Calabria stretches out before us, the figurative toe of the boot- a wild peninsula with one of the lowest population densities in Italy. Separated from the Basilicata region by the Pollino mountain, the land tumbles, fierce and unwavering to meet the azure Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. The raw forces of nature are at work here- all at once the dashing seas glittering; the dry soils- those of clay, sand and marl, blowing rust-red dust; the mount Pollino dotted with small lakes. Here in Cirò Marina, where we meet Caparra & Siciliani, altitude and light sea breezes are the only respite from the soaring temperatures.
Giansalvatore Caparra and Giuseppe Siciliani are the current heads of two Calabrian families with ancient agrarian traditions; both have cellars dating back to the 19th century. The families came together in 1963, Giuseppe explains, to unite under their shared dedication to the region’s rich history and their desire to produce high quality Cirò and Cirò Classico DOC wines- the rubies of the arid Calabrian soil.
The russet earth has been turning for thousands of years, as generation after generation of farmer sought to work his land- groves of figs, olives, citrus fruits and grapes. In fact, Cirò may be the oldest wine still in production today.
Gianni and Giuseppe are well acquainted with the mythology of the Cirò region and happily indulge us in some fables passed down through the centuries.
Cirò Marina, where Caparra & Siciliani grow their grapes, was once a Greek colony producing Cremissa- a deep, lustrous red wine offered as a toast by the Olympic champions of ancient Greece, so the story goes.
From the house overlooking the sparsely populated land, surveying the scene, we muse on the fact that in Calabria, nature rules. It seems there is an unspoken understanding that the land here is never really owned by man, merely kept and tended for the time that he is its guardian.
Cirò DOC, our protagonist wine, must be at least 95% Gaglioppo- an indigenous grape with particular characteristics; its longevity in the region is partly due to its thick skin that shields it from sunburn.
However, as Gianni explains, the trick is time. You need patience to allow Gaglioppo to reach full ripeness; pick too soon, and the wine is green-tasting and bitter. Caparra & Siciliani only partner with expert growers who know the idiosyncrasies of Gaglioppo. A great thing can’t be rushed- it’s ready when it’s ready.
To cool off from the high summer sun, we follow Gianni into the modern updated winery. At the press we see the unusually pale Gaglioppo juice crushed from its thick skins. We learn that in order to extract colour and tannin, the wines must undergo lengthy skin contact which is only made possible by patience and dedication to quality, as well their modern temperature controlled fermentation vessels. The investment in a high-tech cellar and bottling equipment is invaluable, Gianni notes. There is a strong intention to be a future-forward estate, ready for the next challenges, and perhaps for Cirò’s debut as an international name.
To understand the wines in context of the region, we follow Gianni to the only place to be- at the table, where it all comes together. The families cook up an abundance of dishes from land and sea: spicy wild boar, ‘nduja sausage, steamed octopus and potatoes, caciocavallo cheese with local unrefined honey drizzled over.
When they talks about the families’ wines, they talk about the food they ate with them - a goat and potato stew from animals reared on the same lands; earthy, meaty truffles barely dusted of soil; freshly caught sardines from the Ionian Sea with nonna’s hand-rolled pasta. It’s as though Cirò and the local foods of the Calabrian enclave are fused and inseparable.
Driving away, dust on our sunglasses, our bellies full, and our voices echoing through the mountain gulleys, we know this to be true.