Chapter 14 – Calabria
Calabria is a wine region of southern Italy, the “tip of the boot”, a large peninsula jutting out between the Ionian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is divided from Sicily by the narrow Strait of Messina. Its northern border with Basilicata is marked by the southern Apennine peaks.
For many decades here the wine production was more quantity than quality driven and that is one of the reasons why for many wine lovers around the world this region has been skeptically considered one of the latest regions of Italy. Thanks to a large group of producers things are starting to change for the better in Calabria.
Calabria and its wines have been subject to many influences over the centuries. Most notably the ancient Greeks cultivated the first wine-bearing vines here. For many centuries Calabrian wines were famous not just in Italy, but also in other European countries. Their glory began to dissipate, however, as competition arose from French regions such as Bordeaux. These were closer both geographically and culturally to key markets such as London and Amsterdam. This slow decline accelerated in the late 19th Century, as the phylloxera epidemic ravaged Calabria’s vineyards and effectively disabled its wine industry. This was compounded in the late 20th Century as New World wine regions began to produce large volumes of affordable quality wines. The region has never quite recovered.
Viticulture and winemaking are far from the vital industries they once were, and account for a tiny proportion of land use. Around 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of the region were under vine in 2010. The local landscape is mountainous, and this has led to fragmented land ownership and widely dispersed vineyard zones. Without effective co-operatives, this can make wine production prohibitively expensive. The burden of purchasing and maintaining winemaking equipment is too high for most smallholders to bear on their own. (font via winesearcher.com)
The wine that I choose today to present the Calabria region is made from one of the serious new generation producers that determined a change of perspectives in the winemaking of the region. Dino Briglio is a very passionate wine maker, with a strong focus on the quality of his wines, all made with a mix of tradition and experimentation.
He grows only native grapes from the region such as Mantonico, Guarnaccino, Magliocco e Greco Bianco, all grown in a pretty natural way, with the utilization of only copper and sulphur for the treatments in his vineyards.
For white wines he prefers a longer maceration with skin contact, while the reds are more classic.
I have tasted his Mantonicoz IGT 2016 100% Mantonico from l’Acino winery, to pair with our Carlotta’s today recipe.
Mantonico Bianco is grown in diminishing amounts in the region, mainly by the largest producer of the region, Librandi, which has taken on the mantle of protecting the endangered vinous species of the area.
The variety is used to produce both dry and passito dessert wines, in which grapes have been semi-dried before fermentation to concentrate the sugars. As a dry wine, Mantonico Bianco is suitable for barrel maturation.
In this case the interpretation of Mantonico from l’Acino winery is an orange version, which I really appreciated being an orange wine fan.
Made with spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel vats and maceration in contact with the skins for 8 days. The next 12 months of aging are between tonneaux and stainless steel, no clarification or filtration before bottling.
The wine presents itself in a golden bright colour, almost orangy, very intriguing. I have to be honest if this wine would have been served in a transparent glass, I would have said it was a red wine. The nose is extremely misleading, it has notes of ripe fruit but also some hearty and ferrous notes which are very rare to find in a wine made from white grape varieties. It evolves in the glass with candied citrus notes and almond scents but also almond flowers. For sure I would say a very complex nose.
In the mouth the wine is pretty round, it has a good structure. The entrance is dominated by the acidity which is pretty high ( I guess also thanks to the altitude of the vines which are planted 600mt above the sea level) but then you feel the glycerin which wraps your mouth leaving a roundness and smoothness to the sip. The altitude influences also the alcohol content which is surprisingly only 13%, not really expected from such a southern region.
This smooth sensation that I had in my mouth made me think on how this kind of wine pairs perfectly with the traditional Calabrian cuisine. Most dishes here are very spicy, the famous Nduja (spicy pork sausage) for example which is a fundamental flavoring of many recipes, it’s delicious but not very wine friendly. The burnt sensation of the spiciness can be softened only from the roundness and the glycerin of the wine.
It also doesn’t surprise me that they use to make sweet wines from this grape, considering its own sweetness and structure.
The peperonata from Carlotta’s recipe is a perfect example of a very succeeded wine and food pairing.
Carlotta’s food story
Let’s get down to business now: the food! The traditional calabrian cuisine is poor, mainly based upon rural ingredients and recipes. Most dishes are linked to religious events, for example, during Christmas and the Epiphany it was custom to place thirteen different dishes on the table. Carnival is celebrated by eating maccheroni, meatballs and pork, whereas lamb roast and spiritual breads are consumed at Easter.
Similarly to most parts of Italy, every single important family event, from a wedding to a birth is celebrated with a large meal, in which a lot of care and dedication in preparing it is placed.
It is very interesting to note that Calabria does not have an homogeneous traditional cuisine throughout the whole region. The region has an ancient invisible line that divides it in two: Calabria Citeriore and Calabria Ulteriore. The two sides have different dialects and with them slightly different customs and gastronomic traditions. There are just a handful of traditional dishes that cross over the borders: pasta ca muddica and parmigiana di melanzane are two examples.
Due to Calabria’s history, dotted by long periods of drought or years ruled by oppressive empired, the region’s most well-known gastronomic products are based around preserved foods. From ‘Nduja, an extremely spicy pork sausage, commonly spread on toasted bread, to anchovies preserved in olive oil with spicy chili pepper. Sun dried tomatoes, vegetables preserved in olive oil and cheese that can withstand aging.
Calabria’s warm and Mediterranean climate is perfect for the growth of many fruits and vegetables, which are then consumed throughout the rest of Italy. Viticulture is also a growing practice in the region, but I’ll let Manu tell you all about that.
The dish I chose to share with you belongs to the category of my favorite veggie dishes of all time: peperonata. Every region, town and nonna has its own peperonata recipe. Some people use peppers and nothing else, whereas others add tons of other veggies too, as is the case for today’s dish.