I’ve had a few requests for the latest release of this delicious bistro red from Calabria, one of southern Italy’s lesser known but great value regions.
Located right on the toe of the Italian peninsula, Calabria is surrounded by water on three sides. Down on the southwest coast the Strait of Messina separates Calabria from Sicily by a mere 3km.
Tyrrhenian sea coastline.
Blessed with a moderate Mediterranean climate and an abundance of natural beauty, Italians flock to the stunning Calabrian beaches in summer, particularly those around the town of Tropea. Only 10% of the region is flat, the rest of the region is equally stunning national parks boasting majestic mountain ranges, scenic lakes and forests teeming with wildlife.
The classicists among you will know the Calabrian town of Scilla that sits beside the Strait of Messina. It was here, in Homer’s Odyssey, that six of Odysseus’s crew met a sticky end at the hands of Scylla, a six-headed monster residing on one side of the narrow channel of water. I digress….
“If a Vespa-riding, siesta-loving, unapologetically chaotic Italy still exists, it's in Calabria. Rocked by recurrent earthquakes and lacking a Matera or Lecce to give it high-flying tourist status, this is a corner of Italy less globalised and homogenised. Its wild mountain interior and long history of poverty, Mafia activity and emigration have all contributed to its distinct culture. Calabria is unlikely to be the first place in Italy you'd visit. But if you’re intent on seeing a candid and uncensored version of la dolce vita that hasn’t been dressed up for tourist consumption, look no further.” Lonely Planet.
Calabria is a significant agricultural region, with extensive plantings of olive trees and citrus. It’s also the largest producer of porcini mushrooms in Italy. But in terms of wine, the region is relatively small. Vineyards account for only about 2% of agricultural land, with most of the 25,000 acres (10,000ha) of vines lying close to the coastline.
Like Sicily, Calabria, traditionally trended to produce bulk wine, the demand for which has declined in recent decades. Add to this an ageing workforce working hilly vineyards and a vine-pull scheme in 2008, it’s hardly surprising that the region has seen a 30% decrease in vineyard plantings since 2000. These days Calabria has 9 DOCs (2nd top Italian appellation) the best known of which is Ciro, which sits on the slopes above the town of the same name, half way up the east coast of Calabria.
Vineyards in Ciro, Calabria.
The signature red grape in Ciro is Gaglioppo (the second g is silent), one of Italy’s oldest varieties, but one I’m sure you’ve never heard of. The name derives from a Greek word meaning ‘beautiful foot’, owing to the varieties cherubic and plump ripe bunches. Here’s the entry for Gaglioppo from the Oxford Companion to Wine: “predominant red grape variety in Calabria in the far south of Italy whose mid-ruby, quite tannic wines can be hauntingly scented, sometimes of roses. DNA profiling has shown it is a sibling of Nerello Mascalese. It thrives in dry conditions and is occasionally found further north.”
What can you expect from Gaglioppo? “Best known for producing soft red wines from the mountains of Ciro. Flavours of crushed berry, often accented by cherry and spicy secondary notes,” Wine Searcher. In ‘Native Wine Grapes of Italy’ Ian D’Agata writes that “the best examples of Ciro, or any monovarietal Gaglioppo wines, exude aromas of small red berries and citrus zest, with mineral and delicate underbrush notes that are not unlike a lighter, more saline Nebbiolo wine.”
Just after I originally came across this wine, Jancis Robinson was in town having lunch with rockstar physicist Prof. Brian Cox. “The lunch served as a showcase for wines and grapes from around the world that Robinson believes are undiscovered gems such as Gaglioppo, the signature red wine grape of Calabria (the wild hill country on Italy's sole.” Nov 2017, Good Food, SMH. Boom!
Azienda Agricola Scala has 18ha of vineyards, focusing on native grapes such a Gaglioppo, as well as Magliocco, Narello, Mantonico and Greco. While the land here has been cultivated since the 17th century, the Scala family acquired the site in the 1940s. Originally cultivating olives and citrus groves, they moved into wine in the 60s. More recently they’ve converted the vineyards to organic cultivation. Luigi Scala is currently at the helm.
This wine is 100% Gaglioppo, with the fruit coming from a 4ha vineyard (named “Franza”) on the estate. The grapes were handpicked and de-stemmed before being fermented in concrete tanks, a traditional vessel used in many European areas including Châteauneuf-du-Pape. After ferment, the wine and soggy grape skins were softy pressed and the resulting wine was then transferred to another concrete tank where it spent another 10-12 months ageing.
This wine is mid-weight, elegant and smooth, with black fruits and some spice - delicious! Add to this a couple of years' bottle age and the groovy label - what's not to like?
“Wow this is very spicy and fragrant, so floral, but with an undertone of raw meat and new leather, some aniseed and alpine herbs too. Medium bodied, sour cherry and tart red berries, pretty firm acidity, dusty tannin, and that high-toned perfume trailing on the finish. So interesting. So bloody Italian. Try it.” 91 points, Gary Walsh, The Wine Front.
You won't find this around town save for a couple of cool Italian restaurants like Berta in the city and Molo in Woolloomooloo. Delicious, great value drinking.
I can offer it for $25 a bottle. New vintage now available - click here