Flashback to Magna Grecia
The Greek grape varieties and the art of wine making spread to the Great Greek colonization (700-500 b.c.). Almost all the Mediterranean basin, particularly in the area of Southern Italy and Sicily, also known as “Magna Grecia”. There the memories survive until now, even the names of the varieties. 30 years before, Domaine Hatzimichalis repatriate several varieties of these transferred there with the ancient Greeks, such as Verdicchio, Trebbiano Greco, Malvasia, Grecanico, Grechetto, Aglianico, Schioppettino etc., testing their potential in Atalanti Valley. After many years of systematic study of their characteristics and their excellent adaptation in our vineyard, some of them gave excellent varietal wines with genuine personality and unprecedented taste for Greek standards. Thesaurus … this drinking experience !!!
In addition to its undeniable yet obscure cultural treasures, the varieties of grapes grown in the rich soil of what was once referred to as Magna Grecia, or “Great Greece,” are begging to be explored. During the 7th and 8th centuries BCE, Greek colonies were established everywhere from the Black Sea to North Africa, and Southern Europe, namely the Southern part of the Italian Peninsula. The colonies, which in Italy are comprised of modern day Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily, served as important trade and cultural centers of the time.
The ancient Greeks appreciated wine for its nutritional and culinary value, and it was an important part of their daily lives. Archeologists confirm that the Greeks have been making wine for over 4,000 years. The ancient Greeks knew well the nutritional value of wine as it became an inseparable part of their daily regimen. Wine also played an important role in the evolution of their economy, and it is for that reason that they introduced their techniques to the Italian colonies in around the 8th century BCE, and later in France and Spain. During the “Golden Age” of Greek history (500-300 BCE), Hellenic wine making traditions spread to Northern Europe, the Balkans, and Asia.
A few year’s back, the National Italian American Foundation chose my ancestral homeland of Calabria as its region of honor. The director asked Luigi (who is also a Certified Italian Sommelier) to speak about the local wines, and me to discuss its culinary history. Ever since, we have been passionate about sharing the virtues of Southern Italian grapes whenever possible. Just like the region’s many cultural and culinary treasures, its wines also posses much to be proud of.
The Italian grapes such as Aglianico, Aleatico, Greco, Greco di Tufo, Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia Bianca, Moscato and Moscatelli share Greek roots. Calabria’s Gaglioppo, however, is indigenous to the region, which was originally inhabited by the Itali and Oenotri “vine cultivator” indigenous tribes who were named by the Greeks.
While each of the wines of Magna Grecia offers its own unique flavor and pairing possibilities, for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on the Aglianico, which is emblematic of Luigi’s Basilicata and the Gaglioppo from Calabria. The Italian word Aglianico, comes from the Greek word Ellenica, which means “Greek.” Now produced predominately in Campania and Basilicata as well as in Molise and Puglia, the Aglianico vines originated in Greece. Many sources reveal that it is a black grape which produces a “dry, red wine”. Few, however, state that enologists believe that Aglianico has the longest consumer history of any wine!
Both Aglianico and Gaglioppo wines are often dismissed as “Barolos of the South”, because of their elegance, but that statement strips these important wines of both the prominence of their own terroir, and their impressive histories. Aglianico, for example was enjoyed by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans alike. The Aglianico grown in Basilicata’s vineyards are at the base of the dormant Vulture mountain, where ash deposits have enriched the soil over time, giving it a uniquely complex body with a rich, ruby red fruit flavor.