Oenology of Cirò: the star of Calabrian wines

6.10.2019

HISTORY OF VITICULTURE IN CALABRIA

It is not possible to give a complete guide on the history of vines and grapes in Calabria, this history is so full of stories, details, discoveries, that it is easier understand its legacy than understand all the profound assets, present in the wine making.
Contrary to the belief that the vine was imported to Europe from ‘the Far East, many fossil finds in northern Europe and the Mediterranean regions show that since the beginning of the Tertiary appeared in Europe plants belonging to the botanical species “Vitis” , the ancestors of modern “Vines” European.


The fossil record shows us very different plants by modern life, diversity due to climate changes that occurred during the Eocene geological eras, Miocene and Pliocene. Only during the Pliocene begin to appear vines like those presenting today as Vitis Praevinifera Saporta and Vitis Subintegra Saporta.

“Vitis” (Cretacic period, 65 Million of years ago)

The findings grape seeds dating back to Neolithic times, make us believe that the European man used the grapes in his diet.

During the Bronze Age have been found in Italy only traces of wild grape, the “Vitis Vinifera Silvestris” and this excludes the possibility that at that time the man would dedicate to growing grapes.

The first traces of vine growing for the purpose of wine production found themselves around 2000 years ago in Calabria and Sicily. The cultivation of grapes in southern Italy was probably developed because of the ancient commercial activities of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations Aegean with southern Italy.

MAGNA GRAECIA (SOUTH OF ITALY) AND THE LEGEND OF CIRÒ

On the Ionian coast of Calabria is Cirò, a small town, where the wine is produced since the time of Ancient Greece (so called Magna Graecia in Calabria).

Saracen markets, near Cirò

Legend has it that Philoctetes, return home after the Trojan War, founded the city of Crimissa and Petelia, today’s Cirò and Strongoli. A Crimissa Philoctetes built a shrine in honor of Apollus Aleo, who had healed from the bite of a snake washing his wound with wine. In the area of the cult Dionysus, protector of the screw and of the trees, and expanded rapidly in his honor they took place celebrations in which consumed large amounts of Crimissa wine.

Further, legend has it that during the Olympic Games that were held in Greece, was offered the Cirò wine to the winning athletes. The Ciro wine is now produced in the same places where once stood the city of Crimissa.

The emperor Marcus Aurelius

VITICULTURE IN ROMAN TIMES

The vine was considered a sacred plant by the Greeks and Romans, and in the regions of southern Italy viticulture never ceased to flourish.

Following the expansion of the Empire and the Roman dominion over the Mediterranean territories, between the fifth and third centuries BC, the rural economy and especially viticulture, underwent profound transformations. Large imports of grain from the new provinces of the empire created a drop in demand and, consequently, a sharp drop in the value of the wheat produced in Italy. Therefore, the large landowners began to revise their agricultural strategies and so the cultivation of vines became one of the agricultural activities more ‘practiced and profitable.

Caesar

The Romans with the help of Greek and Asian slaves perfected the viticulture and enology. The goodness of Italian wine became well known and his fame opened the way for exports of wine products. The Roman Empire conquered a true monopoly in the production and export of wines that reached its peak in the period between the second century BC and the first century AD, a period marked by many important literary works on viticulture and oenology.

The decline of the Roman Empire and the crisis started from the second century AD and civil wars, the fiscal tightening, the indifference of the landowners and the progressive abandonment of the countryside led to a considerable reduction of the practice of viticulture, to the point that the end of the Roman Empire seemed almost drag even with itself the end of practices of viticulture.

Meadows near Ciro (Tower of Madonna)

THE MIDDLE AGE AND THE BYZANTINE AGE

Rossano and Santa Severina, located respectively north and south of Cyrus’, were the most important centers of Byzantine Calabria, founded between 700 and 1050 BC. At that time, the Byzantines took possession of many of land once owned the Roman landowners.

Being wine an indispensable element in the Christian rite of the Eucharistic table, the viticulture was practiced by monks within the convent walls, safe from bandits who roamed the countryside.

The wine was used by the monks to Mass, was offered to the visitors and was also used in moderation by the monks themselves.

Village of Santa Severina

Around the year 1000, deeds of gift, sales documents and agricultural contracts show that the cultivation of the vine was no more exclusive of religious orders, it began to flourish beyond the control of the church. Around 1200 the wine began to be exported to Europe and its use spread so widely that the church found it necessary to take severe measures against alcoholism to the point that, in 1215, Pope Innocent III proclaimed drunkenness as a serious offense.

THE “MODERN” CULTIVATION

In 1868, the vineyards were invaded by a terrible parasite from the new world.

A new American Root

The Phylloxera, a small insect that lived in the land and causing the death of the plants by the bite of the roots, came to Europe through the importation of American vines.

The grape of Cirò: Gaglioppo

These parasites caused a revolution in viticulture practices handed down from father to son through the centuries: whereas, before, the vines were coming from a single “parent” (a European grapevine), it was then necessary have an American root (resistant to phylloxera), on which was later grafted the European grapevine.

The practices of viticulture then began to be based on new farming concepts, otherwise the vines could not resist the terrible attacks of new enemies, microscopic and relentless.

Greek Gaglioppo grape

The vineyards of Cirò were therefore uprooted and replanted using imported from screws, which were used as “rootstocks”, on which were grafted the native varieties of Greek Gaglioppo and White, which are the varieties still used today to produce the best wine Cirò “DOC” (an Italian official mark of quality).

THE FIRST WINE CIRO’ BOTTLED

At the end of 1800 the wine first bottles of Cirò began to be produced in small quantities for local consumption by the noble families of the area, owners of the largest vineyards.

Norman Douglas, Writer

At the same time, some passing travelers in Calabria, including Norman Douglas, began to celebrate in their diaries the exceptional quality of the Wine of Cirò

Wines of Calabria: the trace of ancient traditions

06.02.2019

There is an entire literature about CIRÒ wine. This wine is well mentioned into J. Robinson (“The Oxford Companion to Wine”, Third Edition pg 122-123 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0-19-860990-6), M. Ewing-Mulligan & E. McCarthy (Italian Wines for Dummies pg 226-231 Hungry Minds 2001), M. Toussaint-Samat (“A History of Food” pg 263 Wiley-Blackwell 1994),  H. Johnson Vintage (The Story of Wine pg 64 Simon and Schuster 1989).

This internationally recognized wine is the core of wines production in Calabria, a real must, a landmark for lovers of authentic Mediterranean food. This product, especially, occupies one of the top places in Local Exports, together with olive oil and bergamot.

Overall, Cirò is culture, gastronomy, cuisine and the real witness or trace of ancient traditions of winemaking.

In ancient times, particularly, Pliny the Elder writings are one the first historical trace of wine production in the region of Calabria, he testified that during the 1st century AD Calabrian wine were just in Romans listings of quality Italian wines.

Even if slowly, Calabria developed a vibrant wine industry with only the red wines of Cirò, while many of its wonderful wines have a regional and national distribution.

Such Cirò wine taste garnered much international attention, and today Calabrian wines are mostly produced to high alcohol levels and sold to co-operatives who transfer the wines to the northern Italian wine regions, to use them as blending component.

With regard to the general Calabrian production, at this moment, over 90% of the region’s wine production is red wine, with a large portion made from the Gaglioppo grape. Calabria has 12 “Denominazione di origine controllata” (DOC) regions but only 4% of the yearly production is classified as DOC wine.

Given that the winters are mild in all the region, with average temperatures around 10°C, rarely dropping below 5°C, the climate near the coast is very hot and dry throughout most of the year, then the majority of the region’s wine production takes place in the central areas of the eastern and western coastlines.

  1. The starring of wine production in Calabria is, as said, certainly CIRÒ. Its DOC region is located in the eastern foothills of the La Sila region and extends to the Ionian coast. The mark of Cirò classico appears on red wines, therefore Red Cirò is typically very tannic and full bodied with strong fruit presences and subject to 3–4 years vintage. It is mainly produced in the municipalities of Cirò and Cirò Marina (in the province of Crotone), where the soil is predominantly calcareous marl with some clay and sand deposits. Anyway, such wine is a blend of grapes. In fact, Cirò contains at least 95% of the Gaglioppo grape and up to 5% of the white Greco bianco and Trebbiano grapes permitted. Cirò Rosés and Cirò white wines contain from at least 90% Greco bianco up to 10% Trebbiano. In the other Provinces of Calabria, you can find 11 DOC regions. We can list the following, according to our experience:
  2. The wine of Isola di Capo Rizzuto is the DOC of SANT’ANNA, produced in a limited area located south of commune of Melissa. This wine is dry red and rosé, coming from a blend of Gaglioppo, Nocera, Nerello Mascalese, and up to 35% of added Malvasia and Greco bianco.
  3. Jumping to the North of Calabria, the POLLINO DOC is produced in the nearby mountain of higher chain of mountains of Pollino, that forms part of the Apennines. Near the border with Basilicata, that zone produces pale, cherry red wines, subject to 2–3 years of vintage. The wines blend is made primarily with Gaglioppo and Greco nero, with up to 20% of white grape varieties of various provenience.
  4. SAN VITO DI LUZZI is the DOC of San Vito, a short municipality where red and rosé wines are produced with Gaglioppo, Malvasia nera, Greco nero and Sangiovese, and up to 40% of other local white wine varieties.
  5. The SAVUTO DOC comes from the south of the Donnici region, in mountainous terrain that stretches to the coast. The blend of grapes is composed by Gaglioppo, Greco nero, Nerello Cappuccio, Magliocco, Sangiovese and up to 25% of the white wine grapes Malvasia bianca and Pecorello.
  6. The SCAVIGNA DOC comes from the south of Savuto area, in the western coast of Calabria, where are produced dry red and rosé wines. The mixture of grapes results from at least 60% Gaglioppo and Nerello Cappuccio, plus other local red wine varieties, while the white wines come from Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Greco bianco and Malvasia bianca.
  7. A well known trademark is VERBICARO. This DOC is located inside Verbicaro region, in the Pollino foothills, west of Pollino DOC region, until Tyrrhenian coast. The typical blend is made from Gaglioppo and Greco nero with a minimal percentage of white wine grapes Greco bianco, Malvasia bianca and Vernaccia Bianca.
  8. The very famous DOC of GRECO DI BIANCO is a white wine that have alcohol contents of at least 17%. This authentic wine-liquor comes from grapes partially dried prior to pressing and fermentation. The unique visual appearance of Greco di Bianco is a deep amber color, mixed to citrus aromas and herbs scents.
  9. A growing wine is BIVONGI. This DOC of Bivongi land is new and produces red and rosé wines, blended from Gaglioppo, Greco nero, Nocera and Castiglione, while few are the white dry wines made of Greco bianco, Guardavalle, Mantonico bianco, Malvasia bianca and Ansonica.
  10. The production of DONNICI DOC is a red wine, composed of Gaglioppo, Greco nero and Mantonico nero. Its region is the province in the south of Cosenza, nearby La Sila plateau.
  11. The region of LAMEZIA wine produces red and rosé DOC wines. The blend comes from Gaglioppo, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Greco nero, Magliocco and Marsigliana, while the white wines result from Greco bianco, Malvasia bianca and Trebbiano. The zone of these wines is on the very warm plains of the Gulf of Sant’Eufemia, in front of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
  12. A special rival of Cirò is the MELISSA DOC. Its zone is located south of Cirò and it is a wine of similar style, though not with the same fame. The mixture of grapes of this region mainly comes from the Gaglioppo and Greco nero (Black grape), with some scent of the white wine grapes Greco bianco, Malvasia bianca and Trebbiano.

Further to said DOCs, throughout Calabria there are 12 distinct IGT zones (this mark protects only the typcal origin from the geographical place). They cover the entire region. We can mention as IGT of province of Catanzaro “Valdamato”, inside the province of Cosenza “Condoleo”, “Esaro” and “Valle del Crati”. In the province of Crotone we have “Lipuda” and “Val di Neto”. The province of Reggio Calabria counts “Arghillà”, “Costa Viola”, “Locride”, “Palizzi”, “Pellaro”, and “Scilla”.