‘Is ‘irony’ the right word’, asks Francesco. ‘Would that describe how odd it is that the biggest fans of the wines of Calabria were the…….producers of Barolo and Barbaresco?’
‘A secret more than a surprise, I think’, I add.
‘Italy’s most famous and respected wine regions used to buy up all our wine and sell it as their own’. He turns away for a second, as if he’s more impressed by the thought of it than I am. It’s nothing new, of course, that Italy’s premier wine producing region sold off Calabrian wine as its own for generations, a fact that has yet to certainly register in the minds of today’s Italian wine drinker, especially those looking for value. Or genuine expression of a place.
We’re standing on the deeply sloped bank of his vineyard, Calabria’s ‘A Vita. Based on the idiosyncratic grape called gaglioppo, the wines of Cirò have been famous for thousands of years.
….Just not to everyone.
‘It turned out that our red grape gaglioppo and nebbiolo– the principle red grape of Piemonte- have many of the same taste profiles’, he says. ‘And when I ask the perception of Calabrian wine while outside of Italy I usually see frowns. Yet awe when mentioning the wines of Piemonte. That one was sold as the other for decades, well, it just shows Calabrian producers that we have a lot of work a head of us’. He pauses.
‘And a great deal of it involves PR, versus changes in the cantina or field’.
I’ve known Francesco for years.
I visit him during my bike trip each year, mostly because he represents a new generation of wine producer: college educated, well-travelled, open to change, proud of his roots. And perhaps it’s this soup of needed skill sets that might surprise most about today’s wine makers in Southern Italy. Social media savvy, multi-linguists, marketing and regional-promotional machines, it’s a wonder they have time to make wine. That he has a little one at home too, well, it proves that he’s an excellent juggler.
If you’ve never tried a gaglioppo (pronounced, ‘golly-op-po’) based wine, you’re in for a treat. Not only can they be excellent, but they effectively widen your Italian wine drinking experience, as they really stand out as decisive, different, even a bit quirky, but in a good way. With soft plums and a herby finish, the wines of Cirò have really dropped in their once-legendary and harsh, mouth-searing tannins, mostly by bottle age, a lot like the wines of Barolo, Barbaresco but also those of Rioja. That they marry perfectly with the foods of Calabria, a cuisine much appreciated inside of Italy for its distinct, embarrassingly generous, walk-in-the-front door flavours, all of this together makes today’s Cirò a very compelling choice of wine.
We walk for a few hours, up and down the hills the run their way down to the shiny blue, almost metalic-looking Ionian sea. In another hour he’ll invite me over for lunch, a meal that will happily kidnap the better part of the day. His wife will kiss my cheeks when she says hello, hold my hand longer than she needs to, tell me that I’ve lost weight, that it’s been too long since my last visit. She’ll hand over the baby, whose fingers are no thicker than toothpicks, small enough for them to clasp tightly around my thumb. She’ll carve me a piece of spicy salame as che cuts it, the profoundly green-green land outside the window, a place as loving and as generous as a favourite grandfather, as charming and as beautiful as those old yellowed and crispy photographs of his wife.
To learn more about the wines of Calabria, Sicilia, Basilicata or la Puglia, click through to our site. You can also learn more about our Southern Italian wine programme, now in its third year.