I have thought often about giving Sous Chef the boot, both literally and figuratively. But timidity, temperance or love has always prevented precipitous action. At least until this week when I gave Sous Chef two solid kicks with the “Boot.” In this case, the Boot was not my Christian Louboutin’s but wines from the Calabria region of Italy. When you look at a map of Italy, Calabria occupies the southern extremity and appears like the heel and toe of a boot about ready to placekick Sicily further into the Mediterranean Sea.
I was exploring the Boot because it is this month’s subject for the Italian Food, Wine and Travel group. Unlike finding someone in southern Italy who is associated with the Mafia, finding Calabrian wines proved difficult but worth the effort.
Originally the region was referred to as Enotria or “Land of Wine.” The climate is warm and sunny with breezes from the Mediterranean Sea that provide grapes enough respite from the heat to allow character to develop, alcohol to be restrained, and overripeness to be avoided. From a food perspective, Calabria is well known for its pepperoncini chile pepper. From a wine standpoint, it is known for its red wine which comprises 90% of its total production and principally utilizes the Gaglioppo (pronounced “gahl YO poh”) grape, one that is used in some percentage in all eleven of Calabria’s red wine DOCs.
My first pairing featured the 2014 Statti Calabria Gaglioppo and a Rigate alla Pastora (aka “Shepherds Pasta”). This dish features a creamy ricotta based sauce that is enhanced with spicy Italian Sausage. It is made with 100% Gaglioppo grapes and there are hints of cherry, spice, almonds, fig, and pear creating a full but light mouth. The aroma is soft and pleasing. This is a well-balanced wine that is not overly aggressive or rustic and paired nicely with the pasta dish. The 2014 Statti Calabria Gaglioppo retails for $14.99 online at wine.com.
The second pairing unleashed a real stunner of a wine. I paired a Sugo di Pomodoro (quick tomato sauce) with pasta and a 2005 Damis Riserva Cirò doc Du Cropio. I’m not sure which to rave about more, the Sugo di Pomodoro or the wine. You know it’s a very good wine when you and your companion are keeping tabs on how much the other has consumed and are jockeying to get the last glass. The Damis Riserva is just such a wine as Sous Chef tried to hoard it and I poured generously whenever I could get my hands on it. Made 100% from Gaglioppo grapes, the color is brick red with a tinge of orange on the edge and an ABV of only 13.5%. The 2005 vintage was first released on the market in 2012 and was bottled without fining or filtration. It was intense in the mouth with plum notes and other flavors that were hard to identify but which blended harmoniously into a smooth, distinctive wine. It retails for $35, and I’m not disclosing where because they still have a few bottles and I plan to be a wine hog and order the remainder. If not too late, this wine will definitely be making return appearances to our table. And so indeed will the Sugo di Pomodoro. The sauce was outstanding, quick and easy to make, and uses Calabrian chile peppers to provide a measure of heat and flavor. It epitomizes what I love about Italian cooking: the use of fresh ingredients in unassuming ways to make mouthwatering results.
Calabria turned out to be a wonderful culinary surprise, particularly its wines. As Sous Chef and I polished off our last bottle of Calabrian wine, I was reminded of an Italian proverb: “Age and glasses of wine should never be counted.” Here, here!
Other ItalianFWT Discoveries from Calabria
Take a look at some of the foods and wines explored by our other members below.
Confessions of a Culinary Diva – Exploring Gaglioppo & Aglianico
Enofylz Wine Blog – Calabrian Gaglioppo Paired with Lamb Chops Calabria Style
Food Wine Click – Swordfish and Ciro from the Land of Scylla and Charybdis
The Wining Hour – Calabria: Sun, Sea and Ciro Bianco
- 1 – 28 ounce can of Cento Italian San Marzano Tomatoes with juice
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cubes of Dot crushed garlic (equal to 3 garlic cloves)
- 7 fresh basil leaves torn in half
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 dried Calabrian hot red pepper, halved
- Heat olive oil in Dutch oven, or skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook until garlic until golden – approximately 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the tomatoes and their juices- being careful not to splatter. Crush tomatoes lightly with the back of a wooden spoon, leaving some chunks. Add basil, salt and hot pepper. Return to heat and simmer until you have a thick chunky sauce – about 15 minutes.