A wine from a 2100-bottle production of red Ciro from Sergio Arcuri in Calabria is a revelation. Apart from finding a Calabrian wine at Berry Bros & Rudd tasting, what makes it a miracle is that it is not baked to jam under the hot southern Italian sun: perfumed and with a fine structure, very pale in colour, delicate and crisp. It had the same sensation of holiding a baby sparrow in the hand and feeling its beating heart in your grip. Fragile but with a strong sense of life.
Ciro is the name of the wine and also the region in Calabria, on the toe of Italy, overlooking the Ionian Sea. Made from the red grape, Gaglioppo, it has a very light-coloured skin with little tannin. The grapes need a long time to macerate on the skins to achieve any colour (which is costly, and why not everyone does it), and once the wine is made, it can be difficult to transport around the region.
Calabria is isolated from the rest of Italy, geographically with mountains at 3000ft, as well as economically. The Apennine mountains separate east and west so that many small towns across ravines have traditionally not known each other. Here is where some of the most violent peasant revolts occurred, which lead to the Agrarian Reform Bill in 1950 (the Legge-sila). Further investment in the 1960s by the Cassa del Mezzagiorno (Development fund for Southern Italy) funded infrastructure but then switched to investing in industry, with mixed results. Towns were flattened (Gioaio Taura) and there was intense competition for contracts. The Fund finally wound up in 1984. My Italian friends look at me with some concern when I say I want to visit and not only because it is quite difficult to get there – it is also home to the “real mafia” (as they call it). Yet, despite this backdrop, Calabria has fascinating local grape varieties and the potential is there.
When I chatted to Sergio at the tasting on Thursday, he showed me his iphone and his wife and daughter waved back on Skype. The concept of isolation is changing. Sergio has only started to bottle his own wine after four generations of selling it off to bigger cooperatives. I hope his visit to London opens the door to more quality Calabrian wine and his wines, in particular. A fine wine from Calabria! I walked out of this tasting repeating wow.
More from David Berry Green blog
Image: Olivari ad, 2011