Oenology of Cirò: the star of Calabrian wines



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.


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


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.


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)


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.


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).


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

Jefferson: the best liqueur in the world is Made in Calabria!


The ship that was supposed to take Mr. Jefferson, an American, from Panama to the port of Genoa began to take water in the middle of the Mediterranean. Within minutes he was sucked into the bottom with his load of bottles filled with sugarcane distillate.

The captain, along with Roger and Gil, two crewmen, driven by the currents, managed to reach the shore.

Americans in Calabria

It was 1871 and the three American shipwrecked men were overthrown by the waves on the Tyrrhenian coast of Cosenza, Calabria, between Fiumefreddo and Fuscaldo.

Escaped from danger, they entered the inland areas, perhaps crossing Serra di Cecio and the summit of Cozzo Cervello, then down to the Valle del Crati, towards the houses.

The Old Customs Warehouse


Between Montalto Uffugo and Torano, in the Ziribba area, Raffaele Trombino, known as “u Giocondo”, managed the Old customs warehouse.

Three small buildings, one used as a dwelling, one for sale, the other for sale.

Jefferson, Roger and Gil found hospitality there: they settled in that warehouse (in dialect “s’accasarano”), working for Giocondo who traded in spices and in the dark, in a secret room, prepared liqueurs with cedar and bergamot.

Jefferson called this place the Perfumery. They set off together with Giocondo before dawn, with the cart and the empty baskets.

Precious Liqueur coming from the “Perfumery”

Four or five hours journey to reach the citrus groves, to the south the “Bergamotto Fantastico” plantations, to the north those of the “Cedri Diamante”.


Little is known of what happened next.

Of men who left for other continents and never returned. Of women left, in America, to wait for the raising children and then emigrated to Germany. Of grandchildren that one piece at a time have re-established ties with the descendants of Mr. Jefferson and rebuilt a beautiful story. Even painful.

But what everyone now knows is that Jefferson’s bitter liqueur is the best liqueur on the planet, coming from Calabria!

Bottle and Dropper

And also the best herbal liqueur in the categories of the World’s Drink Awards: in London, a few weeks ago, in 2019, it twice won the highest podium in the international contest that selects and rewards the best spirits in the world: “Great aroma, Bitter at the beginning, that passes. Soft and smooth and very well balanced with a herbal finish “.

Jefferson – Important bitter liqueur – is a mix of fresh botanical herbs, harvested in bloom and processed as it used to be: rosemary from Montalto Uffugo, oregan from Palombara (near Paola), lemons from Rocca Imperiale, oranges, bitter and sweet, and grapefruit from Bisignano, Roccella Ionica bergamot, the Sila gentian. All ineffable essences of Calabria.

Ivano Trombino


But who is the alchemist of the Old Customs Warehouse today? Who recovered the knowledge and secrets of “u Giocondo”?

Thick black beard, curled mustache, 20s bowler and a great desire to tell each other, amid moving and amusing anecdotes: Ivano Trombino is the author of Jefferson’s perfect recipe.

And not only. He spent seven years reconstructing the history of his family (while working as a liqueur representative for the Caribbean Company) experimenting with blends, between a flowering and another of his botanicals.

A really mysterious blend

Now he is cultivating them in a large garden in Montalto Uffugo, in the province of Cosenza, where he has completely reconstructed the Old customs warehouse: a studio, a spice room, another one for infusions. He entrusted the care of citrus fruits to his father Francesco. “Let’s also say that it will be a contemporary place where promoting the culture of drinking and receiving visits from all over the world”, announces Trombino.

His company with its products (bottled near Cuneo, in the ancient Quaglia distillery) has an international niche target, connoisseurs between 30 and 70 years old.

Montalto Uffugo (CS)


And next to Jefferson’s liqueur (“Natural and authentic bitter liqueur, like Calabria”, of which there is also the Extra Strong mother tincture, in the pharmaceutical bottle with dropper), there are “Roger’s bitter liqueur“, Bitter Extra Strong (“Keep Under Bench”, “Turbid from birth “Is indicated on the label) and “Gil“, a Gin distilled with rural production method, using Juniper and Lemons of Rocca Imperiale (protected under so called IGP mark).

The legend of three Americans

Together they recall the legendary past of the three American castaways.

Frack’s recipe is secret: is the result of three blends prepared from separate infusions, processed with fresh herbs (2 parts of amaricante and 1 vinous).