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An Old Italian Grape Gets a Makeover

Glass of wine on a table with fruit

Ciliegiolo is a variety of red wine grape from Italy named after the Italian word for cherry. It is a minor component of traditional blends such as Chianti but in recent years, Ciliegiolo has gone solo.

The origin of Ciliegiolo continues to be clouded in a what came first, the chicken or the egg debate. A 2007 DNA study tentatively identified Ciliegiolo as a parent of Sangiovese but this conclusion was immediately disputed by another study published the same year which claimed Ciliegiolo was rather the offspring of Sangiovese.

Some legends even add to the controversy claiming that Ciliegiolo came to Italy from Spain. But the established genetic link between Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese cannot be reconciled with a Spanish origin. So, at this time, what came first remains controversial but one thing we do know is that Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese are very closely related.

Ciliegiolo is not an easy grape to grow, suffering at times from shatter. In the context of the vineyard, shatter refers to a grape cluster that fails to reach maturity, usually from harsh climates that prevent pollination. When the weather is too cloudy or cold or, alternatively, temperatures are too high, flowers on the grape vine remain closed and therefore cannot be pollinated. And un-pollinated flowers do not become grapes!

Ciliegiolo is mostly found in central and northwestern Italy, with some resurgence in Liguria but its spiritual home remains in Tuscany. Still blended with Sangiovese, since 2000, bottles of 100% Ciliegiole are finding their way to wine shop shelves. The wines are characteristically cherry in color, aroma and flavor. The fresh and lively profile of a bottle of Ciliegiolo presents a delightful alternative to a bold red or a bottle that would need cellaring. Ciliegiolo is ready to go.

Italy is still working its way through the advent of Ciliegiolo taking center stage. In Umbria, the grape is made into a light quaffing or summer table wine, while in Tuscany, Ciliegiolo is made into a bigger, more structured style. We like the Tuscan version by Vegni e Medaglini made in the heart of Maremma in a traditional and sustainable way as it has been for generations. It is a well-balanced wine with a tannic component that works well with the fruity notes. This versatile wine is suitable for savory first courses, with a meat or fish-based second course.

South of Florence in southern Tuscany, Maremma has textbook vineyard conditions. Referenced in The Divine Comedy, inhabited by the Romans, the Etruscans and established Italian families including The Medici, Maremma is unique because of the variety of its territory. Here you find blue sea, long beaches, black rock, hills covered with woods, marshes and flat lands, green hills and natural thermal baths.

Maremma is not only known for wine but also its foods. A traditional Tuscan soup, Acquacotta, including onions, bell pepper beet greens, spinach tomatoes and eggs, makes a perfect partner for this little known but courageous grape, Ciliegiolo.

Go Tuscan!

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