A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gaglioppo - Cirò, Calabria, Italy

It feels sometimes like hardly a week goes by where there isn't some interesting grape from Italy for me to write about.  Last week we took a trip into southern Italy to explore Negroamaro.  Today we'll stay in southern Italy but move away from the heel and into the toe of the boot to end up in Calabria.

Historically, Calabria was known as Enotria, which means "land of wine."  I'm unclear, though, whether it was because of the wine produced there or whether it was because it was named for a guy named Oenotrus who, as the legend has it, left Greece to settle there and became its first king.  Whatever the case happens to be, vineyards in Calabria date back to ancient Greek times and many of the grapes grown in the region have been grown there in some capacity for the last 3000 years. 

One of those grapes is Gaglioppo.  Gaglioppo is a somewhat hardy grape, able to survive the hot, dry conditions of Calabria but still susceptible to a few fungal diseases.  It's unusual in that it has fairly thick skins but isn't particularly tannic.  It was thought for many years that Gaglioppo, like Calabria's first king, was an import from Greece, but recent DNA evidence doesn't seem to support that interpretation.  In an article from 2008, a team of researchers found that Gaglioppo (along with a host of other Italian grapes) likely has a parent-offspring relationship with Sangiovese.  The writing in that article is pretty dense, but from what I can gather, their DNA analysis seems to indicate that Sangiovese is likely one of the two parents for Gaglioppo, which means that Gaglioppo is likely native to Italy and not a Greek import at all. 

A study done in 2010 has confirmed that Gaglioppo is an offspring of Sangiovese.  The full parentage of Gaglioppo is Sangiovese x Mantonico Bianco.  Source: Cipriani, G. et al.  The SSR-based molecular profile of 1005 grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) accessions uncovers new synonymy and parentages, and reveals a large admixture amongst varieties of different geographic origin.  2010.  Theoretical and Applied Genetics.  121: 1569-1585.

Modern day Calabrian wine isn't something that many people get too excited about.  As little as 5% of the agricultural land in Calabria is devoted to the vine, and nearly all of it (up to 90%) is used for red wine production.  Of that production, only about 4% is classified as DOC wine with the rest ending up as IGT, table wine or fodder for the distillery.  There are 12 DOC regions (no DOCGs), of which the most well known is Cirò, which may not be saying much.  The Oxford Companion to Wine's entire entry on Cirò reads: "the only DOC of any quantitative significance in the southern Italian region of Calabria." Wines made in Cirò must contain at least 95% Gaglioppo with up to 5% of the white grapes Greco and/or Trebbiano allowed.

I was able to track down a 2007 Librandi "Duca San Felice" Cirò Riserva for about $20.  The wine was a pale ruby color in the glass, but the nose was very aromatic with spicy, savory red berry fruit like crushed raspberries.  It also had a kind of distinctive meaty aroma to it that was really interesting.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with high acid and low tannins.  I was surprised, since most of what I'd read about the grape led me to believe it tended to be a big, tannic kind of wine.  I don't know if four years of bottle age is sufficient to tame the beast, but I'd be surprised if all the stuffing fell out of the wine that fast.  The wine was very savory with spicy raspberry fruit and a kind of smoky meatiness to it.  My wife commented that it tasted to her like a cross between Pinot Noir and Nero d'Avola, and that comparison makes sense to me.  It's a great food wine that would go with everything from pizza to grilled meats.  It's a good wine for the money, but at $20, it's not exactly a bargain for what you'll get out of it.  It is definitely worth trying, though, and it's something I'd be eager to try at different stages of development and from different producers.

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