Gaglioppo and Verdeca, if you think those names sound “ Greek to me” then you are correct. What I’m talking about are the fascinating grape varietals that were brought by the Greeks to the southern Italian peninsula over three thousand years ago. And, the really good news is, within the last decade or so, a number of conscientious producers have revived and given new expression to these ancient grapes. Here are a couple of very noteworthy examples that should catch you off guard by the quality and complexity they offer.
This intriguing red wine takes its name from the D.O.C. region of Ciro, and the town Ciro Marina literally sits on the coast of the Ionian Sea. When the Greeks brought various grapes to southern Italy it was Gaglioppo that found its home in Calabria and is still the dominant grape there. Interesting though, Gaglioppo may actually have descended from Sangiovese according to recent DNA tests, so there is a bit of controversy as to its Greek origins. Never the less, Giuseppe Ippolito, the proprietor of the Du Cropio estate has taken Gaglioppo wines to superb levels of quality. The vines sit on steep hillsides just inland from the ocean catching the stiff cooling breezes which help protect the grapes from the intense, sometimes torrid, summer heat. The soil is poor, generally a mix of clay and limestone and, due to the steep slopes, the drainage is quite good. All these conditions contribute to producing small crops of highly concentrated fruit, the best of which is used for the wines labeled “Du Cropio.” This is not a simple wine and I suggest decanting for one or two hours to let the wine open up. The flavors are complex mix of crushed berries, licorice and minerals. I definitely recommend this wine with grilled lamb or steak, lasagna, sausages and grilled vegetables with olive oil.
In 1999, the Falvo family, of Avigonesi fame in Tuscany, purchased and renovated an old property in Puglia, called Masseria Li Veli, located on the Salento plain. In 2009, they began a project called ASKOS, the idea being to use ancient varietals for making new wines incorporating modern high standards of viticulture and winemaking. The word, Askos, refers to a typical Greek earthenware jar for wine and olive oil and many are still found in the Salento region. You will see a photograph of one on the label for their 2011 bottling of the white grape named Verdeca, which I must say is a superb wine and highly suggest you don’t miss. This Verdeca is grown in the Valle D’Itria where the mineral and calcareous soil combined with a cool and windy microclimate have proven ideal for this unique grape. The wine itself emanates exotic floral, citrus and tropical fruit with a plush texture and clean finish. Have this with seafood, especially grilled with olive oil, roasted chicken with lemon or herbs, and certainly the oh so obvious of all, a Greek salad!
Gary M., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant