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"Famous" Calabria: The Italian Wine Region Everyone Should Know, But Doesn't

Calabria is not the “famous” Italian wine region that might come to mind. You may think of Tuscany, where one can find classic Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Or your first inclination might be to bring up Piedmonte, and its traditional Barolo Castiglione Falletto or Barbera d’Asti, to represent Italian wine.

Sit back, have a glass of Calabrian wine and think again.

History

At the risk of dwelling too much on the past, Calabria has been making wine longer than most regions in Italy and most regions in the world. Calabria got the nickname “Enotria” or “Land of the Vines” from the Greeks, due to the plentiful vines which garnished the region. Calabria is part of what the Romans called “Magna Graecia”, or areas with a strong Greek influence. While the Greeks’ love affair with Sicily wine is well documented, their slightly tipsy romantic entanglement with Calabria is often glazed over. The Greeks saw Calabria as their “New World”, their “America”, ripe for exploitation and vulnerable to imperialism. Calabria later became the wine transport hub to Rome and the rest of the Western World.

Calabria, boasts an incomparable wine history. The region was the gateway to viticulture (from the Middle East) in Italy and in Europe and then in the rest of the West. This story is silent, a silent witness to the largest and still not fully explored ampelographic family in the world.... The socio-economic degradation of the last century has not succeeded in canceling such greatness. The rebirth of the last years is a roar that calls for redemption.

~Paolo Chrillo, Le Moire

Calabria wine is experiencing a great moment. A new patrol of young producers has understood that the only way is to make wines in tune with their own history. The approach is being modified and I'm not just talking about the choice of using native vines -- this is the minimum; I refer to respect for the intrinsic characteristics of our vines. For years we have recorded clumsy attempts to massage wine, with interventionist policies in the cellar, to have “approved” products. It is as if the fear of making different and authentic products had been interrupted! Today many people are convinced that our region’s viticulture diversity is essential. The other important element that we are witnessing is a desire to collaborate that we had not seen before. Respect and cooperation are the two keywords of the Calabrian wine of the near future.

~Giovanni Gagliardi, VinoCalabrese.it

Grapes

There are hundreds of grape varieties native to Calabria. To mention a few, Gaglioppo is Sangiovese’s rad child and achieves world class results in Ciro’; Magliocco is the king of Cosenza; Moscato di Saracena is an alluring rendition of the mundane; Mantonico is an impressive white grape variety which was historically used for passito, but has achieved compelling results as a dry wine. Moreover, recent research has revealed a staunch discovery -- Sangiovese is most likely native to Calabria. With more focus on the region, such findings are only the tipping point and an affirmation of Calabria’s prized past. There is still much more to be revealed about the untold potential of this land.

The gaglioppo made from Cirò, is another wine, completely. Cirò can make wine in a special way because the soil, climate, vines and our winemakers. Because the salt that you find in Cirò's rose and red wines comes from this land; it gives this great flavor to the wine, the color and aroma recalls the Ionian sea and the warm earth from our hills!!

~Cataldo Calabretta, Cataldo Calabretta Viticoltore


Regions

There are about two dozen classified zones (DOCs and IGTs) for viticulture in Calabria. A lack of resources and organizational structure has quagmired the region’s wine sector from advancing as an industry. Looking beyond government designations, there is much to be admired in terms of territorial diversity: nearby is Pollino, Italy’s largest national park, home to devastating mountains; the forested Savuto valley rises amidst the Sila mountain range and divulges 30 miles of fresh river water to into the salty sea; calm coastal towns straddle either the Tyrrhenian or Ionian Seas and make brilliant white, rose’ and red wines.

EVERY WINE IS UNIQUE AS THE TERROIR YOU COME FROM!": Nothing more true when talking about the wine obtained from the “Lacrima” variety cultivated at Monte di Cassano in Calabria. The red earth, rich in iron and magnesium, and the particular microclimate, which is influenced by the sea breezes from the Ionian Sea and the proximity of Mount Pollino, naturally enhance the variety that has been cultivated in this area for centuries; its home.

~Vincenza Cerchiara, Azienda Cerchiara

Artisan Producers

Perhaps the most stunning reality of Calabrian viticulture is the dedication to artisanship and craft. Calabria is one of the few places in Italy where the norm is still “farm-to-table” for everything. Calabrians make wine with tremendous dedication, with family support that is inspired through tradition, because they don’t know any other way.

I work in a way that respects nature and those who have created and left before us. In the vineyards, I work only with my hands and do not use tractors. No chemistry in the vineyard or in the wines apart from a small addition of sulphites. The grapes are transformed into wine through spontaneous fermentation, thus making wines that express the vineyard from where they are born.

~Sergio Arcuri, Azienda Agricola Sergio Arcuri






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