Giuseppe Calabrese tends four hectares of mostly bush-trained old vines, in the Pollino Mountains of northern Calabria, in the ancient town of Saracena. He works without peer in this remote area; to say he’s plowing the rough road is understatement. The winter’s here are bracing, summer’s are fresh, thanks to the nearby mountains and high altitude (400 meters). The soil is a mix of Neogene marine deposits and limestone, as seen by the many ancient limestone caves you find in the area. Giuseppe’s wines are an echo of the local wildness, and the ancient Saracean civilization, which still imbues the area. The great Calabrian historian, Giovanni Fiore da Cropani described Saracena as an “Ancient land…built by the Oenotrians..500 years before the Trojan War.” The Oenotrians were no ordinary ancient people, these people from Greek Arcadia, their name itself means ‘people from the land of the vines.”
The red grape variety Magliocco Dolce [mah-l’yee-OHK-koh DAWL-che]* is intriguing and moody: smoky, savory, fresh black fruit, and grainy tannins. The limestone and 40+ year old bush vines make a difference. It is not sweet or dolce, as the name could mislead. It will be interesting to see how it ages, but it seems to have all the components (tannins, acidity, extract) to do so. If it ages, to give a Calabrian reference, anything like Ippolito’s ‘Riserva del Falco’ we’re all in for a treasure. Wood-fired dishes, such as roasted lamb or eggplant pair well, even with a bit of Calabrian hot pepper. Though complex and smoky, it’s not a big wine, so don’t be afraid to put this with many of the fresh made pasta dishes made in these mountains: macaroni al ragu with shaved goat cheese, for example.
Giuseppe’s white comes from the variety Guarnaccia [GWER-nacha] and Malvasia. Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes (2012) Guarnaccia as a synonym for the Campanian variety Coda di Volpe Bianca, which describes it as “pale to medium gold…quite soft…with aromas ranging from delicate stone fruit to exotic spice, sometimes with a mineral or salty flavour.” That describe what I am tasting, together with a an exercise in controlled oxidation that will be a stunner for fans of the Jura ouillé genre who are looking for more than roasted nuts. The lower acidity is more fresh than roaring, and it makes it particularly well suited for sipping by itself. I had a glass with a salad and some local Pecorino, another night it was magic with stew of baccala, chick peas, and thyme.
These are exciting times for Calabria, and exciting wines from a place far away and relatively unknown. This is the Calabria we love.
*My friend Giovanni Gagliardi on Jermey’s excellent Do Bianchi site pronouncing this toungue-twister grape.