Three Cheers for Cirò!

Calabria is off the beaten path, which may be why I don’t know it as well as I should. But the wines have long intrigued me… so that and the sirens’ call of the Ionian Sea made me venture there late this spring. Is it any wonder that Ulysses was lured here? After all, Scylla is in Calabria! Exploring the area of Crotone and Cirò Marina just made me want to stay longer – you understand why Ulysses found it hard to leave…

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As I drove along the two-lane road that hugs the Calabrian coast, SS 106, magical castles sprung from the sea.

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The sun, the sea, all that blue, and then… the food! What I found was simply scrumptious and marvelous, in the sense of true awe-inspiring marvels.

My hosts, Livia and Salvatore Caparra of Caparra & Siciliani, took me to the Club Velico in Crotone for dinner, where these delectable dishes were a feast for the eyes and the palate:

For the following morning, the locals suggested I get up early to take in the sunrise… something I am not accustomed to doing, but I followed their advice and boy am I glad I did!

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Never able to separate food from wine or culture, Italian Grapevine started the day with a visit to a special promontory: Capo Colonna, so called for the last remaining column of the Temple of Hera Lacinia (otherwise known as Juno, Jove’s formidable wife).

IMG_1082We are talking Magna Graecia here, and the layers of culture are mind-boggling! Archeological sites abound, and one gets the idea that if you dig a hole, you may find a vase or a coin, or pull up a fisherman’s net and maybe the Bronzes of Riace will appear (yes, those are in Calabria too!) This point is clearly a sacred space devoted to women, as there is also an important shrine to the Madonna – so a lovely place to start out my visit!

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Yours truly with Salvatore Caparra

During my visit to the vineyards, I was able to witness the period of the pampinatura which comes from the verb spampanare – to remove the leaves from the grape clusters – which is a type of pruning that in this region is also called spitignare. How many new words I’m learning, along with the new sites, sounds and tastes!

Salvatore strongly believes that the difference is made in the vineyard, not the cellar.

These alberello style vines have clearly stood the test of time – they are over 30 years old – and also bent nicely with the wind. Proximity to the sea, dry and breezy, this land was not called Enotria for nothing! Vitis vinifera finds its natural home here.

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Vineyards amidst the history

Calabria offers some interesting, highly promising native grape varieties, like the Gaglioppo that goes into the Cirò wine. But also Magliocco, Greco, and Nerello. Such fun tastings to be had! The Cirò DOC will soon be adding a G to that designation – and that will make it Calabria’s first DOCG wine.

Back in the winery, we find vintage machinery that is kept as if in a shrine…

They have used cement from the very beginning, as it has better temperature control than stainless steel. And did I say that the cellar master has been working with the winery since he was 7 years old…?

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Livia and Salvatore Caparra with the cellar master

Traditional methods, a strong tie to the land, to the people of the region, to the centuries not to say millennia of culture… This is Cirò.

Rich in traditions but also innovation: this is what I found in the cuisine as well.

Trattoria Max Enoteca in Cirò Marina merits Michelin stars. But the chef-owner does not want it as a matter of principle: he caters to a local clientele and wants to ‘keep things simple’.

A late afternoon visit to Santa Severina, a historical hilltop town with a fortress-castle and cathedral, allowed for getting to know the local culture better.

A magnificent portal with medieval carving

The Greek influence was apparent even in the medieval baptistery:

Austerely beautiful, the baptistery features inscriptions in Greek

My visit to Cirò Marina and Crotone is one of the most intense I have ever done – beautiful sights, delectable aromas, layers of history, and the warmth of the people who are proud of their territory made for an outstanding exposure to the wealth of Calabria.

The view was enchanting, the acquamarine blue sea alluring… And the salutation from the warm hospitality of my hotel, a beckoning to come back:

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