Posted by: tomciocco | September 18, 2014

CIRO` – A WINE FOR HEROS AND CHAMPIONS

In terms of wine, and frankly, in terms of lots of other things too, the Calabria region (which makes up the “toe” of the “boot”) is under-represented and often just flat out ignored. That said, this situation has its causes. Calabria, being a thinnish peninsula and very mountainous, is geographically quite isolated from the rest of Italy, not to mention the rest of Europe or the world, so to a large degree, what happens in Calabria stays in Calabria if you will. Further, taken as a whole, it is one of Italy’s poorest regions, so achieving any sort of economic “escape velocity” to launch its produce into the wider market is not easy. And in a sort of combination of the first two factors, Calabria’s coasts are rocky and therefore not blessed with any real deep-water ports so shipping is that much harder, and the lack of mass trade as a result helps to reduce Calabria’s economic footprint.

This is a region and people however, that delights in their isolation. There are pockets of Calabria where people still speak what would be considered to be a contemporary version of ancient Greek – a true linguistic artifact from Greek colonization that ended well over 2,000 years ago. And unbeknownst to most non-Italians, Calabria has its own ancient organized crime syndicate called the ‘Ndrangheta that is far more secretive and self-effacing than either Sicily’s Mafia or Campania’s Camorra. Traditionally, Calabria was THE place to hide for any of these three gangs when the heat of the law was on because there are many blind valleys and completely uninhabited mountain regions. In almost every sense of the term, Calabria is “provincial”…

There is, however, at least one vivticultural product of renown, and that is the wine that goes by name of Ciro`. Made from the unequivocally noble red grape Gaglioppo (which genetically appears to be the “son” of Sangiovese, and more distantly related to other Italian red varieties like Ciliegiolo, Frappato and Nerello Mascalese) that as far as I’m concerned is the “Barolo of the South” despite the fact that that distinction is often granted to Aglianico, which for me is a serious mis-characterization. All this understood, Galioppo has no genetic connection whatsoever with Nebbiolo.

The history of this variety is very long. It was mentioned by name as early as the 13th century, and there are references to a grape that closely matches the description of Gaglioppo in ancient Greek texts outlining its close association with the ancient Greek Olympics where it was given to competing athletes both as a purported boost to performance before the events as well as a prize to the champions after. As a result of this legend the contemporary Italian Olympic team is always served Ciro` wine with their meals at the games.

Despite all of this association with Greece and the notion that the Hellenic lands were the origin of this great variety, the latest genetic tests done show no kinship whatsoever with any Greek grape variety. In terms of physical characteristics, Gaglioppo (which grows all over Calabria, but reaches its fullest potential in the Ciro` zone) is quite hardy, it being resistent to both cold temperatures and lack of percipitation with its only Achilles Heel being powdery mildews resulting from too much rain. Gaglioppo thrives in clay and/or soils high in silica, and ripens on the later side of the season. Not surprisngly, Calabria’s long, dry, and sunny growing season is perfectly suited to growing Gaglioppo. Go figure…

As I mentioned above, Ciro` Gaglioppo, despite the rugged and rustic landscape from whence it comes, is almost shockingly fine and sophisticated, with elegant, dry tannins, wild berry flavors and frequent aromas of dried flowers. And though Ciro` can do a pretty good impression of Barolo, it has a robustness and a friendly character that Barolo/Nebbiolo doesn’t which makes it a great match for the bold, rustic and often spicy cuisine of Calabria. As a result, I matched this wine with a first course of toasts topped with a hash of black olives, olive oil, red pepper flakes, onion and basil followed by a main course of pork tenderloin medallions browned and then braised with tomato, red pepper, mushrooms, oregano and white wine.

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‘A Vita Ciro` 2008

Transparent brownish/brick ruby color. Complex nose of raspberry preserves, watermelon, red currant, earthy underbrush, dried flowers, cocoa, plastic bandages, sage, licorice and brown spices. In the mouth the wine is medium light with wiry, dry and smooth tannic frame and a tart acidity and an overall balanced and elegantly austere mouthfeel with flavors of black cherry, mulberry, strawberry, roasted chestnut, seaweed, and toasted almond. Long, warm and complex finish.

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