Wines of Calabria: the trace of ancient traditions


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”.

Cirò, the Best known Wine of Calabria


Calabria has 12 DOC regions and they include:

  •  Ciro’
  •  Donnici
  •  Isola di Capo Rizzuto
  •  Lamezia Terme
  •  Pollino
  •  San Vito di Luzzi
  •  Savuto
  •  Scavigna
  •  Verbicaro
  •  Bianco
  •  Bivongi
  •  Melissa

However, even if Calabria got a real rich selection of magnificent wines, they all less known, comparing them to Ciro’.

Like most wines produced throughout the world, Ciro is meant to be consumed 3-4 years after production, but some Ciro Rosso can be aged 10+ years. This explain, partially, its international success.

Further, in the province of Reggio Calabria there are many IGT zones including Arghillà, Costa Viola, Locride, Palizzi, Pellaro, and Scilla, and clearly these local wines are mainly for daily consume. They are associated with a tasty regional cuisine, for example the wines of Costa Viola region, along the western Calabria seacoast, are related to Swordfish and goat dishes.

Only Ciro’ can be associated to all Mediterranean cuisine and this contributes to explain why  is the best known Mediterranean and Calabrian wine, in Italy and in the world.

There are three standard types produced including a rosso (or red) made from the Gaglioppo grape, rosato (rose), and bianco (white) made from the Greco grape. Some rosso wines also contain a mixture of Greco and Trebbiano white grapes, but it must be less than 5 percent to meet DOC standards.



Calabria is bordered to the north by the region of Basilicata. The rest of Calabria is bordered by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas. Even if it is one of the poorest regions in Italy, its economy stands out for its wonderful agriculture, including grapes, figs, olives and citrus fruits.

The Ionian Sea has a moderating effect on the temperatures for the vineyards nearer to the coast, and the area is still quite hot and dry during the day.

Due to these excellent conditions of altitude, temperatures cool down a little at night, which allows the grapes to continue to develop thru the growing season. The soils are a mix of clay, sand and marl, which is good for wine growing.

The proximity of Mediterranean Sea is decisive for the terroir, as the mass of water helps to moderate the intense heat of the south Italian summer.  The cooling and heating of the land, over the course of a summer day, causes morning and afternoon breezes, which minimize the risk of fungal vine diseases and further improve the climate’s suitability for quality viticulture.

Another key factor is that the vines grow very well, because, in terms of the topography, there are some flat long areas near the coast (less than 10% of the total country), even if most of Calabria is mountainous.

This way, the Cirò wine region is located in such flat areas in the eastern foothills of the La Sila region and extends to the Ionian coast. However, the heart of the region classical Ciro’ is centered on the municipalities of Cirò and Cirò Marina in the province of Crotone.

The soil of this area is predominantly calcareous marl with some clay and sand deposits. Further this ancient Calabrian wine region is a sunbaked southern Italy and offers a gorgeous countryside of ancient olive trees and undulating vineyards planted with a unique red grape—Gaglioppo.



The Gaglioppo grape is usually the main component of Cirò, giving it soft red fruit, allspice and cinnamon flavors, notes of walnuts, and a bright, acidic structure that matches up nicely with spicy meats, stuffed peppers, and pizza, lamb, and even fish like swordfish and sardine.

The Gaglioppo grape is indigenous to the area. The wines it produces are unique. The grape’s meat is lightly colored. While the skin of the grape is thick, it does not have many tannins. To produce quality wines, producers must be willing let the grapes get fully ripe and then allow the juice to have contact with the skins for a long time to absorb both color and the tannins for structure. To do this well requires temperature controlled modern equipment which can be expensive.

Another very similar DOC zone in Calabria is Melissa (about a 30 minutes’ drive south of Ciro’). The region of Melissa uses Gaglioppo grapes and produces Ciro’-like wines (mostly from Gaglioppo and Greco Nero), but does not have the same reputation (at least outside of Calabria) as Ciro’.

Instead, the region of Ciro’ is situated on the eastern tip of Calabria, about a 4 hour trip north from Reggio Calabria. Here, the area, the vineyards and the grapes of Ciro’ are designated as DOC wine or “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” [DOC is basically a label meaning that any particular wine from an officially recognized region of Italy must be produced in specific well-defined regions, according to specific rules designed to preserve the traditional wine-making practices of the individual regions].

Given that Ciro’ wine is made in the eastern foothills of the La Sila plateau and out to the Ionian coast, in the Ciro, Ciro Marina, Crucoli and Melissa communes, – then the highest-quality grapes come from vineyards employing the alberello basso vine training method, meaning grapes are harvested by hand due to their bushy shape.

For economic reasons many modern vineyards have abandoned this traditional process, turning instead to the espalier trellised vine training system. While espalier-trained vines are easier to harvest, the quality of their fruit is considered inferior to those grown on the alberello bush vines.

The wines of the region are predominantly red containing at least 95% of the Gaglioppo grape and up to 5% of the white Greco bianco and Trebbiano grapes permitted. Rosés and white wines from at least 90% Greco bianco and up to 10% Trebbiano are also made in Cirò but in very limited quantities.

While a common synonym of Trebbiano is Greco, the grape is separate and distinct from the Calabrian wine grape Greco bianco. The designation of Cirò classico will only appear on red wines. Red Cirò is typically very tannic and full bodied with strong fruit presences. It is recommended to consume it 3–4 years after vintage but it can take more time to soften the tannins.



It is said that Cirò was offered to winners of the ancient Olympics. Local legend tells that the grapes were used to produce Cremissa, in a Greek colony known today as Cirò Marina, a beverage offered as a toast to the gods by the Olympic champions of ancient Greece. Also for this reason in the 1968 Olympics, the athletes were all offered Cirò with their meals during the competition.

Indeed, the Greeks came to the area bringing the art of winemaking. They called the area Enotria that meant “land of the wine”. There are records from the 4th century B.C., which indicate a vineyard in this area was worth six times the value of the same size field planted with grains.

Therefore, Cirò has ancient roots. Cirò may be the oldest wine in the world still produced today.



There are about a dozen producers of Cirò bottling about 30,000 hectoliters per year. Cirò is made also a Bianco (White), and Rosato (Rosè), but it is the Rosso that is most famous.

The Rosso must be made with at least 95% of the wine coming from Gaglioppo grapes. The remaining 5% can be Trebbiano Tuscano or Greco Bianco grapes. There are five additional designations for Cirò Rosso; Classico, Superiore, Classico Superiore, Riserva, and Classico Riserva. The first three are geographical restrictions while to carry Riserva title on the label the wines must be aged for 24 months before release.

It may be surprising to learn that a deep red wine from the south of Italy can be made with a portion of white grapes, but this is not as unusual as it might seem; the robust reds of the northern Rhone valley (Cote Rotie, for example) are often made more supple and alluring with the addition of Viognier, sometimes as much as 20%.

The Ciro Rosso Riserva wines represent the finest that Ciro, and indeed Calabria, can produce. These are matured for at least two years before commercial release, of which six months must have been spent in oak barrels. Those bearing the term classico are from grapes grown at the very heart of the catchment area, and are theoretically superior.

The wines are universally tannic and full-bodied with good structure and a high alcohol content of up to 14%. They are generally intended for consumption within five years after vintage, but it can take up to ten years to soften out the tannic structure in the more robust examples.

About the general tasting notes, these wines are substantial, containing aromas of red fruits and spice complement undertones of cranberries, wild berries, and plums. On the palate, ripe tannins and substantial body make for an incredibly rich, yet easygoing red wine.

About Food Pairing, the wine can pair with sausage, spicy curry sauces, hot soppressata, and tandoori chicken.