Southern Italian wines deliver drinking pleasure
The ancient Greeks believed that civilization required olive oil and wine. So not surprisingly as early as the 8th century B.C., the Greeks cultivated olive trees and grapes in their colonies in what today are the southern Italian provinces of Calabria and Sicily.
The regions' mild Mediterranean climate and infertile rocky soils offered ideal growing conditions for producing high quality wines and olive oils. Southern Italian wines gained fame not only in ancient Greece but also in the following empire of ancient Rome.
In the Dark Ages, however, repeated waves of conquering invaders including the Vikings, Arabs and miscellaneous pirates ravaged southern Italy. Organized, commercial wine production collapsed literally for centuries.
But even during the darkest periods, small, individual land owners continued to cultivate grapes and make wine for home consumption. These growers maintained ancient, native grape varieties such the white-skinned Catarrato and the red-skinned Galioppo, Nerello Mascalese, Magliocco Canino and Prunesta. Such old vines give distinct advantages to today's commercial growers seeking to offer authentic wines.
Traditional Southern Italian wines — both white and red — deliver easy drinking pleasure and supreme food friendliness. Try the following delicious examples:
• 2016 Brugnano, “V90” Catarrato, Terre Siciliane I.G.T., Italy: (PLCB Code: 44721; $11.99): The wine uses native Catarrato grapes grown on rolling hills overlooking the sea between Palermo and Trapani on the island of Sicily's northwestern tip. Fermentation and aging in stainless steel tanks captures lovely citrus and flavor aromas. Ripe, zesty orange and lemon flavors balance with fresh acidity through the fruity, but dry finish. Pair it with pasta in creamy clam sauce. Highly recommended.
• 2015 Librandi, Cirò Rosso Classico, Italy: (PLCB Code: 31875; $10.99): The Cirò vineyards feature rocky, hilly soils overlooking the Ionian Sea in eastern Calabria. Native Galioppo vines deliver wines relatively light in color but with ample depth and power. The wine's enticing aromas and flavors of ripe red fruits and spice balance with uplifting freshness for easy drinking pleasure. Pair it with classic Italian sausage and green pepper “po' boy” sandwiches. Highly recommended.
• 2014 Casa Vinicola Criserà, “Armacia,” Costa Viola Rosso I.G.T., Italy: (Available online from Sea Grape Wine Shop, New York, N.Y., seagrapewines.com or 212-463-7688; $14.99): The wine uses native Prunesta, Malvasia Nera, Nerello and Galioppo grapes grown on steep terraces overlooking the azure sea near the gorgeous little port town of Scilla in Calabria. The precariously perched terraces force growers to work under extreme, yet exhilarating conditions to preserve this traditional winegrowing culture.
The wine's dark color offers aromas of ripe dark fruit, spice and light herbal notes. Delicious, full-flavored black and red fruit flavors balance with zesty acidity and soft tannins. It adds up to a delicious, quaffable red perfect with an antipasti of savory Calabrese soppressata salami, sweet capocolla ham and other Italian meats and cheeses. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.