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Calabria Wine

Calabria Wine

Nestled in the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula, Calabria is a region where rugged landscapes and the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas frame a lesser-known, yet rich, winemaking tradition. Despite the overshadowing fame of northern and central Italian wines, Calabria’s viticultural heritage offers a depth and complexity that is starting to gain recognition on the international stage. This article uncovers the regional wines of Calabria, narrating their history, diversity, and the passion that drives the winemakers of this sun-drenched southern Italian enclave.

Historical Vines: The Roots of Calabrian Wine

The story of wine in Calabria is as old as the region itself, with roots entwining back to the time of the ancient Greeks, who called this land “Enotria,” meaning “land of wine.” Greek settlers brought with them their vine cultivation skills and a grape that would become the ancestor of many of Calabria’s indigenous varieties. Despite turbulent historical periods, viticulture persisted, often sustained by monastic orders during the Middle Ages.

Geographical Diversity: The Lifeblood of Calabrian Terroir

Calabria is a land of contrasts, with its undulating hills, coastal stretches, and the imposing presence of the Pollino and Sila mountains. This topographical mosaic, coupled with a Mediterranean climate tempered by sea breezes, creates a multitude of microclimates that are reflected in the character of its wines. Calabrian soils, rich in minerals from the mountainous backbones, impart distinctive qualities to the wines, infusing them with a touch of the region's wild and untamed nature.

The Grapes: Indigenous Varieties as the Region’s Beating Heart

Calabria’s viticultural identity is inextricably linked to its indigenous grape varieties, which account for the soul of its winemaking. Among the reds, Gaglioppo reigns supreme, particularly in the Cirò areas, producing wines that balance power and finesse. Other red varieties include Magliocco, Greco Nero, and Nerello Cappuccio. On the white spectrum, Greco Bianco leads, creating crisp and aromatic wines, while other notable white grapes include Guardavalle, Mantonico, and Malvasia.

Cirò: The Crown Jewel of Calabrian Wines

Cirò wine, named after the small town and surrounding area where it is produced, is Calabria’s most famous export and historically significant wine, with links to the Olympic athletes of ancient Greece. Cirò wines come in red, white, and rosé variations, but it is the Cirò Rosso, primarily made from Gaglioppo grapes, that captures the essence of Calabrian winemaking. This red wine is characterized by its ruby red color, with hints of spice and red fruits, and a robust structure that allows for aging potential.

Modern Winemaking: Balancing Tradition and Innovation

The modern era has seen Calabrian winemakers embrace new technologies and methods while maintaining respect for tradition. The challenge is to enhance the distinctive qualities of the indigenous varieties without losing their identity. Many wineries are now investing in temperature-controlled fermentation and aging in a mix of new and old oak barrels to refine their wines’ profiles while highlighting the unique terroir.

Sustainability: A Commitment to Nature and Heritage

With the world’s increased focus on sustainability, Calabrian vintners are leaning into organic and biodynamic practices, both to preserve the natural beauty of their region and to meet the demands of eco-conscious consumers. The inherent resistance of many native grape varieties to pests and diseases facilitates a less interventionist approach to viticulture, fostering a harmonious relationship between the vineyards and their natural surroundings.

Enotourism: Calabria’s Open Invitation to Wine Lovers

Calabria’s burgeoning wine tourism industry offers travelers a chance to experience its viticulture intimately. From rustic, family-run estates to larger, more modern wineries, visitors can explore ancient cellars, stroll through sun-drenched vineyards, and enjoy tastings that often include local culinary delights. Wine festivals and harvest celebrations throughout the year provide a gateway into the region’s wine culture and traditions.

Wine and Gastronomy: A Marriage of Flavors

Calabrian wines are best appreciated in concert with the region's rich gastronomy. The robust tannins of Gaglioppo-based reds complement the hearty flavors of local spicy sausages and aged cheeses, while the crisp whites are a perfect match for Calabria’s abundant seafood and vegetable-based dishes.

The Future of Calabrian Wines: An Emerging Force

The future looks bright for Calabria’s wines as the world becomes increasingly curious about lesser-known wine regions. The challenge for Calabria lies in its ability to maintain the uniqueness of its wines while raising their profile globally. With a new generation of winemakers at the helm, there is a concerted effort to promote Calabrian wines not just as products, but as stories worth telling and savoring.

Conclusion: Calabria’s Liquid Anthology

The wines of Calabria are the liquid anthology of the region’s history, landscapes, and people. Each bottle encapsulates the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, the resilience of indigenous vines, and the tenacity of generations of winemakers. As more wine enthusiasts turn their attention to southern Italy, Calabria stands ready to share its wine treasures. With a glass of Calabrian wine in hand, one not only tastes a regional specialty but partakes in a narrative that continues to unfold with vigor and vitality. For those with a thirst for exploration and a passion for authentic experiences, Calabria’s wines offer a journey that is both deeply rooted in the past and vibrantly evolving into the future.

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Notable Wines from Calabria

Calabria is home to a diverse range of wines, many of which are made from indigenous grape varieties that are not widely known outside the region. Here is a list of notable Calabrian wines:

Red Wines:
  • Cirò DOC: Made primarily from the Gaglioppo grape, Cirò red wines are perhaps the most renowned of Calabria's wines, offering a spectrum from lighter, fruitier styles to more robust and complex versions.
  • Gaglioppo IGT: Apart from Cirò, Gaglioppo is also vinified as IGT wines across Calabria, showcasing a range of styles depending on producer and terroir.
  • Val di Neto IGT: Utilizing both indigenous and international varieties, these wines can be monovarietal or blends.
  • Savuto DOC: A blend of several grapes, including Gaglioppo, Greco Nero, Nerello Cappuccio, and others, producing a medium-bodied red.
  • Pollino DOC: Made from Gaglioppo and other local red varieties, these wines come from the area around the Pollino massif.
  • Donnici DOC: Incorporating Gaglioppo and Malvasia Nera, these wines are from the central part of Calabria.
White Wines:
  • Greco di Bianco DOC: A sweet white wine produced from the Greco grape in the region around Bianco, with a rich history dating back to ancient times.
  • Cirò Bianco DOC: Made from the Greco Bianco grape, these are dry white wines that often exhibit crisp acidity and fresh flavors.
  • Melissa DOC: White wines primarily from Greco Bianco and Trebbiano, offering fresh and aromatic profiles.
Rosé Wines:
  • Cirò Rosato DOC: These rosés are made from Gaglioppo grapes and are known for their vibrant pink color and fruity character.
Dessert Wines:
  • Moscato di Saracena: A dessert wine produced using dried Moscato grapes, often blended with other local varieties.
Lesser-Known DOCs and IGTs:
  • Bivongi DOC: Both red and white wines made from local grape varieties.
  • Lamezia DOC: A variety of wine types including red, white, and rosé from the Lamezia Terme area.
  • Scavigna DOC: Producing both red and white wines from local grapes grown in the vineyards between the Tyrrhenian coast and the Serre mountains.
  • San Vito di Luzzi DOC: A small DOC producing mainly red wines from Gaglioppo and other varieties.
  • Verbicaro DOC: Reds, whites, and rosés from the northern part of Calabria.
  • Esaro IGT: A range of wines from this broader geographical indication, allowing for a wide variety of grape blends.
Notable Wineries and Their Wines:
  • Librandi: Known for quality wines from both indigenous and international grape varieties, including their Cirò line of wines.
  • Statti: They offer a range of wines, including those from Gaglioppo and Greco Bianco.
  • Odoardi: A winery that produces a range of wines, reflecting the diversity of Calabrian terroir.
  • Senatore Vini: Focuses on traditional Calabrian wines, including those made from Magliocco and Greco Nero grapes.

While this list is not exhaustive, it represents the variety of wine styles that Calabria produces. The region's winemaking is defined by its local grape varieties, traditional methods, and the adaptation to modern tastes and techniques, making Calabrian wines a unique part of Italy's vast wine landscape.

Italian Wines
  • Italian Red Grapes
    • Sangiovese

      • The most well known of the Italian grapes and responsible for the famous Tuscan wines. Using tradional techniques, the wines are earthy, full of cherry fruit and cedar. The wines produced include such famous names as: Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso. The "Super-Tuscans", produced for the international market, blend the Sangiovese grape with Bordeaux varietals such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and often used French oak barrels to age.

    • Nebbiolo

      • Translated, the name means: "Little Fog", which refers to the autumn fog common in the region of Piedmont where it is grown. The grape seems to like these conditions but is difficult to cultivate otherwise. It is responsible for the famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced in the Cuneo province of Piedmont. Barolo is often kept for more than 50 years, and is considered by many to be the greatest wine produced in Italy.

    • Montepulciano

      • This grape is planted in Abruzzo,and should not be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany. It produces a wine with silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin, recent bottles have improved greatly on those in the past.

    • Barbera

      • This grape is the most widely grown in Piedmont and southern Lombardy, particularly around the towns of Asti, Alba and Pavia. Previously, the Barbera wines were considered a poor alternative to Barolo, but recently they have improved dramatically. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity. It is being produced increasingly for the international market.

    • Corvina

      • This is the grape that makes Valpolicella and Amarone, the best known wines of the Veneto. Valpolicella has dark cherry fruit and spice. If the grapes are dried, a process called "passito", they produce a wine called Amarone. Some are aged for more than 40 years and can command extremely high prices. Amarone di Valpolicella was awarded DOCG status in 2009.

    • Nero dAvola

      • A native varietal of Sicily, this grape was virtually unheard of a few years ago. Now, the quality of the wine is improving steadily and it is becoming increasingly popular on the international market for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins.

    • Dolcetto

      • This grape is called "Little Sweet One", because it is easy to grow and produces great wines for everyday drinking. It is grown alongside the Barbera and Nebbiola grapes in Piedmont and produces wine with flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries and herbs.

    • Negroamaro

      • Translated, the name means "Black and Bitter". It is grown extensively in the region of Puglia where it is used to produce the Salento wines: spicy, toasty, and full of dark red fruits.

    • Aglianico

      • Considered by many to be the "Noble Varietal of the south" Aglianico grapes are primarily grown in the regions of Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from Hellenic, so the grape is considered to be a Greek transplant. Thick skinned and spicy, the wines are often both rustic and powerful.

    • Sagrantino

      • This grape is native to Umbria. It is only planted on 250 hectares, but the wines produced from it are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavy tannins, these wines can age for many years.

    • Malvasia Nera

      • Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.

Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo (Zinfandel in California), Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia. "International" varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.

  • Italian White Grapes
    • Catarratto

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Salaparuta, south western Sicily.

    • Trebbiano

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

    • Moscato

      • Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d"Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino- Alto-Adige.

    • Nuragus

      • An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardegna. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.

    • Pinot Grigio

      • A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers" hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.

    • Tocai Friulano

      • A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, it yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.

    • Ribolla Gialla

      • A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.

    • Arneis

      • A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

    • Malvasia Bianca

      • Another white varietal that peeks up in all corners of Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Can range from easy quaffers to funky, musty whites.

    • Pigato

      • A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in seafood.

    • Fiano
      • Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pinenut and pesto.
    • Garganega

      • The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It"s a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona. Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.

    • Vermentino

      • This is widely planted in northern Sardinia and also found in Tuscan and Ligurian coastal districts. Wines are particularly popular to accompany fish and seafood.

    • Verdicchio

      • This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from "verde" (green). The white wines are noted for their high acidity and a characteristic nutty flavour with a hint of honey.

Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia. As far as non-native varietals, the Italians plant Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), Riesling, Petite Arvine, and many others.

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