Wines have been made continuously in Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s boot, for at least 26 centuries. They were given as prizes for the ancient Olympics in the 6th century B.C.

And, as Paolo Librandi recently told me, for much of that time, these wines were … pink.

That’s right: rosado, or if you prefer the French term, ros?Paolo and his brother are the fourth generation of Librandis to make and sell wine in Calabria, and when I told him how much I love their rosado, he replied that until relatively recently, that’s what hot-climate “red” wine was.

“Years ago,” he said, “with no temperature control possible during maceration and fermentation, you couldn’t leave the (crushed grapes) on their skins more than two or three days. The wines would be undrinkable. So what they call a red really was closer to a rosado. Rosado is very important for us and all of Calabria.”

There are only 60 wineries in Calabria, encompassing less than 3,700 hectares, and most of the wine never makes it to Maine. (Librandi, distributed locally by National, produces about half the wine in Ciro; another terrific producer, Statti, is available in Maine as well.) Even Librandi-family wine, produced since the early 20th century, wasn’t available in labeled bottles until 1955.

Librandi makes beautiful whites and dark reds as well as pink. But five years ago, when someone put the 2006 Librandi Rosado in front of me, my understanding of … everything … vaulted miles forward.

The wine combined delicacy and grace with a spelunkingly twisty depth that just transported me. It was 11 bucks (now it’s $12), and I remember thinking that if something this exciting could be had for five dollars a person, I was going to spend a lot of my life exploring how.

Librandi wines fall into my absolute favorite category of wine personality: Complex and earthy, but simultaneously lacy, aerated and medium-bodied. They don’t brood, but you’d be a fool to think them inconsequential. They persist, they linger, but always politely and always with joy.

Most red and pink wine from Calabria — whether from the seaside Ciro DOC or the more inland Val di Neto IGT — uses the indigenous grape Gaglioppo. This varietal has a character all its own, but there’s something in its orientation — delicate red fruit, earthiness, femininity, quiet strength — that reminds me of Pinot Noir.

When I told Paolo this, he rushed to agree.

“Yes, even in the vineyard, this is true,” he said. “It is similar to Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. And we have the same issues to solve during fermentation and maceration. Gaglioppo is a very particular varietal. It doesn’t have a lot of color, but has a very distinctive flavor. It’s complex but not full of structure.”

During our conversation, Paolo kept returning to the “distinctive personality” of Gaglioppo and his unwillingness to hamper its expression technically.

“Gaglioppo must be free to express itself,” he said. “We use only stainless steel, no barriques, no oak ever. We like the wines to be very clean, very close to the varietal. You won’t find a lot of tannins, a lot of extraction. And you can definitely finish the bottle.”

Anyone can do that with any wine, right? Wrong. So much wine, even “good” wine, can be interesting but not inspire active joy in the drinking of it. Librandi wines do. The variety — not just of flavors but of entire dispositions — is a tribute to this little-known grape, the barren, mountainous region whose clay-heavy soils retain the scant moisture available, and the old-school, hands-off humility shown by the wine makers.

Librandi Rosado 2010, Ciro, $11, $12: More like a light red wine, this can carry you through and past Thanksgiving. Sparklingly refreshing acidity, with a concentrated, half-dried strawberry component even though the wine is completely dry. Reaches deep, and not to be missed.

Librandi Critone, Val di Neto, $15: A surprisingly opulent Chardonnay with 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc. Shares the richness of the Rosado, though the grapes never see oak. As the reds sometimes suggest Pinot Noir, this suggests Pinot Blanc: Subtle pineapple along with pear and white peach, a meringue-like umami aspect and an overall velvety texture. All wrapped together at the end with a quiet pink grapefruit acidity.

Librandi Rosso Classico 2007, Ciro, $11, $12: This makes you go all autumnal and old-agey: Old burnished wood shelves groaning with leather-bound books and the old thoughts that emanate therefrom. Nutty and very, very dry. After four hours open in the glass, the Gaglioppo strawberry still punches, but so delicately.

Librandi Duca Sanfelice Riserva 2008, Ciro $17: From 60-plus-year-old vines with 10-day skin contact, and it shows. Along with the licorice and Cabernet Franc-like charred peppers notes, there’s an almost psychotropic juxtaposition of mammalian aromas with floral flavors. As you smell, you think it’s going to taste like a beast; instead, it’s the most fragrant, graceful thing. Recent tastings of the 2005 and 2007 vintages confirm, though, that this enticing discrepancy integrates over time into something even more spectacular as the adolescent becomes an adult.

Librandi Gravello 2008, Val di Neto $32: Ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon intensifies and herbalizes the Gaglioppo. Big blackberries, but also olives and grill-blackened rosemary. After an hour, it gets surprisingly soft and takes on a warm, roasted quality.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]