Balbino, the ancient wine of Altomonte


Balbino” wine is the ancient white wine of Altomonte. Discovering such  mysterious Balbino means re-discover the ancient wine of Altomonte (Cosenza) handed down from Roman authors and that in the last century, thanks to the Giacobini Company, became one of the ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria.


The vineyards rise above a mountains chain, which dominates the whole Valley of Crati river, and extends its view to the Gulf of Taranto.

Wide is the horizon, always of a temperate climate, often subject to the gust of strong winds. Here lies one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: Altomonte, a municipality in the province of Cosenza, which represents a rare jewel of nature, history and art. Its rich cultural heritage is clearly visible in the splendid architecture of its historic center, in the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, the greatest example of Gothic-Angevin art in Calabria or in the Norman castle of 12th century.

Town of Altomonte

The previous name of Altomonte (its toponym) is Balbia, perhaps a Phoenician voice deriving from Baal, which means “lord” and “divinity”; most likely the village was originally moved to the Esaro river, where, in the Larderia district, the remains of a Roman villa dating back to the 1st century AD have been found.

In 1065 the town of Altomonte is mentioned as Brahalla or Brakhalla, coming from the Arabic hypothesis “blessing of God“.

The town, besides Balbia, was called Braellum or Bragallum, by King Robert the Wise of the Angevin dynasty, or according to others by Pilippo Sangineta in 1337 the name was changed to Altofiume.

But even this name was not lasting, since Queen Joanna I, also of the Angevin dynasty, gave her the name of Altomonte.

Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione


Balbia (alias Altomonte) was known to the ancients for one thing in particular: his wine. The city became more celebrated in antiquity by reason of its generous wines.

Plinio counting the most celebrated wines of Italy, did not exclude those of Babia.

Athenaeus calls this wine generous, and truly austere [“Vinum Babinum generosum, et admodum austerum, et semper se ipso melius nascitur”; Ath. Deipn. Lib. I], and wants the Bimblina vine to be born here, which was transplanted to Syracuse by the first King Poli, a native of Argo Greco, so that the wine made from this grape by Siracusans was called Polio wine. According to these historical sources, therefore, the Balbino of Altomonte would even appear to be the ancestor of the Moscato di Siracusa, born from the same vine.

In modern times, we find it among those ‘luxury wines’ of Calabria together with the Provitaro Bianco (compared to the Chablis), the Calabrese Rosso (compared to Bordeaux), the Malvasia, the Moscato Giacobini and the Moscato Diavolone.


In Altomonte, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the family of Giacobini were active, a noble family that became a renowned company for the production of fine wines, liqueurs and vermouth.

An ancient brand

Balbino Bianco was one of their best products; in 1889 he won the gold medal at the National Wines Fair; then, Ciro Luigi Giacobini and his son Francesco gave birth to a real industry, one of the few then existing in the province of Cosenza.

The industry of Giacobini family gave rise to a period of great economic development of the territory, the factory created work for dozens of workers, reaching over 200,000 bottles a year, and exporting all over the world.

Fratelli Giacobini Company of Altomonte (CS) was located in the eponymous Palazzo Giacobini in Altomonte, today home to the Hotel Barbieri.

The activity has survived thanks to the Sciarra brothers and their actual brand Moliterno: in the company museum set up in a completely renovated patronal house, the Sciarra family still tells of the Giacobini Company through objects, equipment and documents, private and not.

Effectively, what was the grape used by the Giacobini for their Balbino Bianco (the standard Balbino white wine) is not crystal clear, nor whether it was that of which the sources speak or a mixed grape variety.

In any case, the Farneto del Principe farm in Altomonte called Balbino one of its wines, made from white Greek and Malvasia grapes.


There is also a Black Balbino in Altomonte, called in dialect ‘mparinata: it is a late-ripening vine (in the first and second decade of October), with a medium-large bunch, conical in shape, fairly long and compact but sometimes sparse and with a peduncle medium-short.

The wine coming from this grape medium-small, ellipsoidal or short ellipsoidal, is a red wine.

The skin is thick, very pruinose (from this the term “mparinata”, that is” floured “) and blue-black. The pulp is not very firm, pleasantly sweet and rightly acid.

Black Balbino wine

The Black Balbino grape prefers little expanded forms of cultivation such the sapling and is a rustic vine, not very sensitive to adversity and to parasites. It was also recovered in Cirò Marina, where it is used in the wine making and is attested from the mid-1800s; once it was used as a table grape, as well as to make wine.

Today, almost disappeared, it gives grapes that come together for winemaking with other locales.

Calabria and the pomegranate, the ancient fruit of well-being


The pomegranate, whose name derives from the Latin malum (apple) and granatum (with seeds), is very common in Calabria and throughout the Mediterranean where it was probably introduced by the Phoenicians, as demonstrated by the other name of the pomegranate which was malum punicum (Punic apple, therefore coming from northern Africa).


It was known by the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, in India and Africa it was used to defeat sterility as well as in ancient Greece and Magna Graecia, where it was also used as an anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal and vermifuge and was consumed by women or was offered to the Mother Goddess in rites of the Eleusinian mysteries. As a symbol of fertility and abundance it was commonly  planted in front of the houses and local population ate its fruits because it brought luck and abundance, a tradition still in use in Calabria and in the South.

Pomegranates in Alcinoo’s Garden?

The Greek and Roman brides wore crowns with pomegranate flowers and it was tradition, still remained today in some Mediterranean countries, that the girls on the wedding day break a pomegranate and count the seeds that jump out, which represent the children they will have.

The pomegranate is sacred in all religions: for the Jews because it contains 613 seeds, which are the number of prescriptions of the Torah, for Muslims because it is the tree of paradise, for Christians, due to the ruby red color of the seeds, which represents the martyrdom of Christ and therefore the life that is reborn...


Already the good Homer, long before Carducci with his famous poem about this tree, spoke of the pomegranate in the seventh book of the Odyssey, when Ulysses in the Land of the Phaeceans (which was Calabria and precisely the area of Tiriolo, according to the historian Armin Wolf) describes the gardens that surround us the palace of King Alcinoo: «Therein grow trees, tall and luxuriant, pears and pomegranates and apple-trees with their bright fruit, and sweet figs, and luxuriant olives.”

The pomegranate in Calabria is also inextricably linked to the myth of Persephone (always depicted with a pomegranate in the hand), daughter of Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture, whose cult was widespread in Calabria magnogreca. Several temples were dedicated to her and to her mother Demeter and in their honor the rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries were practiced.

Legend has it that Persephone, taken from her mother Demeter by Hades, was taken to the underworld, where by eating six pomegranate seeds she became a creature of that kingdom. From that moment the earth desertified itself, desperate Demeter sought her daughter and when he found her, he demanded from Hades that he return to his world, even if only for a short time. Since then Persefone lived six months in the underworld and six months on earth and nature flourished again with the seasons.


Its fruit, called “granatu” in dialect, has been known since ancient times for its therapeutic properties: powerful antioxidant, antibacterial, astringent and gastroprotective, it is rich in ellagic acid, a powerful antioxidant, and other polyphenols, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, vitamin C and mineral salts such as magnesium, sulfur, potassium, copper, phosphorus and iron.

Seeds of Melograno (Pomegranate)

Pomegranate lowers blood pressure, protects from sunlight, strengthens bones, helps fight free radicals, protects cells by preventing their damage and regenerating them, protects kidneys and liver from harmful toxins.

U granatu” for its beauty, with its flowers and its autumn fruits full of red seeds similar to precious stones, and for its many medicinal properties, has always been considered a sacred symbol of life and fertility.


Its shelled seeds and seasoned with lemon juice are an excellent and healthy side dish and go perfectly with desserts, savory dishes with dried fruit, cabbage and cereals, salads and seasonal fruit salads.

Pomegranate juice is also a precious concentrate of well-being. To extract it there is nothing simpler, it is enough to cut the peel of the fruit (more or less as one does with the oranges), breaking it in half and squeezing it with a normal juicer.