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Ciró: A Little-Known Calabrian Treasure, and Things to Serve With It

Italy has an astonishing number of grapes unknown outside their production areas – Gaglioppo, for example. It’s southern, and the major component in Ciró Rosso. Never heard of that either? TheOxford Companion to Wine simply says it’s Calabria’s best red wine and goes onto the next entry, which certainly isn’t much help.

According to local tradition, Gaglioppo was brought by the Ancient Greeks who colonized the Ionian side of Calabria; they planted vineyards and made a wine called Krimisa, which their athletes used to celebrate their victories, including those at the Olympic Games. With time this Krimisa supposedly evolved into Ciró, though there are some doubts on this score. In any case, after the great wave of immigration that followed the unification of Italy, Ciró enjoyed a certain measure of success in immigrant communities throughout the world, though Burton Anderson attributes this success more to the easy-to-remember name than the quality of the wine.

Nor is he probably mistaken; Ciró Rosso is a rather odd wine to begin with, and if it is made to the high yields many farmers prefer it is decidedly lackluster – a rusty brick color, thin, and with tongue-bending tannins. Note the word many, however, which does not mean all: over the past ten years the top Ciró producers have drastically reduced yields and improved cellar techniques. The wines are still odd, but they’re also quite good, and will go very well with rich South Italian foods – much better than would, say, a Chianti or a Merlot.

Taken as a denomination, Ciró includes several different wines.

  • Ciró Rosso is made from Gaglioppo (small amounts of Trebbiano and Greco, both white grapes, are permitted), and is in turn divided into three categories: Ciró Rosso Normale is the standard vino d’annata, the wine made during the vintage. Ciró Rosso Superiore is simply stronger – it’s minimum alcohol content must be 13.5%. Though grape selection isn’t required, most producers who make it do operate a selection. Ciró Rosso Riserva must also be at least 13.5% alcohol, and must be aged for at least three years prior to release. Though large wood was traditionally used, some producers are experimenting with barriques as well.
    To be frank, production would be more rational if there were only two varieties of Ciró Rosso, and some producers only make two. The basic Ciró Rosso should be drunk within 2-3 years of its release, whereas the riserva can age for several years, especially in great vintages. It isn’t however, something one would want to lay down.
  • Ciró Rosato is a dry rosé; from the same mixture of grapes used for Ciró Rosso: the must is kept on the skins for a few hours to extract color and tannins, and is then racked and fermented.
  • Ciró Bianco, a dry white, is made from Greco Bianco, with up to 10% Trebbiano Toscano.

As a final note, many South Italian producers, including most Ciró producers, train their vines using the alberello system: Rather than string the vines along wires as do vintenrs further north, they prune them like little trees about three feet high. The grapes absorb the heat from the ground and ripen very well, while the sun is bright enough to keep the leaves from being light-starved.

While at Vinitaly I stopped at the stands of a number of Ciró producers, finding several I liked.

Linardi is one of the most interesting, in part because they’re wine merchants rather than growers – they purchase their grapes from farmers and make the wine. This does involve a certain degree of uncertainty, since the farmers can decide to go into production directly. On the other hand, many farmers are happy to let someone else worry about the commercial end of things, and they are able to purchase from landowners whose primary activities have little to do with agriculture.

Valentino Zito, of the Azienda Vinicola Zito, has 15 hectares of vineyards and produces a number of interesting wines. His yields are on the order of 90-100 quintals/hectare in good years and somewhat less in off years; further north this would be considered quite high but in the south the increased sunlight and heat allows the vines to successfully support these sorts of yields. In terms of wood, though he used to have botti (large oak casks) he is now using mostly steel, and a few barriques for his Ciró Rosso Riserva. He’d like to get more botti for the red wines, because he thinks they benefit from a period in large wood.

The final producer I tried and liked (there are certainly others I didn’t get to) is Caparra & Siciliani, which is considerably larger – it’s owned by two families, who manage 9 wineries, and have 213 hectares under vine. The vineyards range in age from 20 to more than 50 years (the reds), and are mostly trained in the alberello style. Yields range from 50 to 90 quintals per hectare.

Finally, what to serve these wines with? In addition to the suggestions given above, the Ciró rosato would go quite nicely with lasagne alla ricotta salata, as would a Ciró Rosso normale. And here are several other ideas

  • Stewed Goat With Tomatoes Vutana Style, Capra a Ra Vutana
  • Calabrian Feast Day Beef Stew, Carne di Juorni 'I Festa
  • Calabrian Roasted and Stewed Kid (Or Lamb), Capretto a Ru Furnu
  • Calabrian Stewed Wildcat, Gattu Serivaggiu
  • Old-Fashioned Calabrian Stewed and Roasted Hare, Liepru all'Antica
  • Calabrian Stuffed Egglplant, Milangiane Chjine
  • Stuffed Bell Peppers, Pipi Chjini

Good Food & Drink,
Kyle Phillips

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