Calabria, a region of Southern Italy, is not as well known internationally for its wines as many other regions, but has a rich tradition of producing incredible table wines, mainly reds. Being in the far south, at the toe of Italy’s boot, the warm, dry climate and hills with volcanic soil are ideal for producing dark, full-bodied red wines with high tannins. Approximately 90% of the wines from this region are red wines. The most common varietal in Calabria is the Gaglioppo grape, the primary grape used to produce Ciro, the only wine from the region with appreciable international familiarity. Ciro may also contain up to 5% of the white grapes Greco Bianco and Trebbiano. Today, most of the wine from Calabria is produced to high alcohol content and sold in bulk to co-operatives for blending with Northern Italian wines. To lovers of big reds, that seems to be a waste of a potentially great wine. I have tasted Ciro, and in my opinion, it is one of many really great Italian wines on its own, and is a great choice to pair with red meat, pasta with red sauce, and sharp cheese.
Other commonly used reds from Calabria include Gaglioppo, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Greco Nero, Magliocco and Marsigliana. None of these grapes are as well-known as the Nebbiolo grape that is used in producing the fine Italian Barolo, but these grapes make great wines in their own rite. Because Calabria is historically among the most rural and least industrialized regions of Italy, the export market is relatively undeveloped, and most wine makers produce and distribute their wines locally. My family in Italy has a long history of small-scale wine making and local sales in Sersale, the town pictured on our wine bottles. Our family in Lawrenceville has established our winery to replicate as closely as possible the wines produced by the Talarico family in Calabria. Because southern Italian grapes are not grown in the US, and we insist on producing our reds from grapes (as opposed to juice, where the benefit of fermenting on the skins is eliminated) that don’t do well sitting on a loading dock in Newark waiting to be cleared by customs, we use the grapes available to us that closely resemble the wines of our family. Our Vino da Tavola, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, our Montepulciano, a wine grown primarily in Abbruzzi in Central Italy, and Tannat, originally from Southern France and Spain, closely resemble the wine of our ancestors. In the fall, we are adding Teroldego and our Rosso Alpino, a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, Northern Italian grapes that share the full body and high tannins of Southern Italian reds.
The white grapes from the region are Greco Bianco, Malvasia Bianca and Trebbiano. These varietals are less unique to Calabria, and are widely grown throughout Central and Southern Italy. The Greco Bianco is an amber, full-bodied white, and is primarily produced as a sweet wine. The Malvasia Bianca and Trebbiano are light, refreshing wines with a hint of citrus flavors. These are the primary grapes used in the Roman blend, Frascati, that is one of our more popular whites.
While we do offer some of the more common wines at Papa Joe’s Wine Cellar, Malbec, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and sweet Moscato, for example, we take special pride in our less common varietals, especially those that adhere to our objective of offering wine and cuisine that one would experience at a small family restaurant in Calabria in an authentic setting.