Cataldo Calabretta: Redefining Tradition in Cirò, Calabria

Cataldo Calabretta released his first signature wine in 2012: Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore DOC, a wine of excellence made naturally with the native Gaglioppo variety grown on traditional alberello vines. The family had been growing grapes for more than four generations and bottling since the seventies but after studying oenology in Milan and working at various vineyards from 2000-2008, he came home to renovate the family cellar and redefine the wines.

other vineyard

As is common in Cirò, Cataldo’s 14 hectares are in small parcels spread across the hills around the town of Cirò with vines from 5-40 years old. The vast majority (80%) are planted in Gaglioppo, the native red variety, and the rest in Alicante (Grenache), Ansonica (Inzolia), Malvasia and Greco Bianco. From these grapes, he makes about 20,000 bottles.

…in the ruggedly beautiful, hot and dry landscape. The clay limestone soil has a tendency to become hard like cement, but Cataldo is using sovescio, “green manure”, to revitalize and enrich it. He uses only organic methods in the vineyards.

Cataldo’s logo is the arcirglione, the traditional tool used to work alberello vines. There is no way to work them mechanically. Part of what Cataldo and his colleagues, Francesco De Franco, Sergio Arcuri, Maria Grazia Parilla and Assunta Dell’Aquila, are doing is preserving know how that goes back centuries…and that would be lost completely otherwise. The industrial producers pull up the alberello vines to plant rows that can be tended and harvested mechanically.

The Calabretta family cellar is under their house in the port town of Cirò Marina. It was formerly a stall. Here the winemaking tradition traces back to the Georgians, the Byzantines and Magna Grecian. The town’s name “Cirò” was originally Ypsicron, then shortened to Xirò, and eventually Cirò.
cataldo in cellar
Then, Cataldo’s ancestors built deep cement tanks underground. (I have only seen them above ground.)
Cataldo ferments in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts then ages in cement. he explained that the wine can’t breathe in the tanks underground. Here in the South, where there is so much light and heat, the wines naturally tend to be expansive and open, just the opposite of a Burgundy or a Nebbiolo. Instead wood barrels, which allow the wine to breathe and become less austere, the cement contains the naturally expansive nature of the wine and makes it more elegant.
tank close up
It was impressive enough to look down in the tanks…without thinking of what cleaning them must entail.
Cataldo insisted that the only way to taste his wines properly was with lunch prepared by his mother.
We went upstairs for what I can only describe as an epic meal, a true Southern style family lunch. (Since my family is originally from Memphis and the Delta, this struck a chord for sure.) The local twisty style pasta with homemade sauce was just the beginning.
pasta bowl
Then, came fish..
Eggplant and other vegetables, plus cheese, dessert, coffee…

The pairing of the Cataldo’s wines with the food was stupendous. All of a sudden, the minerality, acidity and tannins in the wines made perfect sense with the fried food, red sauces and cheeses.

Each course was accompanied by a different wine in opposite order of this photo. Cirò Bianco DOC 2014Cirò Ansonica Calabria IGT 2013, clean and crisp with light fruitiness, and my favorite, Cirò Rosato DOC 2014, 100% Gaglioppo, from Cataldo’s youngest vines…tannins and fresh acidity were just amazing with the food.


Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite or drink another red, the Gaglioppo red came out. What a finale. It is hard to describe the subtle differences among the different winegrowers. The dark red fruit, acidity, minerality and tannins are consistent but each has its own individuality.

Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore 2013
From grapes grown on the hill vineyards, 10-40 years old. Ruby red. Dark fruit with typical tannins and the crisp minerality that comes from the soil along with an unusual elegance from aging in Cataldo’s underground tanks.

After the meal, I did like the locals and succumbed to an hour long siesta. I’m convinced that these Cirò wines are fundamentally meant for drinking in warm weather….perfect to go with a steak barbecue. They have the structure and complexity of northern wines like Nebbiolo, but as Cataldo pointed out, a definite southern expansiveness that makes them easy to drink. This, to me, is the fascination of artisan Italian wine made naturally. Hats off to this group of Cirò pioneers for quality.

Cataldo Calabretta
Via Mandorleto 47
Cirò Marina (KR)

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Tags: Calabria, Calabrian wine, Cataldo Calabretta, Cirò, Cirò marina, Cirò wine, Italian wine, natural Italian wine, natural wine, Red wine, Southern Italian wine
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