Anyone travelling to Calabria is sure to enjoy an authentic wine tourism experience. In this tiny region in southern Italy, at the tip of the ‘boot’, the history, landscapes, geography and food all have a common thread – wine. The region is now focusing on its native grape varieties and opening up to wine tourism. Read on to find out more about its wine industry, its indigenous grapes and its hidden treasures.
- A history of wine dating back centuries
- The wine region of Calabria
- Hidden treasure in the form of native grape varieties
- A vibrant wine tourism destination
A history of wine dating back centuries
According to history, settlers came from Greece in the 8th century BC and founded the town of Krimisa with a significant temple dedicated to the god of wine, Bacchus. This is the spot where the official wine of the Olympic Games was allegedly produced. From Antiquity to the Lombards, every coloniser left a vinous stamp during their time in the region.
The wine region of Calabria
From vineyards covering just 12,000 hectares approximately – equating to less than 2% of the national total – the region produces an average of 400,000 hectolitres of wine a year, divided between 70% red and 30% white. Just four provinces are home to the main production areas: Crotone (in the East); Cosenza (in the West); Catanzaro (in the Centre) and Reggio Calabria (in the South). Out of Italy’s 538 PDOs and PGIs, Calabria has 9 PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin or DOP in Italy) and 9 PGIs (Protected Geographical Indication). Wine is the third largest crop in the region, “after market gardening and olive oil”, according to one observer.
Hidden treasure in the form of native grape varieties
So far, 350 native grape varieties have been identified, though there are more. In every area, dozens of grape varieties grow very locally and have been propagated through massal selection, where the best grafts are selected. Occasionally, they are known by their dialect name. The most representative red grape varieties are Gaglioppo, Magliocco and Marsigliana Nera, along with a historic red variety, Guarnaccino. The whites include Greco and Mantonico. These are the viticultural treasures that have become the focal point for a new generation of winegrowers, both for their rich flavours and their ability to cope with climate change.
GianLuca Ippolito, the young winegrower from the namesake winery – one of Calabria’s oldest – manages 100 hectares of all-native grape varieties. They include one 0.8-hectare block for which he has a particular soft spot – it was planted by his maternal grandfather using the ‘alberello’ system where the vines are head-trained. Its defining feature is that it is able to cope with particularly challenging environmental conditions in a dry, hot climate, due to the fact that the vines are high to protect them from the heat. “This block recounts the history of our vines. Just like all the neighbouring plots”, says Ippolito.
A vibrant wine tourism destination
For those wishing to tour the vineyards, the choice of locations is endless, from the coast to the mountains through to the tiny villages. Calabria is home to a mosaic of landscapes, embracing mountain ranges and national parks – including Sila and Aspromonte with the Montalto peaking at 1,955 metres above sea level – along with rolling hills and 900 kilometres of coastline divided between the Ionian Sea in the East and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the West. Exploring the villages of Calabria, with their picturesque piazzas and their intriguing, albeit tumbledown façades, is also a great idea. Here, too, are hidden treasures dating from Antiquity through to the present-day, which offer a wealth of culture and aesthetic pleasure – the Riace bronzes in the national archaeological museum in Reggio de Calabre are a case in point. And then there is, of course, the cuisine – the Calabrese pasta, grilled swordfish, ice cream, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and olive oils. Everything here is delicious – the hardest part is choosing what you take home in your suitcase!
Anne Schoendoerffer, © Dionisio Iemma/Adobestock