JANUARY 2019 ITALIAN WINE CLUB
WELCOME TO THE WILD WEST
This is the very first installation of our ‘Around the Boot’ tour series. In the interest of Education, sweet sweet Education, throughout the year we will focus on a specific region in order to fully paint the vast grape variety landscape of Italy. Where else to start but the Toe of the Boot: Calabria. Welcome to the Wild West! Truly. Rugged yet stunning wide open landscape. The omnipresent influence of ‘Ndrangheta (serious old school organized crime. Seriously.) And a signature slow pace of life. Calabria in this way is truly a world unto itself. However, in comparison to almost every other region in Italy today, the amount of quality wine to be found from this beautiful land is unfortunately quite scarce. This wasn’t always the case. Historically, in the pre-phylloxera 19th century, Calabria enjoyed a sterling European-wide reputation for excellence. But we must again consider the Mediterranean climate, the prime location, the mountainous terroir and the potential in native grape varieties, all of which point to a gradual resurgence for the region. This may take some time (see: signature slow pace of life) but there is some hope with new generations investing in and building up demand to for their local wines, with hopefully enough success to move the needle and instigate some much needed regional improvements in both economy and infrastructure. One notable DOC, Ciro, and the handful of family wineries therein, have begun to forge a path to notariety- we sure hope others can too. Calabrian wines are creating new international fans who look forward to the next cool delicious wine from a region that has the potential for a sterling reputation once again.
Casa Comerci ‘Rosina’
Nicotera, Calabria 2015
The Magliocco family of grapes is a bit of an enigma, more like a tangled ball of twine with multiple synonyms both throughout history and in modern day. Its multiple identities are finally starting to be unravelled as the different genetic signatures are more readily identified throughout Calabria. Magliocco Canino is one that is easier to spot but that certainly does not make it any easier to work with for winemakers. In the vineyard it is notorious for tightly packed bunches that ripen extremely unevenly, and in the cellar it is prone to reductivity- a flaw that gives it a bit of a ‘rustic’ or ‘funky’ reputation.
Domenico Silipo and his sons carry on the work of Rosina Comerci, matriarch of the family in the first half of the 1900s. Their beautiful organically farmed vineyard (and olive trees, of course) in the deep South can truly be described as Postcard Perfect. This part of Calabria enjoys warm breezes from the Sahara Desert that reach a coastline peppered with half-abandoned villages hanging off cliffs on the sea, complete with a backdrop of furrowed mountains. Francesco De Franco from A’ Vita, Calabria’s most important natural wine producer, is also an active part of this project. So rest assured that all their wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts and all fermentation and aging is in stainless steel with minimum sulphur (if any.) Production is tiny (550 cases) and we are thankful to be recipients of this beautiful wine.
Red wine… or Rosé? Perhaps this exists happily right in the middle. You decide! No forcing it into one side or the other for our sake! Sour cherries, hibiscus tea and strawberry fruit leather (that’s fruit roll-ups for people who were raised on the store bought version, like me.) Light dusty tannins linger on the palate following a refreshing saturation of blood orange fruit and just a touch of ‘Big Red’ cinnamon. Certainly a much bigger mouthfeel than what we’re accustomed to in a Rosé wine, but the ripping acid is something much more familiar to the category and holds your salivary glands hostage for a extended period of time. This combination of fruity weight and crisp finish are designed to be a perfect match for infamously spicy Calabrian food… a few notches deeper into red wine tannins would cause a fight on the palate.
As mentioned earlier; the family matriarch who established the estate name was Rosina Comerci, and there she is! (I’m all for more stylized drawings of Nonnas on labels.) Rosina also refers to the color of this rosato / light red wine. Best to serve this wine at an ‘in between’ temp- not too cold, not too warm (never warm, actually, but you see where I’m going here.) Just right, some might say. Why Nonna… what bright fruit you have!
Tenuta Terre Nobili ‘Cariglio’
Magliocco Dolce 50% + Magliocco Canino 50%
Montalto Uffugo, Calabria 2017
It’s only been recently understood that Magliocco Dolce is not at all related to the other Maglioccos. Seems obvious now, as they look nothing alike in the vineyard and taste completely different as well. In Italy, however, you just can’t assume anything with grape varietals. Magliocco Dolce is often just referred to as plain Magliocco but it is also known as Greco Nero, Arvino and even Guarnaccia (which is super confusing.) It can be as equally aromatic as it is tannic, but the more talented growers have learned to find the sweet spot- achieving ripeness without hard astringency.
Lidia Matera is the type of hostess you can’t help but to be charmed by. Her small wine farm is based in the Valle del Crati, a small bowl-shaped valley in the northern part of Calabria where summer temperatures can often top out above 100 degrees and the sun is shining constantly. Her organically grown fruit therefore matures at a high level of ripeness producing impressively big wines, yet she still finds a way to achieve balance. Fervent work amongst the vines is paramount for her grape yields, and therefore quality, and would very quickly spin out of control without constant attention and the thinning out of aggressive crops.
We start with plump and juicy aromatics, like you’re about to stuff your face into a bowl of fresh boysenberries. The smell is also quite confectionery-esque (perhaps because it was a favorite of mine for a short time in my childhood, but can you close your eyes and picture cracking open a brand new pouch of grape flavored Big League Chew? Ah yes, the hilarity of eighties candies.) Thankfully the wine itself is far more exciting; still a mouth full of ripe boysenberries for sure, combined with violets, black tea, juniper and licorice, creating a concentrated and intoxicatingly layered lasting impression. There are also notes of (the sweeter side of) deliciously earthy red beets- a lovely, but admittedly rare and wonderful flavor in wine. Throw some bittersweet chocolate and prunes into that beet salad and now we’re really getting somewhere super fun with this wine.
Pretty straight forward label showing some Calabrian pride with the historical map. No mention of grape varieties nor of a locale other than ‘Calabrian Red Wine.’ The name Cariglio is a ‘fantasy name’ for this particular wine (as opposed to one that sees oak, or is a different blend of grapes, for example.) Use the largest roundest glasses you have, then get your nose in deep and inhale until you’re weak in the knees. You may also notice it is unusually high in alcohol (at 15.5%.)
Nerello Cappuccio 60% + Nocera 40%
Pellaro, Calabria 2013
NERELLO CAPPUCCIO + NOCERA
These two grapes are part of an increasingly more notable trio (Nerello Mascalese being the third) due to the famous volcanic wines of Sicily. In the appellation around Mt. Etna and to just the NorthEast, in Faro, these oft-blended grapes are the source of some incredibly great wines. Here we have strong standout evidence that these same grapes have great potential in Calabria as well. Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese are often blended, Cappuccio the Yin to Mascalese’s Yang as the former provides deeper color and softens the astringent tannins and acid in the wine. Nocera provides a big lift in aromatics and ripeness- it is exceedingly rare to find a monovarietal wine made from this grape… for now.
The Malaspina family vineyards are located in the Southern tip of Calabria high on terraces overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. To say their location is remote would be an understatement. The villages in this area are almost ghost towns, though there are still the odd tourists braving the path-less-traveled to explore the pristine beaches the coastline has to offer. The winery is run by four sisters: Domenica, Caterina, Irene and Patrizia, who have taken over their father’s shop and are dedicated to making true standout wines for the area and for Calabria as a whole.
This wine, to me, screams Calabria on the nose. It’s gritty and rustic but beautiful and refined at its core. Preserved cherries, black raspberry, sweet tobacco, and burnt sugar, back loaded with damp earthy layers that are almost Nebbiolo like. It also carries a deep mineral signature similar to some of the more celebrated wines made in Faro (Sicily.) These are two impressive comparisons I don’t make lightly. There is a raw energy in ‘Pellaro’ which makes it stand out. It displays plenty of ‘tells’ outing it as a warmer climate wine, but instead of being saturated or clumsy, it is perfectly concentrated, balanced and beautiful.
‘Pellaro’ is the village name where the vineyards are located. Calabria was home to one of the largest mediterranean trade posts for the Greeks who referred to it as Enotria (the land of wine) – hence the label art. As usual, there are no other indicators as to what you might be drinking. That’s why we’re here. Open it and let it breath for sure, but be sure to taste it along the way as there is much to note while it’s waking up.
Du Cropio ‘Dom Giuva’ Cirò Rosso
Cirò, Calabria 2015
It is the most recognized grape in Calabria, though very few producers have been able to achieve such a serious and dynamic wine such as this one. The major challenge here is that Gaglioppo can have firm tannins but is lighter in color concentration and can be prone to oxidation. Most often Gaglioppo wines are made just a few shades darker than a Rosé (not unlike the ‘Rosina’) and are more simple, bright and easy drinking. If there is one family that has seemingly mastered this variety and stands as a beacon of hope for the potential of more serious Gaglioppo varietal wines, it is the Ippolito family.
Du Cropio is run by Giuseppe Ippolito and is situated in the town of Cirò Marina, in the SouthEast corner facing the Ionian Sea. The soil, a mix of clay and limestone, has excellent drainage, which is reinforced by steeply sloped hillside vineyards; conditions that are ideal for producing small crops of highly concentrated fruit. He only makes the smallest amount of wines labeled ‘Du Cropio’ (about 2000 cases total) from his very best fruit, but is an important grower of organic grapes for other producers in the area as well.
Tart red loganberries, black licorice, new leather and lavender are all neatly layered together from the get-go in this wine. This is very clearly the most complex wine of this month, and certainly the most complex wine from this grape I’ve ever had. That is not to say it’s heavy hitting by any means, in fact it’s quite the opposite.The mouthfeel is an elaborate study of intermingling fruits and earthy savoriness that makes for a cerebral experience in the glass. Acidity and tannins are clearly not an issue with the Gaglioppo grape, making this an incredibly age worthy wine to boot.
Du Cropio, in local dialect, means ‘doctor of agronomy.’ Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore is a mouthful – here’s the breakdown: Cirò = the name of the DOC. Rosso = Red, clearly, but important because there are many DOCs in Italy that can be either red or white, including Cirò. Classico = delineates a smaller geographic area (sub-appellation) that is deemed historically ‘more important’ to the wine. Superiore = slightly more vague a term but generally points to a wine made from a better grape selection, which in turn can equal a slightly higher alcohol percentage than non-Superiore bottlings.