Despite the fact that it is one of the more historic wine appellations in the Italian south, Cirò hasn’t gotten its due in the many recent, often breathless, accounts of southern Italy’s rise to red-wine prominence. Writers and consumers are crazy for cannonau (Sardegna), panting over primitivo (Puglia), and nattering on about nero d’avola (Sicily), but no one’s really so gaga over gaglioppo, the grape used in Calabria’s Cirò.
First of all, you may ask, where (and what) is Cirò? The town (and the wine zone in and around it) is located on Calabria’s arid Ionian coast, just north of Crotone. The vineyards of Cirò are situated in the often high hills just a few miles inland, in soils with a very favorable mix of clay, sand, and marl. As in neighboring Sicily, growing conditions here are unrelentingly hot and dry, and this is something you taste when you taste a Cirò: you taste the sun.
Gaglioppo is a somewhat fragile grape variety, notoriously low in tannins but high in acidity, and in the intense heat of the Cirò area it can have a tendency toward over-ripeness – Cirò often has that slightly cooked, “jammy” taste that brands it indelibly as a wine of the deep south. This is due at least in part to the winemaking techniques of the relatively small band of Cirò producers, many of whom do not export to the US and who inhabit rather out-of-date wineries. Although tons of private investment has flowed into Sicily, Puglia, and other parts of the south, Calabria – traditionally and still one of Italy’s poorest regions – has yet to participate in the boom.
The best-known producer of Cirò wine is Librandi, which has been a standard-bearer of the appellation for decades. In addition to being one of Mario’s favorite “cheap” wines, Librandi’s Cirò Rosso Riserva, called “Duca San Felice,” is perhaps the purest expression of gaglioppo available. It has a smoky, earthy note that is typical of Cirò, but rather than taste sun-baked, the fruit flavors are fresh and bright, reminiscent of pinot noir. I often recommend giving this wine a slight chill before serving it, as it dulls some of the acidic bite and allows the dried cherry fruit flavors to shine through.
Another excellent, and newer, name in Cirò is Fattoria San Francesco, whose wines are a little bigger-boned and concentrated thanks in part to the use of newer, smaller oak cooperage. The “Ronco dei Quattroventi” Cirò from San Francesco gets added heft and toasty, char-broiled edge from time spent in barriques, and while it is an unabashedly “modern” wine, there’s still a slightly savage edge to it that roots it in the south. Unlike “Duca,” which I recommend alongside some of Mario’s spicier fare (its super-soft tannins make it a good pin-cushion for spicier dishes), “Ronco” has the stuffing for grilled meats of all kinds. Maybe soon we’ll see some new blood in this somewhat overlooked regions and have some other Ciròs to flank these two. It’ll happen sometime. It has to.