthy of mention.
Wine regions are defined by the major grape varieties that comprise their wines. That is especially true in Italy, which has hundreds of native specimens that are grown virtually nowhere else. With a few exceptions (Trebbiano and Sangiovese come to mind) most indigenous varieties are associated with just one, or perhaps two regions. Calabria, which remains more rural, rustic, and isolated than regions farther north, is a case in point. Gaglioppo, its signature red grape, and Greco Bianco, its white counterpart, are practically synonymous with Calabria in general and the Cirò DOC in particular.
Gaglioppo from the Cirò DOC
The Gaglioppo grape gives rise to a pale red wine with glints of orange at the edge. It is notably aromatic, characterized by scents of rose petals, red berries, citrus, and herbs. Like many Italian varieties, Gaglioppo-based wines are naturally high in acidity, making them ideal partners with food. Cirò Rosso has noticeable tannins as well, making it a suitable accompaniment with meat dishes and strong cheeses.
Proponents of the indigenous Gaglioppo grape have decried the inclusion of international varieties among the approved red grapes for the DOC. They complain that although including these grapes in the blend results in wines of deeper color, they tend to mask the beautiful fragrance unique to Gaglioppo. The counterargument comes from winemakers who want the freedom to experiment with non-traditional grape blends. They claim that wines made in the international style, with grapes like Cabernet or Merlot, appeal to a broader market, creating more opportunities for Calabrian winemakers.
It appears to be yet another example of the age-old standoff, with those who embrace traditional methods clashing against those who want to shake up the status quo. Which side will prevail? Looking at places like Barolo, where a similar struggle has been waged for decades, or Tuscany, whose rebel winemakers used international grapes to create wines like Sassicaia and Tignanello, it’s apparent that there is room for wines reflecting both traditions.
If you’ve got a bottle of Cirò Rosso on hand and you like to cook, try it with a classic Calabrian pasta dish with ‘nduja, the soft, spicy sausage mixed with local hot peppers. Because comparatively little Calabrian wine is made (and even less is exported), you might have better luck ordering a bottle on line than finding one in your local wine shop.
The Du Cropio Estate
The name says it all – at least in Calabrian dialect. Du Cropio translates to “doctor of agronomy,” a nod to the Ippolito family’s long history of growing grapes in Cirò Marina, a seaside town overlooking the Ionian Sea. There are 30 hectares of vines, including Gaglioppo, Malvasia Nera, and Greco Nero, strewn along the steep hillsides atop clay and limestone soils. All are farmed organically.
In an interview with Wine Spectator, Giuseppe Ippolito, founder of Azienda Agrícola Du Cropio, spoke of the challenges of working with the notoriously tannic Gaglioppo, expressing his view that the grape needs long hours in the southern Italian sunshine to achieve full ripeness. Harvest comes late in the season, often well into October.
Only the finest grapes in each year’s crop are selected for the Du Cropio labels. Three red wines are made: Serra Sanguigna (a Calabria Rosso); Dom Giuva (a Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore); and Damis (a Cirò Rosso Riserva.)
In the cellar, Ippolito takes his time, allowing the juice to macerate on the grape skins for several weeks. He believes this helps polymerize the harsh tannins, resulting in a fruitier wine with less bitterness. Primary fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks, with the wine spending a short time in large oak botte prior to bottling. There is no fining or filtration.
Recently I had the chance to taste the 2012 Du Cropio Damis. It’s not easy to find wines from Calabria here in the States, so I was excited to see this bottle at Astor Wines and Spirits in New York City.
2012 Azienda Agricola Du Cropio Damis Riserva Cirò DOC (13.5% abv; $32 retail)
Color: Pale garnet at the core, paler still at the rim.
Nose: Ripe cherry fruit, sweet and dusty notes of earth, with a distinct herbaceous note – thyme? – throughout. The aromas are lively and complex.
Palate: Earthier than the nose but still lots of bright cherry and plum flavors. I expected the tannins to be feistier, but they are well-integrated; acidity is moderate – both probably reflections of the wine’s age. The finish is long, with a distinctive sour cherry note that reminds me a bit of Sangiovese.
Pairing: The Damis was a wonderful match with an easy-to-make dish I call “Half” Pasta (so named because I use a half portion of most of the ingredients.) The spicy Italian sausage adds punch to the flavor profile, and the wine played really well with it. A pairing I would do again.
“Half” Pasta (serves two, with some leftovers)
Use one-half of each of the following:
- Yellow onion, sliced cross-wise
- Fennel bulb, sliced cross-wise
- Package of Niman Ranch Hot Italian Sausage, sliced
- Large can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed as you add to pan
- Box of penne pasta (or whatever shape you like)
- Melt some butter in a large saucepan, then add the onion and fennel. Cook until soft.
- Season with salt, pepper, dried oregano, and two sprigs of rosemary and two bay leaves.
- Add tomatoes and add more salt and pepper if needed. Cook 10-12 minutes.
- Add the sausage pieces (and hot red pepper flakes if you like it really hot!)
- Simmer while you cook the pasta.
- When pasta is ready, add one ladle of the water to the sauce.
- Plate it up, pour a glass of wine, and you’re ready to eat!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick virtual trip to southern Italy. And I really hope it has piqued your curiosity about the wines of Calabria and the Cirò DOC. As we know, “undiscovered” wines tend to be relative bargains in the marketplace, making the extra effort to find them well worth the trouble. We also know that they don’t typically stay “undiscovered” for long. If you come across a bottle, do yourself a favor and give it a try. You can say you were in on the secret long before the bandwagon got rolling.
Here’s what the rest of the Italian Food Wine & Travel folks are talking about this month:
Jennifer at Vino Travels will share “Cirò: The Ancient Jewel of Calabria”
Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Cam will share “Braised Beef Cheeks over Garlic Gnocchi + Statti Calabria Gaglioppo 2015″
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm will share “The Food and Wine of Calabria”
Jeff at Food Wine Click will share “Exploring the Toe of Italy’s Boot with Ciro Rosso”
Rupal at Syrah Queen will share “A Taste of Calabria: Librandi Wines of Ciro”
Katarina at Grapevine Adventures will share “A New Golden Age for the Gaglioppo in Calabria”
And here at The Swirling Dervish we’ll share “Exploring Calabrian Wine: The Du Cropio Estate in Cirò”