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Calabria's Wines: On Their Toes

Elyse Glickman, photos by the author

Shaped by Greco-Roman history, the sea and a compelling roster of indigenous grape varieties, Calabrian winemakers are determined to make a statement in the U.S. and global markets on their terms with a little help from their friends.

The coastline of Calabria.

Although Calabria's winemakers are committed to being true to themselves, it doesn't mean they're sitting on their laurels and content to keep their wineries a cottage industry. While Calabria boasts thousands of years of winemaking history dating to the early days of the Greek colonists, the wines they are making today with both indigenous and "international" varietals have much to offer consumers, retailers and sommeliers looking to push their options and boundaries beyond Tuscany and Piedmont.

Getting the message out about Calabrian wines' potential in the U.S. market, however, is an ongoing necessity, which over the past year received collaborative support from Sprint Calabria (an organization representing the global interests of Calabria wine and food producers), the regional government and the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West. Activities included producers' participation in Vino California this past spring as well as smaller workshops and tasting events.

One of the most ambitious initiatives was a three-day FAM trip organized in September for a hand-picked delegation of West Coast wine buyers and writers. The ambitious itinerary consisted of a tasting-focused conference in Lamezia Terme's convention center with various producers and field trips to several participating wineries producers. It was the ultimate showcase for Calabrese products, giving the invited decision maker delegation an opportunity to experience for themselves why these products are prime for import into the U.S. market.

Lamezia Terme at night.

According to IACCW Executive Director, Letizia Miccoli, the information-packed three day trip was designed to build momentum from U.S. events in a very interactive, hands-on way the participating producers felt would be particularly effective.

"These organizations support local food and wine producers in getting the necessary tools to peak into foreign markets," explains Miccoli. "This delegation provides our best producers the opportunity to interface with importers, buyers, distributors, consumers and press. It allows them to educate both trade and consumers on their specific productions, their varietals and their history.

Indeed, driving around the rustic and largely agricultural Calabria puts the varietals and resulting wines into an interesting context. It's one thing to learn about how ancient Greeks, credited as the first civilization to introduce several grape varieties and winemaking techniques to Calabria, still has a profound influence on today's winemakers.

Cirò, now regarded as the region's top DOP wine production area, is populated with wine producers working to reconcile winemaking technology with its legacy as one of the oldest wine productions areas in the world. While most of the premium wines imported to the U.S. and other countries come from Cirò, other notable DOC regions wines include Pollino in western reaches, Lamezia, Savuto, Verbicaro to the north, Donnici to the south and Bivongi, Melissa and Sant'Anna di Isola di Capo along Calabria's east coast. 

Calabria is home to about 238 different indigenous grape varieties.
Thousands of years of winemaking history aside, Calabrian winemakers have much to offer a generation of adventurous oenophile consumers, retailers and sommeliers looking to push the boundaries of the wine drinking experience. On one level, Calabrian wines provide an interesting counterpoint for the regional cuisine. While the Calabrian flavor profile is sharp, smoky, spicy and aggressive (hot peperoncini products are a top food export product), the wines are generally smooth and mild on the palate.

While many of the wines I sampled as part of the delegation were delightful to sip on their own, the aromas and flavor notes improved when the wines were paired with food. As wines open up in the glass, they revealed themselves to be at once complex and approachable.  

It is also worth noting that Calabria is home to about 238 different indigenous grape varieties, with "signature" grapes including Greco di Bianco, Greco Nero, Montonico, Magliocco Canino, Gaglioppo and Marsigliana Nera. Although many Calabrian winemakers, including Cirò-based Senatore, Roberto Ceraudo and Tenuta dei Baront Capoano integrate "international" grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends and repertoire, much of their winemakers' focus is dedicated to allowing indigenous grapes to stand out proudly and represent what makes Calabrian wines different from wines in other parts of Italy, either in blended wines or as single varietals.


Roberto Ceraudo


At first glance, it is no surprise that Roberto Ceraudo's winery is thinking beyond its production, on a global scale. For example, the property puts some of its medieval structures to good use for vino-tourism lodging, and the winemaker's daughter operates a Michelin-starred restaurant ranked in Italy's top 100.

Roberto Ceraudo.
However, if you cannot make it to the winery, you can taste a bit of the grace and elegance found on the property. The wines themselves are smooth, accessible and food friendly, and the effort that has gone into the bottles is quite impressive.

The grapes are certified-organically grown, and the recent vintages of whites (Imyr, Petelia) are particularly elegant, while the Grayasusi reds are pleasant and approachable. One of the more stellar selections is the Grisara, a crisp and versatile white with a citrusy-floral nose with a pleasant stone fruit finish that works with everything from pecorino cheese to pasta and peperoncino appetizers.
The Grayasusi, meanwhile, is lovely when paired with lamb or beef fillet, as well as the coffee-caramel dessert served at the restaurant.

imported by Noble Harvest LLC, New York

Senatore Vini


Although the Senatore family has been making wines for generations, they are not shy about integrating modern concerns such as the environment into their operations. The winery, flanked by the sea and anchored by a sleek and modern main building, encompasses 40 hectares of which about 30 are dedicated to vineyard producing DOP and IGP wines.

Dr. Raffaele Senatore.
During our tour, Dr. Raffaele Senatore explains that their wines are carefully cultivated using state-of-the-art techniques, with the ongoing scientific input of universities with oenology departments. However, he also points out that what makes his grapes excel when transformed to wine is the proximity to the sea and mountains as well as eco-friendly harvesting methods.

While reds like Seanatore Arcano enjoy the highest profile and critical acclaim, we sample their Euke line, which they are quite excited about. Their sparkling white (with Greek white Incrocio Manzoni and Chardonnay varietals) and sparkling Rosé would nicely accent Southwestern U.S. and California-type cuisine.
imported by Avante Beverages, Dallas, Texas

Tenuta dei Baroni Capoano di Massimiliano Capoano


A selection of wines from Capoano.
The estate includes a historic castle, while the production area extends over approximately twenty hectares among centuries-old olive groves and autochthonous vineyards. The cellars covers over 600 sq. meters, with the most refined wines produced stored in underground vaults amid stone walls 2.5 meters thick which guarantee a stable and optimal temperature.

The winery, as it stands, was founded in 1997 by surgeon B. R. Capoano, and in 2005, was taken over by his son, Massimiliano Capoano, who has worked to boost sales inside and out of Italy. The Cardinale Don Pietro and multi-dimensional Don Raffaeli reds are both 100% Gaglioppo, which results in wines that's full-bodied, persistent and ideally paired with spicy cheeses, truffle dishes and game meats.

The Don Angelo DOP Rosé, served chilled, is graceful, floral and nice with shellfish and salmon. 



The winery, which has products widely available on the U.S. market, is based on an estate that covers 100 hectares strategically planted at the back of a hill that shields the plants from rough sea winds. The vines are espalier trained, employing the cordon spur method, and the vineyard is fed partly with natural fertilizer obtained from their cattle breeding operations.  Their products are also widely available on Alitalia flights. Their Lamezia range focuses on indigenous varietal blends while their Gelsi range wines are blends of indigenous and international varietals. They also offer numerous single varietal wines and a sparkling brut.

imported by Vias Imports Ltd., New York, NY

Cantine Lento


The winery is gaining popularity as a tourist destination thanks to the family's emphasis on preservation of Mediterranean culture. Even so, the winery is properly outfitted for the 21st century, with modern grape storerooms, processing and transformation premises. While temperature is checked throughout the winemaking process, from the fermentation of the musts to the bottle stockage, biggest point of pride is the Lento aging cellar. Their prime reds include Dragone (33% Magliocco, 33% Greco Nero, 33% Nerello) and ultra premium Lamezia Riserva (50% Magliocco, 25% Nerello, 25% Greco Nero).

Tenuta del Castello

This winery, established in 2005 and situated in the Magna Grecia growing area, encompasses 4000 plants per hectare, a maximum of 2 kilos of grapes per plant, a total of 80 quintals per hectare. At the Lamezia Terme conference, Francesca and Giovambattista Solano explain that their success lies in advanced tech procedures, year round mild climate, sandy, calcareous clay soil create the conditions to make 2 great red wines although they also stress traditional methods, such as hand-harvesting preserve the integrity of wine production in the area that long prediates the existence of this estate.

Tenuta Terre Nobili


When Lidia Matera took over the Tenuta Terre Nobili from her father Ennio (who founded the winery in the late '60s in Montalto Uffugo), she devoted herself to continuing his vision-to recover the ancient species of the local vines and then translate the fruit into wines that appeal to the modern palate. At the conference, she presented samples of four distinctive lines (Alarico, Cariglio, Donn'eleonò and Santa Chiara) intended to express the warmth and strength of local soil and micro-climates. The Alarico red is a blend of Nerello cappuccio and Mascalese, while the Cariglio red blends of Magliocco Dolce and Canino. The Donn'eleonò rosé wine mingles Magliocco and Nerello. The fresh Santa Chiara white wine is 100%, Greco and a particularly good partner for whitefish and seafood.

A perfect match: Calabrian cuisine, food products and a selection of wines from Senatore.

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