Calabria is a wine region of southern Italy, effectively 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.
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 pandemic 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. (© Copyright Material, Wine-Search.com)
Calabria is a rural region, its economy dependent on cereals, citrus and particularly olives. 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.
Despite the worrying state in which Calabrian wine finds itself, the region is home to 12 DOC titles, although it still lacks a DOCG title. Between them, these 12 cover just five percent of the region's total wine output. The production restrictions they require are not counterbalanced by the prices they command, making them an unattractive prospect to producers. Calabria's oldest and most famous DOC wine appellation is Ciro, regrettably the only Calabrian wine to command great respect in the 20th and early 21st Centuries. It remains the only significant reminder of Calabria's potential as a source of high-quality wine, particularly in its Ciro Rosso Riserva form. The only other Calabrian wine of any note is Greco di Bianco. This is, confusingly, a white dried-grape sweet wine from the Bianco commune on Calabria's south-east coast, made from the Greco Bianco grape. The latter is distinct from Campania's Greco.
The wine world has remained largely oblivious to Calabria's other DOCs. This may soon begin to change as attitudes evolve among consumers and, more importantly, the Italian wine authorities. Six of these lesser-known DOCs are found in the west of the region around the Crati River Valley, between Pollino in the north and Lamezia in the south. Just north-west of that area, the mountains are home to the notable white wines of Verbicaro. This sub region of the Terre di Cosenza DOC is the source some of the wines most likely to restore Calabrian wine's lofty reputation. Along the east coast between Ciro and Bianco are Bivongi, Melissa and the tiny coastal DOC of S.Anna di Isola di Capo.
Almost all of these areas favor the red Gaglioppo and Greco Nero grape varieties. White wines are predominantly made from Greco Bianco, Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia Bianca. Sicilian varieties such as red Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, and white Ansonica, are increasingly popular and suit the Calabrian terroir well. As is the case in almost every southern Italian region, the commercial potential of international varieties such as Chardonnayand Cabernet Sauvignon has not gone unnoticed. Wines made from these grapes are typically single varietals, and are required to say so on the label. This makes them easier to market while setting them apart from more authentic Calabrian styles.