“Mantonico”, the Mediterranean wine of the prophets

24.11.2019

If you think to a wine believed to confer divinatory powers to whom drinks it, then this is that white nectar called “Mantonico“, a white wine coming from  a rare native vine of Calabria.

This is another story about Calabria and its cultural and enological richness: let’s discover the Mantonico, the wine of the prophets.

HISTORY, LEGENDS AND MYTHS

Its origins are still little known, but it is said that this grape also arrived with the landing of the first Greek colonists in the 7th century BC on the shores of Locride, or that has been domesticated earlier in the ancient Enotria.

Alcaeus of Mytilene: “Now we need to drink…or to suffer the pains

In all probability the name derives from the Greek μαντονικος (mantonikos), from μαντις-εος (mantis-eos), which means “fortune-teller“, “prophet“.

If one drinks it in abundance, can fall into that “state of elation” that in the ancient times generated the power of divination: in classical antiquity one realized communication between the human and the supernatural, through a spiritual contact with the divinity.
Ancient grapes have always characterized myths and legends of the wine world.

A golden grape

In Calabria, too, as happens with the Greco di Bianco, around Mantonico fascinating stories revolve that tell the oenological roots of the varied biodiversity of the region. This way, Matonico has become a very important autochthonous grape.

This variety is a “niche” for its rarity, but also an element of culture, which remained in history of southern Italy, as evidenced by the traces left by the Dionysian cults, by the orgiastic rites or by the Roman bacchanals.

GEOGRAPHY OF THE VINE

For centuries this Calabrese white grape variety has been confused with Trebbiano and above all with Montonico Bianco which in Ampelographic Bulletins of 1875 is referred to as a permanent plantation in the province of Teramo.

Neither it should not be confused with the Montonico Pinto of the Ionian Calabria.

It is known by numerous synonyms, from Uva Regno to Ciapparone and Caprone, some of these similar to those used to define Montonico Bianco. There is also the red berry variety, but it is not very common.

The rare red acinus variety

The Mantonico has its ideal habitat in some areas of southern Calabria: its greatest spread is recorded along the Ionian coast, where it covers a total area of about 45 hectares, distributed mainly in the municipalities of Palizzi, Casignana, Locri (where in dialect it is called Mantonacu viru that is “true Mantonico”, to differentiate it from other similar varieties) and Monasterace, all in the province of Reggio Calabria, but also dates back to the Crotone, in the Valle del Neto and in the Marquisate.

These are hilly areas particularly suited to viticulture, with their calcareous-clayey soils and the Mediterranean climate mitigated by sea breezes.

In the past, sapling cultivation was preferred; today, spurred cordon cultivation was widespread; once the Mantonico was mainly intended for export as a table grape, especially towards Northern Europe.

FEATURES

The bunches are stocky and of medium size, while acinus are medium in size, ellipsoid, regular, with a sweet and acidulous taste at the same time, with a resistant and tannic peel of greenish yellow color, but which arrive at late maturation with a beautiful golden yellow. These characteristics have favored the use of the ancient technique of drying the grapes on racks before proceeding with the vinification, thus obtaining a sweet and concentrated nectar, as happens with the Greco di Bianco.

Thus was born another “meditation wine“, of a golden yellow with amber reflections, with intense notes of flowers, candied fruit (apricot, citrus), honey and dried fruit, delicious on the palate, fresh, savory and velvety.

Excellent at the end of a meal together with aged cheeses or dry pastry desserts, such as mostaccioli.

Vineyard on Ionian Coast

Another Calabrian enological pearl that has recently been revalued and enhanced not only in the passito version but also in the dry version.

If it is dry vinified (which happens in very few wineries), it produces a wine with a pale yellow color, but with fine and elegant floral hints, fruity citrus, peach.

Balbino, the ancient wine of Altomonte

11.11.2019

Balbino” wine is the ancient white wine of Altomonte. Discovering such  mysterious Balbino means re-discover the ancient wine of Altomonte (Cosenza) handed down from Roman authors and that in the last century, thanks to the Giacobini Company, became one of the ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria.

THE LAND OF THIS WINE

The vineyards rise above a mountains chain, which dominates the whole Valley of Crati river, and extends its view to the Gulf of Taranto.

Wide is the horizon, always of a temperate climate, often subject to the gust of strong winds. Here lies one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: Altomonte, a municipality in the province of Cosenza, which represents a rare jewel of nature, history and art. Its rich cultural heritage is clearly visible in the splendid architecture of its historic center, in the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, the greatest example of Gothic-Angevin art in Calabria or in the Norman castle of 12th century.

Town of Altomonte

The previous name of Altomonte (its toponym) is Balbia, perhaps a Phoenician voice deriving from Baal, which means “lord” and “divinity”; most likely the village was originally moved to the Esaro river, where, in the Larderia district, the remains of a Roman villa dating back to the 1st century AD have been found.

In 1065 the town of Altomonte is mentioned as Brahalla or Brakhalla, coming from the Arabic hypothesis “blessing of God“.

The town, besides Balbia, was called Braellum or Bragallum, by King Robert the Wise of the Angevin dynasty, or according to others by Pilippo Sangineta in 1337 the name was changed to Altofiume.

But even this name was not lasting, since Queen Joanna I, also of the Angevin dynasty, gave her the name of Altomonte.

Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione

HISTORY OF BALBINO WINE

Balbia (alias Altomonte) was known to the ancients for one thing in particular: his wine. The city became more celebrated in antiquity by reason of its generous wines.

Plinio counting the most celebrated wines of Italy, did not exclude those of Babia.

Athenaeus calls this wine generous, and truly austere [“Vinum Babinum generosum, et admodum austerum, et semper se ipso melius nascitur”; Ath. Deipn. Lib. I], and wants the Bimblina vine to be born here, which was transplanted to Syracuse by the first King Poli, a native of Argo Greco, so that the wine made from this grape by Siracusans was called Polio wine. According to these historical sources, therefore, the Balbino of Altomonte would even appear to be the ancestor of the Moscato di Siracusa, born from the same vine.

In modern times, we find it among those ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria together with the Provitaro Bianco (compared to the Chablis), the Calabrese Rosso (compared to Bordeaux), the Malvasia, the Moscato Giacobini and the Moscato Diavolone.

A FAMILY AND AN INDUSTRY: GIACOBINI

In Altomonte, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the family of Giacobini were active, a noble family that became a renowned company for the production of fine wines, liqueurs and vermouth.

An ancient brand

Balbino Bianco was one of their best products; in 1889 he won the gold medal at the National Wines Fair; then, Ciro Luigi Giacobini and his son Francesco gave birth to a real industry, one of the few then existing in the province of Cosenza.

The industry of Giacobini family gave rise to a period of great economic development of the territory, the factory created work for dozens of workers, reaching over 200,000 bottles a year, and exporting all over the world.

Fratelli Giacobini Company of Altomonte (CS) was located in the eponymous Palazzo Giacobini in Altomonte, today home to the Hotel Barbieri.

The activity has survived thanks to the Sciarra brothers and their actual brand Moliterno: in the company museum set up in a completely renovated patronal house, the Sciarra family still tells of the Giacobini Company through objects, equipment and documents, private and not.

Effectively, what was the grape used by the Giacobini for their Balbino Bianco (the standard Balbino white wine) is not crystal clear, nor whether it was that of which the sources speak or a mixed grape variety.

In any case, the Farneto del Principe farm in Altomonte called Balbino one of its wines, made from white Greek and Malvasia grapes.

A RARITY: BLACK BALBINO

There is also a Black Balbino in Altomonte, called in dialect ‘mparinata: it is a late-ripening vine (in the first and second decade of October), with a medium-large bunch, conical in shape, fairly long and compact but sometimes sparse and with a peduncle medium-short.

The wine coming from this grape medium-small, ellipsoidal or short ellipsoidal, is a red wine.

The skin is thick, very pruinose (from this the term “mparinata”, that is” floured “) and blue-black. The pulp is not very firm, pleasantly sweet and rightly acid.

Black Balbino wine

The Black Balbino grape prefers little expanded forms of cultivation such the sapling and is a rustic vine, not very sensitive to adversity and to parasites. It was also recovered in Cirò Marina, where it is used in the wine making and is attested from the mid-1800s; once it was used as a table grape, as well as to make wine.

Today, almost disappeared, it gives grapes that come together for winemaking with other locales.