Sunday, February 11, 2018

Is Calabria the New Etna?

Bucita, Calabria - 1977 - A Member of the Family
When, in the course of talking about Italy and Italian wine with those around me, in the wine trade, in shops, at wine dinners and among the Italians, we often come around to the latest "hot spot" in Italian wine. Right now, Etna is the darling. And for good reason, many of which I and those better than myself have already elucidated upon. But once you put your boat on that river, where else can it take you, what can you discover, what is waiting for you to conquer? Because after all, isn’t this whole wine thing about what Joseph Conrad whispers in Heart of Darkness? “Come and find out.”

Many of the Italians I have talked to have not visited Calabria. There are all kinds of rationales presented. “It is so dangerous down there.” “It is not an easy place to get to.” “The 'NdrĂ ngheta makes it impossible to travel safely.” “They don’t speak an Italian I can understand.” “Saudi Calabria? No way!”

Family wine cellar, Bucita, Calabria - 1977
As if a few miles across the Straits of Messina, the language, the presence of organized crime and the access is all that different. In fact, one could paddle their boat across those straits and arrive to Calabria, and there one would find a whole new world of wine. This is an odd thing, for it really isn’t new, it’s older than dirt. But maybe it’s not “cool.” Yeah, maybe.

Admittedly, Calabria is a challenge. But no more than getting to Phuket Beach or the Maldives or Angkor Wat, which I see many young Italians heading to, and Italians in the wine trade. Winemakers, export managers, enologists. But for some reason, their Land Rover Evoques, or even their vintage Defenders, are hard pressed to find a way, via the autostradas, superstradas and strade provinciali, into Italy’s very own heart of darkness. Calabria isn’t Saudi, it is more like a forest deep inside the Amazon basin. In fact, it is far from a desert. It is teeming with profuse fecundity. So why do so many Italians shun Calabria? Is there some deep-seated prejudice there? Are the Calabrese so violent and primitive and dark that they scare away their northern cousins?

Those are questions for each and every one (who is interested) to answer on their own. For my part, I can see why this idea of inserting oneself inside Calabria can be intimidating. But once you cross over, it’s really not that at all.

Not to be a denier of the dangers within Calabria, with regards to crime. But one needs not to look too far, to experience that kind of darkness, within Italy, and the world. I feel safer in Calabria than I do in some American cities, including some places in my own (Dallas, Texas) where I live. To live in fear is a terrible affliction, for which there is only one cure – and that is to overcome the fear.

Ok – enough of the background. You come here for wine, wine, wine, all the time, n'est-ce pas? To find out why (and if) Calabria is the New Etna. Why not? We have the New California, and the New France, let’s burn the town down and go for the New Etna! Or is it the Next Etna?

New, next, whatever. Just catchy marketing words to grab eyeballs. The question is, is there anything compelling about Calabria and her wines that would attract the attention of those who feel inspired and drawn to travel down that river into deep Calabria? In a word, yes.

For one, the place, although far from untouched, has a link to a world that has a lot of roots and beginning for Italian wine culture. And I mean this first and foremost in an historical sense. It is a place where latency mingles with potency. Not always beneath the surface, Calabria reminds me a bit like New Zealand in 1992, which was on its way to florescence. And while New Zealand is, for many people, far away, a destination and a potential paradise, Calabria is hidden in plain sight, A little to the west of the E90, down the SP7. Yes, best to take the Defender, leave the Evoque in the garage in Florence. That is, if you want to find the (not so dark) heart of Calabria.

Oh, you want to know about the wines? What do they taste like? Please, a tasting note or two? Go away. Far away. Go there yourself. Taste them on site. That is what will give you your “Aha!” moment. After all, isn’t this all about you? And you discovering the new Etna? Then you must go there, not via Instagram, not on You Tube. In person. And when you do, places like Piedmont and Burgundy will seem like baby steps, compared to this deep chasm of enological vitality.

Calabria's "Time Capsule Library Vineyard" for indigenous grape varieties
It’s the primal slime. It is scary, when you stare down into the Grand Canyon of wine in a place which is one of the sources for all wine as we know it. Yes, I said it. and I mean it. you cannot believe me by just reading these words. But I know what I am saying and I know it is, for me, the truth. This is an origin place for the history of wine.

Of course, it might just be my DNA playing tricks on me, forcing these words out. But this has not arisen out of any undue cruciations. It flows, like the river.

There are more unknown grapes waiting to be reanimated. Not just Gaglioppo, Magliocco and Montonico. Some of them find their ways into bottles and into places like America and Denmark. But that’s not why you came here. I am just handing you the matches. You must go into the forest and make the campfire for yourself.

I promise you this – if you do, you will eat better, sleep better and drink amazing wine, wine which will engrain upon your synapses an indelible memory of something wonderful and different. And it is all there, waiting for you – YOU – to discover.

Goodbye, Columbus – Happy rowing.

other Calabria links from this site: HERE

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Marco Scherzo said...

Now you have me looking at flight prices again. Thanks amico.

My maternal grandfather's birthplace. Not that far from CirĂ² and the Marina.,+Italy/@39.6009733,16.5419878,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x134082ad1467b7cd:0x83496262ebdd8a8c!8m2!3d39.6007918!4d16.5444125

annamarie bevacqua said...

love this! I would love a copy of burro photo for framing - such a great photo and I love donkeys - I can see the family resemblance in myself too haha! annamarie

Alfonso Cevola said...

Anna Marie,

I'll work up a clean jpeg of it for you....thanks for stopping by..

Michael from SF said...

Great piece as always. I have only been reading your blog since last Fall, but have been enjoying it immensely.

Real Time Analytics