Magliocco: Italian Grape Name & Appellation Project

Here’s the link for previous entries in the Italian Grape Name & Appellation Pronunciation Project.

When I first launched the Italian Grape Name & Appellation Pronunciation Project I wanted to give a voice to Italian winemakers by creating a public platform where they could “speak” their grapes. The pronunciation of their grape names — their ampelonyms — can often prove challenging for Anglophones.

But as the project expands, I’m including a “layperson” of wine in this entry.

My friend Giovanni Gagliardi is not a winemaker: he’s what I call a “cultural entrepreneur” of Italian wine. A native of Calabria, he curates a website devoted to the wines of Calabria ( and he travels the country attending and speaking at all sorts of wine festivals (that’s how we met).

But most of all I wanted to include him because he is a simpaticone (see photo taken from his Facebook below).

In this week’s entry, Giovanni speaks “Magliocco,” a grape that we’ve seen very little of in the U.S. but that is making new inroads here.

Where Cirò is known for its Gaglioppo, the winemakers of Cosenza view Magliocco as the greatest indigenous expression of their enologic landscape.

In the U.S., I’ve tasted superb bottlings of Magliocco, including wines by Terra di Balbia (by my good friend Giampaolo Venica) and Librandi. And there are more and more wines making it here.

Magliocco (also called Magliocco Canino, Magliocco Ovale, and Magliuacculu) is a tannic grape with a wonderful roundness to it (when vinified monovarietally), good dark red fruit, and healthy acidity. The Terra di Balbia Magliocco is one of the best selling wines by the glass at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I author the wine list).

Thanks for speaking Italan grapes!

Gaglioppo, so many great wines making it to the U.S.

As thrilling as Etna is right now on the U.S. wine scene, the Southern Italian wine and grape that I am the most excited about are Cirò and Gaglioppo.

When I was in Los Angeles week before last to spend some time at Sotto, a New York-based importer tasted me on (as we say in the biz) the wines of Scala in Cirò (Calabria) — a winery I’d never heard of.

Both the Cirò Classico (above) and the Cirò Riserva (below) wowed me with their freshness, focus, and balance of earth, fruit, and acidity. Gorgeous, thrilling wines, imho…

Currently, Gaglioppo is relatively unknown in the U.S., despite the ever growing interest in indigenous grape varieties (I tasted a Piave Raboso the other night in San Antonio, btw!).

But tasting these wines, I begin to understand the high praise that writers of another era like Mario Soldati and Norman Douglas reserved for the caliber of winemaking there.

“The wine of Cirò,” wrote Douglas, “is purest nectar.”

I’m with Alfonso when he sings Mama, don’t let your (Gaglioppo) babies grow up to be Cabernets

Awesome pizza at Caffè Calabria (San Diego) and Produttori del Barbaresco Asili 04

Beyond the olive oil-cured red hot chili peppers (peperoncini), there’s not much Calabrian about Caffè Calabria in San Diego.

Back in Seattle, he said, where he first became a coffee connoisseur, owner Arne Holt had seen the rise of so many pseudo-Italian venues with meaningless name that “I just randomly pointed my finger on a map of Italy and landed on Calabria.”

Plenty of other folks have chronicled Arne’s inspirations for Italian-style, in-house roasting of his coffee beans. And Arne was noted for the excellent coffee at the caffè long before he fired up his Neapolitan pizza oven (which evidently sat dormant for a number of years before he began making pizza here).

Tracie P and I were thoroughly impressed with the quality of the products and execution of the pizza when we visited with our San Diego crew on Sunday night: the pies were undercooked in the middle, as per Neapolitan tradition, and the toppings were fresh and rigorously canonical.

The pizza was great but the thing that really took it over the top was the way Arne’s staff slices the prosciutto. His Berkel slicer is out of commission, he told me, and so he’s using a conventional deli slicer. But he slices the prosciutto just thick enough so that the heat of the blade doesn’t melt or cook the cured pig thigh.

We liked the prosciutto so much (served above with a domestic burrata) that we ordered a second serving of just prosciutto.

My only lament would be that I wish Arne had a more adventurous wine list that reached beyond the usual suspects (mostly modern-style commercial wines).

The bright, fresh Bianco Classico by Terlano at $38 was ideal in any case with the salty prosciutto and the heat and richness of pizza.

Arne does allow corkage and BFF Yelenosky had brought a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco 2004 Barbaresco Asili (!) to celebrate Georgia P’s first visit to San Diego.

The wine was extremely tight and very tannic, more so than the last time I tasted this vintage from Asili about a year ago. Earth dominated the fruit as the aromas and flavors began to express themselves and the wine’s savory notes almost had an au jus tone to them. They were held in check nonetheless by the dark berry notes and brilliant acidity of a wine that I believe will be one of the greatest vintages delivered by the Produttori (similar, in my view, to 1989). A stunning wine even in this closed moment…

The icing on the cake was watching one of my oldest and closest friends, a brother really, Irwin, holding little baby Georgia.

He and I have known each other since our early teens and we’ve remained super close since those tender years. What a thrill for me to share the joy of our little baby girl with someone who’s known me nearly all my life.

Buon San Valentino a tutti! Happy Valentine’s Day, yall!

Cirò: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


This morning finds me in Southern California on my way to Sotto in Los Angeles, where I’ll be working the floor tonight — pouring and talking about the wines — and introducing my good friend Giampaolo Venica tomorrow night, when we’ll be hosting a dinner in his honor and featuring his wines.

The wine list at Sotto is devoted almost exclusively to Southern Italian wines and so it seemed a propos to feature the appellation of Cirò (Calabria) for this week’s episode of the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project.

That’s Cirò winemaker Francesco De Franco, above, who appeared here previously for the pronunciation of Gaglioppo (and who made one of the most original contributions so far).

In the wake of his Gaglioppo performance, a lot of readers — many of them women — wrote me to tell me how endearing Franco is.

But I regret to inform you that my camera simply doesn’t do justice to this man’s charisma. Like his wine — ‘A Vita (Life) is the name — Franco is one of the most vibrant and electric personages of the Italian wine world today. I was thrilled to finally meet him in person at the Radici Wines festival the week before last in Apulia and I can’t recommend his wine highly enough.

The wines are scheduled to make their North American debut this fall.

But in the meantime, his moving image, as seen through my lens, will have to suffice…

Thanks again, to everyone, for all the support for this ongoing project. And thanks for speaking and drinking Italian grapes!

Gaglioppo: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


The inimitable Francesco De Franco (above) first appeared on my blog when I wrote about his use of social media to battle the evil forces of the globalization and industrialization of his appellation, Cirò in Calabria. Even though I’ve never met Francesco, I know we’re going to become friends: anyone who writes “I am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul” is a friend of mine!

I finally got to taste his wine in February in Italy when my good friend Riccardo (one of Francesco’s distributors in Italy) gave me a bottle. (We shared it over dinner in Quarto d’Altino with Tracie P’s high school friend from her Singapore days.)

Man, I was BLOWN away by how good this wine was… It entirely changed my view and impression of what Gaglioppo can be. While most producers are spoofing their Gaglioppo to be richer in body and color (à la californienne), Francesco lets the real, honest fruit shine through in this gorgeous wine… The best news is that Francesco’s wines should be hitting North American shores in the fall. I CANNOT WAIT to put this on the list at Sotto!

I wrote to Francesco, asking him to send me audio/video of his pronunciation of Gaglioppo (another tough one for Anglophones because of the palatal lateral approximant gli, as in Aglianico).

I’m not sure that Francesco is destined to be remembered as Italy’s 21-century Chopin, but I LOVE what he did for the video… and I can’t recommend his wine highly enough to you…

Postcard from Cirò: “I am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul.”

Francesco de Franco (above), owner, grower, and winemaker at ‘A Vita in Cirò, left the following comment on my post Soylent Merlot: the Montalcino Syndrome infects Calabria. Please have a look at the thread and add your voice to the chorus if so inclined.

I am a small wine producer from Cirò. I together with other producers (Tenuta del Conte, Acting, Crapisto, Arcuri etc.) am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul.

We are not conservatives or traditionalists, we want the wine of Ciro speaks of the terroir. I am totally with Cevola is a matter of pride and style. I am convinced that the Gaglioppo grape may make an elegant and surprising wine.

I believe it.

—Francesco de Franco

Pasta in bianco and a Calabrian white (and the story behind Pearl lager)


Above: “Pasta in bianco,” literally “pasta in white,” one of my favorite things to eat. Pasta dressed simply with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and chili flakes.

In the wake of holiday feasting and the unusually cold weather here in Texas (making it all the more challenging to head to the gym!), Tracie B and I have been indulging lately in one of our not-so-guilty pleasures: pasta in bianco, literally, pasta [dressed] in white.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add a heaping handful of kosher salt (“enough to make it taste like seawater,” is the way Tracie B likes to put it). Cook a short or long pasta to the desired firmness (some like it more al dente than others). And then toss with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and chili flakes (if desired). Sometimes I’ll throw some finely chopped flatleaf parsley in as well.

After bread and wine, pasta in bianco (which can also be made using butter in the place of olive oil), is one of G-d’s true gifts to humankind. And it’s also one of the most healthy things you can eat. South Beach diet? Atkins diet? Hogwash! If you want to slim down or just stay trim, avoid protein and meat. Eat easy-to-digest starches dressed with the “good fat” of olive oil. When I first lived in Italy (more than 20 years ago) and pasta and rice became the central ingredient of my diet, my health (and life) changed radically for the better.


Above: Librandi is a high-volume winery in Calabria that makes well-priced food-friendly wines. They’re highly affordable, clean, and delicious. Calabrian and Apulian wine represent some of the greatest value in the market today.

I got a lot of feedback from yesterday’s post on the Calabria riots.

Last night, with Calabria on our minds, we opened a beautiful wine from Calabria that we love, Cirò Bianco: Calabrian Greco vinified in stainless-steel by Librandi. Bright (but not tongue-splitting) acidity, balanced minerality, and low alcohol (and a more-than-reasonable price) made this wine an ideal pairing for our pasta in bianco.

In other news (from the “recommended reading” department)…

doug sahm

Eric did a wonderful post yesterday poking fun at the fine art of pairing fine with junk food, The Match Game.

His recommended pairing for Mrs. B’s Chex Mix was Pearl lager.

I imagine Eric knows the famous beer of San Antonio from his days as a grad student at University of Texas at Austin.

That’s San Antonio and Austin music legend Doug Sahm with a can of Pearl in the photo left (courtesy of Pogzilla via IWG). (I’m sure you know Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan as icons of the Texas music scene but locally, Doug Sahm is considered its über-hero.) The Pearl Brewery is in the midst of a veritable renaissance these days: the facility itself and the adjacent retail and restaurant complex has become one of the top food and wine destinations in Central Texas. Definitely worth checking out…

Thanks for reading! Ya’ll come back now!

Wrath of grapes: thoughts on the Calabria riots

rissa in galleria

Above: Futurist painter Umberto Boccioni’s celebrated and controversial canvas “Rissa in Galleria” (“Riot in the Galleria”), 1910. Boccioni was born in Reggio Calabria, not far from Rosarno, in Calabria (the “toe” of Italy’s boot), where African immigrants rioted over the weekend to protest “subhuman living conditions” and organized crime.

News of the riots that took place over the weekend in Calabria came to our attention this morning via The New York Times and NPR. I’ll leave the reporting to the experts but I will also report that Tracie B and I were both deeply saddened by this news as we drank our morning coffee on a chilly Austin morning today.

Most of the African immigrants (the extracomunintari, as they are called in Italian) who were rounded up by Italian authorities and bussed off to “deportation centers” (I’ll let you interpret the euphemism) do not pick grapes. In fact, they pick mostly oranges and other citrus. Historically, Apulia and Calabria (both ideal places to grow fruit and vegetables) have provided the rest of Europe with fresh fruit (including commercial grape production for bulk wine). Since Italian immigration policy began to change in the 1990s with EU reform, southern Italy has come to rely more heavily on migrant workers (sound familiar?) to pick its fruit.


Above: An image from the riots that took place in Calabria over the weekend published today by The New York Times.

From this side of the Atlantic, as much as we’d like to view Italy solely as the “garden of Europe,” the “birthplace of the Renaissance,” the “fashion capital of the world,” and the home to an enogastronomic tradition that has happily conquered the world (and it is all of those wonderful things), Italy — from north to south — is experiencing one of the most troubled times in its history — socially, financially, politically, and ideologically.

I can tell you from personal experience, as an observer and a lover of Italy: Italians, by their nature, are among the most generous and human souls on this planet. Italy is one of the world’s biggest contributors to the UN budget (the sixth biggest, the last time I checked) and Italy does more than any other European country to promote economic development in Africa (I know this firsthand from my days working for the Italian Mission to the UN).

But as Africa’s gateway to Europe, Italy also faces some immensely difficult issues when it comes to race and attitudes toward race. When I first traveled to Italy as a student in 1987, these issues had yet to emerge. Today, they are at the forefront of the national dialog.

An editorial published today by the Vatican daily L’Osservatore romano (The Roman Observer, a highly respected gauge of the Italian cultural temperature) tells its readers that Italy has not yet overcome its issues with racism, as is clearly evidenced by the events of the weekend.

I’m going to poke around this evening in our cellar for a bottle of wine from Calabria for me and Tracie B to open with dinner. As we drink it, we’ll remember the hands that picked those grapes and the people who turned them into wine.

Thanks for reading…