Southern Italy’s Ancient Grapes
Librandi is located in Calabria in the small town of Cirò Marina on the splendid Ionian coast. Both the sea breezes and the cool nighttime air that descends from the Sila Mountains reduce temperatures in the vineyards during the growing season in this warm southern region at the tip of the boot. After growing grapes for four generations, the Librandi family began to bottle its own wines in 1952. Nicodemo Librandi ended a 20-year career teaching mathematics to join his brother Antonio at the winery, and together they oversee sales, marketing, and scientific research. Nicodemo’s son Paolo earned a degree in philosophy and followed with graduate studies in vineyard management and winemaking at the University of Brescia before becoming vineyard manager. He also oversees markets outside of Italy together with his brother Raffaele. The family owns a total of 890 acres, 573 of which are vineyards, 247 olive groves, and the rest forested. Working with a dream team of consulting winemakers, viticulturists, and researchers, the Librandi family produces some of the best wines in Calabria, a region that is making great strides in quality with native grapes, Galioppo, Mantonico, Magliocco, Greco, and Arvino. The Cirò Rosso, Duca Sanfelici Riserva and the Gravello have both been honored with the prestigious Tre Bicchierri award from the “Gambero Rosso” wine guide. In the 2009 guide, “Gambero Rosso” says that the whole range of Librandi wines is “excellent.”
The Morgante winery is located in the pristine countryside of southern Sicily. The estate consists of 500 acres comprised of vineyards and almond trees at 1200 to 1800 feet above sea level and only 45 miles from the valley of the temples of Agrigento. In 1994, Antonio Morgante, with the enthusiasm of his sons Carmelo and Giovanni, decided to make wines from the vineyards that the family had cultivated for five generations. In Sicily, Nero d’Avola is indisputably the red grape for wines of excellence and the vine that the Morgante family has always cultivated. The family’s top tier wine, Don Antonio has won wine guide Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri award for seven years out of the last twelve, which “must make this Sicilian red a classic,” according to “Gambero Rosso.” Highly respected Ricardo Cottarella is the consulting winemaker.
Leaving the bustle of the coastal capital Palero and traveling inland through one of Italy’s most dramatic landscapes, travelers will discover Regaleali, the estate of the Tasca d’Almerita family. Located in the mountainous heart of Sicily, Regaleali is a world unto itself, a vast estate owned by the Tasca d’Almerita family since 1837 and best known for its fine wines and internationally recognized cooking school. While the history of Tasca d’Almerita goes back to the 19th Century, it was count Giuseppe Tasca who started a new era for the winery in the 1950s, focusing on native grapes and quality winemaking. The winery’s two flagship wines are Rosso del Conte and Nozze d’Oro, both made from the native Nero d’Avola grape.
Italian Wines of the Month
Librandi – 2008 Cirò Bianco
The Cirò Bianco is 100% Greco Bianco, a white varietal brought to Calabria by the ancient Greeks. Bright straw yellow in color, Cirò Bianco has an elegant nose and offers a varied palette of Mediterranean and tropical aromas such as ripe peach, pineapple, cedar, and bitter orange, followed by delicate notes of herbs and flowers. The wine is fresh with crisp minerallity, following its bright fruit flavors. A pleasant acidity lingers on the finish with subtle hints of toasted almonds. You can enjoy this incredibly versatile wine as a zesty aperitif, with fish, or vegetable antipasti. It is also a great match with omelets and delicious with shellfish or grilled swordfish, tuna, or salmon.
Librandi – 2006 Cirò Rosso Classico
The Cirò Rosso Classico is 100% Gaglioppo, the most important native variety from the Cirò Marina area. The wine offers a delightful bouquet of spice, dried fruit, wild berries, and plums. Its firm ripe tannins create an excellent texture, which is one of the hallmark attributes of this wine. At the same time rich and easy-going, Cirò Rosso pairs beautifully with spicy meat dishes, roasted kid or lamb, and roasted meat with peppers.
Morgante Winery – 2007 Nero d’Avola
Harvested from estate vineyards at 1400 to 1600 feet above sea level, this 100% Nero d’Avola is intensely ruby red in color with aromas of ripe black cherry and blackberry, followed by spicy notes of charcoal, vanilla, and black pepper. On the palate, flavors burst with ripe fruit and exotic spice, balanced by pleasant acidity and silky tannins. The wine is delicious with roasted meats, eggplant parmigiana, pasta, and pork chops grilled with rosemary. Italian wine guide “Gambero Rosso” recommends this wine “for its gorgeous deep ruby [color] with purple highlights, fruit-led fragrances with Mediterranean scrubland, nuanced with vegetality and spice on the nose, nicely full-bodied palate, and smooth drinkability.” Since I can’t top that language, I’ll stop here.
Tasca d’Almerita – 2005 Lamuri Nero d’Avola
Lamuri, or “love” in Sicilian dialect, is Tasca d’Almerita’s most luscious, fruit-forward, and youthful Nero d’Avola and shows pleasant freshness and elegance. Aged in 20% new and 80% second and third passage French barriques for 12 months, the wine shows intense ruby red color and offers a lush bouquet of blackberry, mulberry, and cherry. On the palate, this wine is incredibly rich with velvety tannins framing a refreshing acidity and a medium body. The winery recommends the wine with Mediterranean fare, such as pasta, roasted lamb, kebabs, and ribs.
Librandi – 2005 Magno Megonio
Made from 100% Magliocco grapes, Magno Megonio is named after a Roman centurion who was said to be the first to recognize the viticultural promise of the area and who used to own part of the estate that the Librandi family owns today. The family has been studying and experimenting with Magliocco for years and firmly believes in its potential to be a great wine. Although many growers have pulled up these vines in favor of planting grapes with more international renown, the Librandi family continues to be committed to preserving this ancient varietal. Magno Megonio offers layered aromas of plums, blackberries, and cherries, followed by additional notes of pepper, tobacco, chocolate, licorice, and spice on the palate. The Magno Megonio was aged for 16 months in stainless steel tanks instead of oak barrels so that the full essence of this rare grape would be preserved without the interference of oak barrels, which impart their own flavors. This delicious wine pairs with rich, meat-based dishes and sharp cheeses.
Morgante Winery – 2005 Nero d’Avola Don Antonio
Don Antonio offers layered aromas of ripe black cherry, raspberry, and wild flowers, followed by spicy notes of chocolate, black pepper, and cinnamon. A silky yet muscular red, the Don Antonio shows lush fruit flavors beautifully integrated with a velvety texture and ripe, fine-grained tannins. The wine was aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels and for 18 months in bottle and is a great match with roasted or grilled pork chops, roast beef, barbecued ribs, and medium-aged cheeses. At the same
Italian Region of the Month
Some say that today, Sicilians have less Italian blood in their veins than Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Norman, Spanish, or French. Because Sicilia is on a crossroads between Europe and Africa, it has been overrun by many different cultures, which have left their traces on this beautiful island, the largest in the Mediterranean. The Greek cities of Sicily flourished during the 6th and 5th Centuries BC, and their ruins are some of the most impressive outside of Greece, especially the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. The Romans took over in the 3rd Century BC, followed by the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Byzantines. The Arabs ruled from the 8th to the 11th Century, although not much has survived from their rule. The Norman era began in 1060, and the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalu are their brilliant achievements as is Santi Peitro e Paulo outside Taormina. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the accomplishments of the Spanish Viceregal court, especially the palaces and churches of Palermo.
Nature also has its achievements in Sicilia, its magnificent beaches, remote hill towns and plains, its mountain ranges, and spectacular Mount Etna, one of three active volcanoes, which has rendered the land immensely fertile. In fact, Sicilia has more vineyards than any other region. The western province of Trapani alone produces more wine than the entire regions of Toscana or Piemonte. But much of this wine is either shipped north as blending wine or distilled into industrial alcohol. The proportion of DOC wine is only 2.5%, most of which is Marsala, Sicilia’s proudest wine despite decades of degradation when it was flavored with various sweeteners. The English created Marsala in the late 18th Century and made Sicilia its prime source. Marsala, as well as Moscato and Malvasia, rank with the best fortified wines of Europe.
Sicilia has now switched its emphasis to lighter, dryer wines, both whites and reds. The pale white, dry Bianco d’Alcamo is the only DOC wine made in significant quality. The dry white and red wines of Etna, whose vines drape over the lower slopes of the volcano show notable class as does the pale red Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Increasingly prominent are the fruity aromatic whites, Inzolia, Catarratto, and Grecanico. Native reds have also achieved prominence, such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Perricone. The newly introduced French varieties, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are also producing exciting results.