With Italy boasting over a thousand varieties of grapes, I should not have been surprised to learn of a new grape – Gaglioppo – which grows in this region of mainland Southern Italy (the toe of the boot). The region is compared to Abruzzo, as it is mostly mountains edged with beaches, which must provide an intriguing terroir.
As in the rest of Italy, Calabria’s wine classifications are DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), IGT, and VDT (Vino da Tavola). DOC is the highest classification, and for the most part “guarantees” quality at many levels, primarily in terms of the winery adhering to the mandates (maturation requirements, yields, etc.) set out by the standard. IGT is a new classification that reflects quality wine that does not necessarily adhere to mandates set out by the DOC. And VDT represents wines mostly meant for local consumption.
Calabria has twelve DOCs, 90% of which produce red wine. The main grapes are Gaglioppo and Greco Nero, and each DOC allows blending but with varying minimum and maximum amounts. During the tasting seminar, I had the opportunity to sample eight wines from different regions, and it was interesting to see the variation in the same basic varietal under the influence of blending with different grapes (both local and international), maturation in oak, and differences in soil and microclimate.
Now first and foremost on your mind as you read this may be the question, "What varietal does the Gaglioppo grape most resemble?" This is a good question. I do a lot of blind tasting, and whenever I taste a new varietal, I see if I can place it in the appropriate quadrant of the world. So on that note, had I tasted the wine blind I’m pretty sure I could have placed it in southern Italy. Why? When blind tasting I often have a knee-jerk reaction that signifies the wine could very well be Italian; for me, the triggers are the high acidity and the notes of cherry that take different forms in different regions, sometimes sour, sometimes black, sometimes firm and red, etc. However, any Master of Wine or Master Sommelier will tell you this can be dangerous. One should reason deductively, and not hazard a guess until the wine is thoroughly examined.
Listening to speaker Anthony Giglio was so compelling I did not have the opportunity to take extensive tasting notes. The Gaglioppo grape had a haunting aroma it took me over twenty minutes to place. Cherry, yes, yet not quite a fresh cherry. More of a candied cherry, yet not of the Smith Brothers cough drops ilk. Finally, I overheard someone elsewhere in the room say it: the cherry candy his grandmother kept in a little bowl on the coffee table. The kind where, upon unwrapping it and popping it into your mouth, you could chew on the jammy center.