Swordfish and Cirò from the Land of Scylla and Charybdis #ItalianFWT

Calabria occupies the toe of Italy's boot. Map courtesy of wikipedia.org

Calabria occupies the toe of Italy’s boot. Map courtesy of wikipedia.org

#ItalianFWT visits Calabria
Every one of the twenty regions of Italy produces wine, and our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group has visited (virtually) all the well known regions.  In our quest to truly understand Italy, we are also visiting the lesser known regions, and Calabria is right up there in the “What? Never heard of it” zone.  In fact, it’s a great test for the breadth and depth of your local wine shop’s Italian selection.  Got any wine from Calabria?

Calabria – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Calabria forms the toe of the boot of Italy, poised to kick Sicily into Spain. It seems to be a lost region of Italy, rarely visited even though it has both mountains and a long and varied coastline on two seas.

It also seems appropriate that the Straits of Messina, which separate Calabria from Sicily, would be the home of two monsters in Homer’s Odyssey: Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla was a six headed sea monster living on the Calabria side of the straits, and Charybdis was a ship-eating whirlpool over on the Sicily side. This is the literary source of one of our most used idioms of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation also known as “between a rock and a hard place!”  This is Calabria, between the popular mainland regions and the island paradise of Sicily.

Here you go: 6 headed monster or whirlpool. (Image courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/8508669031)

How would you like your home to be known for its 6 headed monster and whirlpool? (Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/8508669031)

Six-headed sea monsters aside, seafood plays into Calabrian cuisine in a multitude of ways. Swordfish abound in the nearby waters, and you’d likely be offered some in a seaside restaurant in Calabria. Our swordfish dish today hails from the town of Bagnara, not far from Scylla’s lair.

Steamed swordfish Bagnara style, with lots of lemons and capers

Steamed swordfish Bagnara style, with lots of lemons and capers

Cirò DOC wines from Calabria

Cirò DOC Wines from Calabria

Calabrian Wine – Cirò
The only DOC wine of note in Calabria is Cirò, which may be white, rosato or red. There are only a few winegrowers who have distribution in the US, Librandi and Ippolito. Cirò Bianco is made primarily from the Greco Bianco grape, thought to be originally of Greek origin. Cirò Rosso and Rosato are both  made primarily from the Gaglioppo grape, also rarely seen outside southern Italy. Recent DNA testing suggests Gaglioppo is a native of this region of Italy.

Ciro Bianco

Cirò Bianco

Cantine Ippolito Res Dei Cirò Bianco DOC ($16 at South Lyndale Liquors)
From the winery:

Site: Sandy-limey flats near the Ionian Sea, very close to sea level, often flooded in the winter.
Grapes: 100% Greco Bianco – a different Greco from that found in Greco di Tufo.
Fermentation and Aging: Stainless steel.
Notes: The name “Res Dei” is a nod to historical records which claimed that Greco was “a thing of the gods”. The wine has a beautiful floral aspect, abundant richness on the pallet, and wonderful texture.

My notes:
Eye: Clear, pale lemon yellow, traces of petillance
Nose: Clean, medium intensity nose of floral (white blossoms) and citrus (lemon)
Mouth: Refreshing white wine with flavors of lemons and a bit of mineral. Lively acidity and a nice length to the finish.

Ciro Rosato

Cirò Rosato

Librandi Cirò Rosato 2014 ($11 at Zipps Liquors)
From the winery:

Grapes: Gaglioppo
Vinification: in thermo-conditioned stainless steel, with bleeding and brief maceration

Ageing: in stainless steel, with an additional bottle ageing of a few months before marketing

My notes:
Eye: Clear, deep orange rose color.
Nose: Clean, medium + intensity. very herbal up front with clear notes of orange rind.
Mouth: The flavor is not fruity, primarily herbal. Plenty of mouthwatering acidity, just not bracingly tart.

Cirò Rosso

Cirò Rosso

Cantine Ippolito Liber Pater Cirò  Rosso DOC 2011 ($15 from Sunfish Cellars)
From the winery:
Grapes: 100% Gaglioppo, dry farmed, hand harvested. Ippolito is the last winery in the zone to harvest, so fruit is picked pretty ripe.
Fermentation and Aging: Given an 8-10 day cold-soak to extract aromatics without bitter tannin, then fermented and macerated in cement vats for about another 7 days until alcoholic fermentation is complete. Fined for 8 months in French barriques (a small part new).
Cirò Classico status is conferred upon wines from the heart of the zone of Cirò and Cirò Marina. Superiore means 1º extra alcohol, a minimum of 13.5%. The name “Liber Pater” or free father is a latin reference to the wine-god Bacchus.

My notes:
Eye: Clear, deep medium garnet.
Nose: Aromas of dried fruit (raisins), sweet herbs (thyme), oak (cedar box). The nose carries a bit of heat from the alcohol.
Mouth: Flavors reflect the nose: raisins, not jammy but definitely dried fruit, herbs. This is a bold wine with lots of tannins and a medium finish.

Steamed Swordfish from the seaside town of Bagnara

Steamed Swordfish from the seaside town of Bagnara

Pairing Cirò Wines with Steamed Swordfish
I wasn’t at all surprised the Cirò Rosso wine was much too big and bold for the swordfish dish.  I was just having fun trying all three Cirò DOC wines at the same time.  If you only want to drink big red wines, you could drink the Cirò Rosso with the fish, it just wouldn’t enhance it in any way.  The Cirò Bianco was quite nice with the vegetables and the lemony flavors accompanying the swordfish. The bright flavor of all those capers overpowered the Cirò Bianco a bit.  On the whole it was very nice, but just a bit overwhelmed.  Just like Goldilocks, the Cirò Rosato was just right.  Bigger flavors and even just a touch tannic, it was a perfect foil for the pronounced flavors of the capers but didn’t overpower anything in the dish.

Other ItalianFWT Discoveries from Calabria
Take a look at some of the foods and wines explored by our other members below.

Vino Travels – Reinvigorating the Almost Extinct, Native Grapes of Calabria
Culinary Adventure with Camilla – Ciambotta, A Delicious Calabrese Mess
Rockin Red Blog – Calabria: A Rustic Food and Wine Pairing
Cooking Chat – Italian Wine for an Easy Indian Feast
Confessions of a Culinary Diva – Exploring Gaglioppo & Aglianico
Enofylz Wine Blog – Calabrian Gaglioppo Paired with Lamb Chops Calabria Style
Food Wine Click – Swordfish and Ciro from the Land of Scylla and Charybdis
The Wining Hour – Calabria: Sun, Sea and Ciro Bianco
If you see this soon enough, please join our Twitter chat at #ItalianFWT on Saturday Feb.6 at 10am CST.  We can’t wait to hear from you all!
Swordfish Bagnara style with vinegar poached vegetables

Swordfish Bagnara style with vinegar poached vegetables

Steamed Swordfish Bagnara Style

Recipe adapted from “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy” also available with a video at MarthaStewart.com


  • 1.5 – 2 lbs. of swordfish steaks, sliced approx. 1″ thick
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon sliced very thinly
  • 5 Tbsp salt packed large capers, rinsed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley


  • Preheat oven to 425° F.
  • Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a roasting pan, just large enough to hold the 4 pieces of fish. Add the lemon, capers, and garlic and toss to coat with oil. Remove 1/2 of them from the pan.
  • Season swordfish with salt and pepper and place in the baking dish; turn swordfish to coat with oil. Place the swordfish on top of the lemons, garlic and capers still in the pan. Top with the remaining lemon/garlic/capers and sprinkle with oregano and 1 tablespoon parsley.
  • Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Fit a large roasting pan with a rack; add enough boiling water so that it fills the bottom of the pan about 1/2″ deep.
  • Set the smaller baking dish with the swordfish on the rack and tent with aluminum foil, pressing it against the sides of the roasting pan.
  • Carefully transfer to oven and bake until swordfish is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove foil and remove baking dish from rack; immediately sprinkle fish with remaining tablespoon parsley. Serve immediately with pan juices.
  • Note: this sounds complicated, but it’s very easy, quick and delicious!

We served our swordfish with another recipe from Lidia’s cookbook: poached eggplant, onions, and potatoes. The swordfish would be wonderful with a wide variety of contorni (vegetable side dishes).

In researching Scylla and Charybdis, I found these two made their way into this old favorite from the Police. Listen for it in the second line of the opening lyrics:

italianFWT_calabria_swordfish 20160130 149



16 Responses to “Swordfish and Cirò from the Land of Scylla and Charybdis #ItalianFWT”
  1. Cooking Chat says:

    I like all the literary and geographical info this month! I love swordfish–sorry now that I missed a chance to make some, will have to try the recipe.

  2. Great post Jeff! I dig that you tried a red, pink and white from Ciro…And that swordfish dish looks great!

  3. Vino Travels says:

    Beautiful presentation and love to hear the Ciro Rosato went best. Rose’ needs more wins and recognition in the wine marketplace.

  4. TheWiningHour says:

    What can I say? Fabulous photos, an entertaining and educational read and a delicious recipe! I love fish and seafood, so I can’t wait to try making swordfish this way. Having tried both the white and red Ciro, I must now find a rose. Thanks!

  5. i’m sure you had this when you were there, but the Librandi “Gravello” is one fine wine and one of my favorite Italian reds!

  6. hope you had a chance to try the Librandi “Gravello” while you were there (but more than likely you’ve had it before!)…one of my favorite Italian reds!

  7. Fantastic pairing – how great to have three different Ciros to try with the Swordfish! We love doing side by side comparisons. The Rosato sounds ideal, and Sting/The Police a great music selection (one of my all time faves!).

  8. Great review! Interested in Ciro’ d.o.c and Calabria I.g.t.?Take a look at http://www.viniciro.it

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Food Wine Click – Swordfish and Ciro from the Land of Scylla and Charybdis […]

  2. […] with the Italian Food, Wine and Travel Group. My first post with an introduction to the region is here. On this trip, I’m enjoying a key wine and a couple of foods typical of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: