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The wine travel diary: Calabria

While on my Italy trip I stayed here ...Capo Vaticano. The knuckle to the foot. A haven away from the chaotic but charming provincial capital of Vibo Valentia, once the Greek colony of Hipponium. Nearby, the town of Tropea is famous its luminous blue waters, sandy beaches and Tropea onions - like long shallots but much milder and sweeter. And then there’s the Tartufo. Imagine Burrata but in Gelato form. Experiencing this was a milestone for me. In the classic flavour of pistachio - glorious. Trust.

The proverbial toe of Italy is in much need of a pedicure but that's to be expected from the country's poorest region. Calabria is much neglected by the Roman halls of power and equally stunted from development by the firm grip of the 'Ndràngheta, like Sicily's mafia but less notorious and more brutal. The foot needs a good old soak, a rub and some TLC. As endearingly put "my region is famous for Briganti" by my muse of a friend, the Briganti are a bit of a true legend for the region. Picture a medieval highway thief. A bit like Robin Hood but darker and more believable owing to links with the modern day crime syndicate. So you could say my preconceived notion of this region may have lowered my expectations, along with the scant presence of wine culture compared to the rest of the country, but I was delighted in my surprise.

Having travelled from the North, the contrast would have you baffled that you're still in the same country. The exhausting train journey plus the accumulated lack of sleep didn't stop me from gasping at the constant eye-opening views of the Tyrrhenian coastline. Mountains, cliffs, turquoise, tunnels, mountains again and towns perched so precariously on sharpish hilltops. Milan to Napoli, Salerno with views of Positano and finally Lamezia where we stepped off. Lamezia Terme is probably the lowest point from sea level in my entire trip and the wine we picked up from there seemingly enjoys the med-maritime climate of Catanzaro Province.

The first bottle after our sundown Prosecco was the Lamezia Bianco from Davoli, Lamezia Terme DOP. Now they don't actually state that theirs is a natural white, but it was indeed as natural as they come. The grapes here are the widely planted Greco Bianco and Pecorello, aka Pecorino. A little hazy to begin with but certainly not shy on the nose. Very surprisingly, there's lots of clarity in the wine with natural lees sediments being quite large and remaining around the punt. Plenty of fresh citrus, concentration and length with that distinct salinity we love in Pecorino. This we drank all day, every night for the entire week we spent there. We found our one white and stuck to it. There was variation with each bottle anyway which was never unpleasant.

Everywhere I go, I have my wine hat on. This time around, despite prior research, my wine encounters were only left to chance and with the time restriction, we could only resort to our local shops which all provide decent stock of the local wines. We made our selection from the range and stuck to them each day - yes, we're all pros. Apart from bottle variation within the same wines mentioned earlier - there were also price variations on the same bottle too - one day it was 3.30euros (merry cheap, I know), the next, 5.50 and back again, from the same shop and vender. Yup, a there's little Briganti in the locals too - endearingly I'm sure.

The Ancient Greek implications are very apparent in this region and equally within wines, for it was the Greeks who first brought viticulture to Italy, as records have it from the 4th century BC, settling here in Calabria, once upon a time named Oenotria meaning ‘Land of vines’. Italia was what the Romans first called the area as it was home to Italic tribes, so the whole country now owes its name to this region. From the 7th Century it became Calabria, named by the Byzantines. The local reds drank during this trip were mainly from Ciro on the Ionian coast. Gaglioppo is arguably of Greek origin and is comparable to Aglianico from Campagnia or perhaps even Garnacha. Full bodied and high in alcohol with seemingly soft tannins that really work with the local Nduja - an uncased sausage brimming with fiery chillies. Overall, I'm very impressed by the wines in terms of quality and unreal value - for only reasons clear to the Briganti, this region is completely in the shadow of the Northern wine producing regions.

...while we haven't yet sourced any wines from Calabria - we have an example of Greco from Campania, Negroamaro from the heel of Italy as well as a mature Primitivo.

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