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Wine Tasting at a Hospitality School in Calabria

Who doesn’t like a wine tasting? A friend recently invited me to a degustazione di vini at a school in Villa San Giovanni, Calabria, and I jumped at the opportunity to sample wines from twenty different Calabrian producers. Attempting to taste even a percentage of the wines on offer that evening would be a challenge, but I was certainly more than willing to give it a go!


Wine tasting in Villa San Giovanni

School flyer for the “alberghiero” event

The event was held at the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Turistico in Villa San Giovanni, from where the ferries go back and forth to Messina just north of Reggio Calabria in the toe of the boot. Students of the Italian language will no doubt see the word albergo (hotel) in alberghiero, which is the adjective referring to hotel or hospitality. Thus, the evening’s host was the town’s Vocational or Technical School for Hospitality and Tourism.

Italy’s educational system provides for quite a wide range of schools at the secondary level, and the alberghiero institute with its focus on food and wine, as well as hotel and restaurant management is both popular and important in a country renowned for the culinary arts. In addition to a general course of study including foreign languages, each track has specialized subjects such as the science, preparation, culture and service of food, wine studies, hospitality, the business of restaurant and hotel management, as well as classes in the tourism sector.

Vegetable decorations at the event


On the lovely spring evening in question, professionally clad students greeted us at the entranceway, warmly welcoming us to the event and enthusiastically escorting guests into the large hall set up with tasting tables. I had expected to pay for a ticket of some sort, but there wasn’t one! Where to start?

A majority of the wineries in attendance were from the Province of Reggio Calabria, but there were vintners from all over the region, even as far away as the Pollino Mountains in the very north. A few larger wineries, such as Librandi and Statti, were represented, but most were smaller companies whose products would be difficult to find outside the region, no less in the United States. Many of the wines were organic and made from native Calabrian grapes.

Students prepared trays of appetizers featuring local products, such as the Tropea onion and the ‘nduja salami, and were on hand to serve and assist. Sommeliers circulated behind the tables, giving expert assessments and personal recommendations.

My friends and I made the rounds, sampling numerous wines, too many to discuss in one blogpost. Each vintner was unique, with a story, expressed through wine and often, with the labels, as well. I will mention a few.

Wines of Casa Comerci in Nicotera, Province of Vibo Valentia


The wine that both surprised and impressed me the most was a Zibibbo white from Cantina Sofì di Piale. I was more familiar with the Zibibbo as a red dessert wine, as my friend Luisa always has a bottle in her refrigerator, ready to serve with cookies to guests. However, when the sommelier pulled the cork from a bottle of “Tint’oro,” it was a wow moment. The fruit flew across the table, no need to bury my nose in the glass for the apricot and orange blossom aromatics. And to taste, so floral, yet delicate and fresh.

The new winery has an extremely small production of just this one wine made with 100% Zibibbo grapes, grown on a vineyard that sits on a terrace overlooking the Strait of Messina in the “Piale” (derived from Greek, meaning “above the sea”) neighborhood of Villa San Giovanni. Meraviglioso!

Wine tasting

The author with one of the students, Rosaria Albina Ussia, President of Villa San Giovanni’s chapter of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, Mariano Giuseppe Sofì, winery owner and Stefania Arena, English professor


Another young winery present that evening was an agricultural cooperative founded in 2016 as part of a mission to support the dignity of labor by the diocese of Reggio Calabria-Bova. The project offered church land at no cost to entrepreneurial young people willing to work and create an agricultural reality. Thus, the Cooperativa Agricola Cinque Talenti was born with plots of land in Sambatello (quarter of Reggio), Cardeto and Palizzi.

I sampled their IGT Arghillà, called “Abadìa” (abbey), a smooth, harmonious red made with 80% Nerello calabrese, 10% Merlot and 10% Syrah grapes. Complimenti to the “five talents” of Cinque Talenti on a successful project!

Wine tasting

A sommelier pours a glass of “Abbadìa” from Cooperativa Agricola Cinque Talenti


The Nesci family has cultivated land in Palizzi Marina for centuries, establishing their winery in the nineteenth century. Five generations later, the historic wine caves have been renovated and transformed into a technologically advanced operation with a dynamic young woman at the helm. Alberta Nesci was on hand to tell us about her family’s winery.

Overlooking the Ionian Sea, Azienda Nesci’s vineyards embrace both indigenous and international varietals. We sampled a dry, full-bodied yet elegant Pecorello, an organic IGT white wine with the delightful name of “Olimpia.” Here, past and present comes together not only in the wine, but also with the labels, which are artistic renderings by one of Alberta’s ancestors!

Wine tasting

The author with Alberta Nesci of Azienda Nesci, Rosaria Albina Ussia and Stefania Arena


Speaking of labels, I would like to give a final mention to a new winery that reflects an old place through images and traditions with Tenute San Giovanni of Sambatello (Reggio Calabria). These “estates” (tenute) feature the Strait of Messina on their labels. From the rising sun on the “Prime Albe” rosé to the crenellations of Reggio’s Aragon castle on the “Aragonese” red, these Calabria IGT wines are up and coming.

Wine tasting

Wines of Tenute San Giovanni of Sambatello (Reggio Calabria)

Students of Villa San Giovanni’s Scuola Alberghiera also have hopes to make their mark in the hospitality field and several received awards that evening. I raise my glass to the school, its students, faculty and administration for both this first-rate Calabrian wine tasting and for a successful future to all.

Wine tasting event

Rosaria Albina Ussia, President of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women in Villa San Giovanni, Karen Haid, author, Stefania Arena, local English professor, Ernesto Zizza of the Tourist Board, Enza Loiero, Scholastic Director of the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Turistico, Andrea Figliomeni, award-winning student, Chef Giuseppe Cupi, Professor of Food and Wine


At this point, dear reader, you are undoubtedly wondering where you can savor Calabrian wines for yourself. As very little is exported, your best option is to take a trip to Calabria, where restaurants and specialty shops feature local products. When dining, look closely at the menu or ask for a Calabrian wine to accompany your meal. Or better yet, join me for one of my small-group tours to Calabria, where fine local wine is not only featured but included with all meals! (Caveat: not at breakfast.)

Calabrian food and wine

Local food and wine on Calabria tours with Karen’s Travel LLC: Greco IGT from Statti with swordfish parmigiana appetizer and Magliocco DOP from Serracavallo with slow-cooked Calabrian black pork ribs

Immerse yourself in the beauty, taste the incredible food, and soak up the culture first hand on one of my Calabria or Basilicata tours! See the detailed itineraries on the Calabria Tour page and Basilicata Tour page.

Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.

Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook pageCalabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook pageKaren’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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CALABRIA: The Other Italy and BASILICATA: Authentic Italy make great gifts!

Comments 2

    1. Post

      Yes, it was – thanks, and this wine tasting was the school’s first, so hopefully it will become an annual event.

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