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The Ciliegiolo Grape

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About Ciliegiolo

(Synonyms: Aleatico di Spagna, Brunellone, Ciliegino, Ciliegiolo di Spagna, Ciliegiuolo, Ciriegiuolo Dolce, Criminese, Riminese, Sangiovese Polveroso Bonechi)

Background

Ciliegiolo grapes Map showing the Tuscany and Umbria regions of Italy

Ciliegiolo is a red-wine grape originating in Italy (occasional suggestions of an ultimate Spanish origin seem erroneous, based on DNA analyses). Nowadays it is grown mainly in the provinces of Tuscany and Umbria, though Sicily also has nontrivial plantings. There is a definte relation between Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese, but which is an offspring of the other is not yet settled.

(The pronunciation is, roughly, cheeli-oh-JOL-oh; you can hear it at this page of Forvo.)

The single word most often heard in connection with Ciliegiolo is "cherry", as to look, smell, and taste (and even grape size and shape); indeed, the Italian word for cherry is ciliegio, whence the wine's name. It can be (and is) vinified is quite a range of styles, from light and easy to big and complex. Because it is a somewhat low-acid wine (and low-alcohol as well), it does not need or want much in the way of bottle aging; but, even though drinkable young, it has strength of character and real interest. The type is also sometimes made as a rosé, and is said to present very well.

Opinion seems to be that the best modern Ciliegiolo comes from the Maremma region of Tuscany, and those are the wines worth looking for.

Factoid: the disoute over whether Sangiovese is parent or offspring remains rather hot; the Fringe Wine blog has a good summary.


Some Descriptions of Ciliegiolo Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Ciliegiolo is a variety of red wine grape from Italy, named after the Italian for 'cherry'. It is a minor component of traditional blends such as Chianti, but interest has revived in recent years. In Umbria it is made into a light quaffing wine, while in Tuscany it is made into a bigger, more structured style."

  • Vino in Love

    "The grape used to be a blending partner in many Chianti wines but because Ciliegiolo is difficult to grow more and more wineries decide not to cultivate it anymore. The wineries that take the effort to make a varietal wine out of Ciliegiolo are rewarded with a big, well-structured wine. Unfortunately the strict Tuscan wine laws have somehow forgotten about Ciliegiolo. In other words: There is not even one DOC/DOCG appellation that permits wineries to produce a Ciliegiolo varietal wine. Therefore these wines are classified as IGT."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Ciliegiolo is a red grape variety of central and north-western Italy, something of an obscurity in recent decades but now undergoing a renaissance in Liguria and its spiritual home, Tuscany. It is now used increasingly in the red wines of several western Italian DOCs [appellations] . . . The grape's name comes from an Italian word for 'cherry', a fruit which Ciliegiolo wines resemble both in color and aroma. It is this character which has prompted the vine's renaissance, as the variety brings a certain freshness and lively character to otherwise heavy wines. In a world which increasingly demands early-drinking wines but which are nonetheless full of character, Ciliegiolo grapes have provided an excellent addition to wines that would otherwise need cellaring."

  • Understanding Wines

    "[Ciliegiolo] is a grape on the rise not only for blending but also for pure varietal bottling showing much promise, especially in the Southern Maremma. The name derives from the word for cherry in Italian, ciliegi, and when tasting the wine one can immediately see why. . . [T]he grape is intense with its cherry flavors and color in fact, and has a softness to it that can blend well with Sangiovese based wines."

  • Tar and Roses

    "The wine is ruby red, robust, with low alcohol content, fruity and has low acidity."

  • Compagnia del Vino

    "It has been cultivated in Maremma for almost 170 years, and here it has found an ideal habitat. It takes its name from its big berries (cherry’shape) and its intense colour and typical aroma of ripe cherries. Ciliegiolo is popular in Maremma but extremely rare in the rest of Italy; till few years ago this varietal was primarily used as a lesser blending grape with Sangiovese in a few Super Tuscans."

  • Petersham Cellar

    "Ciliegiolo is a red grape variety with large, sweet, fragrant berries. It is grown mostly in the Liguria, Tuscany, and Umbria regions of northern and central Italy. As the name suggests [it derives from the word for "cherry"], it is often used on the Tuscany coast to make bright, cherry-scented varietal wines. Currently, Ciliegiolo is cultivated almost exclusively in Umbria and Tuscany, though the two regions give distinctly different wines. The Ciliegiolo of Umbria, grown in an inland area with a somewhat cool, continental climate, is a light, fruity wine meant to be drunk young. In Tuscany, in contrast, beginning with vintages at the end of the 1980's, a warmer, more maritime climate and a more ambitious winemaking philosophy have produced startlingly different results. These have come principally from the Maremma, the coastal area of the region in the province of Grosseto. Ciliegiolo is not an easy grape to grow, suffering at times from shatter. The grape is medium-large and roundish, the skin has a purple-black color and produces a rather abundant amount of pruina. The wine is ruby red, robust, with low alcohol content, fruity and has low acidity."

  • Tutovino

    "The must produces excellent wines and is excellent in Sangiovese blends, thanks to its softness. The wine is ruby red, robust, with low alcohol content, fruity and has low acidity, thus is used mostly in blends, such as the DOC wines Parrina, Colli Lucchesi, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Colli di Luni and Golfo del Tigulio. "

  • avvinare

    "Ciliegiolo is usually used as a part of a blend and brings color (ruby red), structure, alcohol and fruit aromas and flavors to the table. What it lacks though is acidity, an essential component in a wine and one that makes it pair well with food. It should be blended with other grapes that have more acidity and less alcohol. Novello, Italy’s version of Beaujolais Nouveau, is often made from this grape variety. While it is mostly used in blends, some are experimenting and making it into a pure varietal wine."

  • Wine Making talk

    "Ciliegiolo is a variety of red wine grape native to the Tuscan region of Italy, named after the Italian ciliegi for 'cherry', and when tasting the wine one can immediately see why. . . The Ciliegiolo grape is intense with its cherry flavors and color in fact, and has a softness to it that can blend well with Sangiovese based wines. Ciliegiolo grapes are on the rise not only for blending but also for pure varietal bottling showing much promise, especially in the Southern Maremma. In Umbria it is made into a light quaffing wine, in Tuscany it is made into a bigger, more structured style. Currently, Ciliegiolo is cultivated almost exclusively in Umbria and Tuscany, though the two regions give distinctly different wines. The Ciliegiolo of Umbria, grown in an inland area with a somewhat cool, continental climate, is a light, fruity wine meant to be drunk young. In Tuscany, in contrast, beginning with vintages at the end of the 1980's, a warmer, more maritime climate and a more ambitious winemaking philosophy have produced startlingly different results. These have come principally from the Maremma, the coastal area of the region in the province of Grosseto."

  • Le Tre Stelle

    "The result is an elegant wine whose most important feature is, in addition to its deep ruby colour with violet glints, the rich sweet cherry-flavoured taste that is enriched by strong aromas of morello cherry, prune and redcurrant/bilberry jam due to its ageing in wooden casks."


Some Ciliegiolos to Try

(About this list.)

For monovarietal Ciliegiolos, the choices (in the U.S.) are few. Two are reasonably well distributed, while another three have very limited availability. For simplicity, we only list the two you are likely to see.

[For completeness, the others are: San Ferdinando Ciliegiolo Toscana ($17); Poggio Argentiera Antonio Camillo Ciliegiolo, Maremma Toscana ($18); and Motta Giove Ciliegiolo, Maremma Toscana ($19). There is also a nice Ligurian "Golfo del Tigullio" Rosé of Ciliegiolo from Bisson ($18 - $22).]
The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Sassotondo Ciliegiolo, $13 - $21.
    (A Maremma Toscana wine; it is blended with 10% Grenache, called locally "Alicante".)

    Some quotations and facts:

    For those looking for a fruit forward, sappy, soulless California style of wine, sorry to say, “forget about it”. For the rest of you looking for an earthy, though mouth watering Tuscan gem meant to go with a great meal; this is your ticket to ride. After a swirl and fat slurp, wow a boat-load of layered complexity. The bouquet is fascinating and deep with focused blackberry and dark cherry notes, enriched by leather, sweet oak, tobacco, a hint of chocolate and coffee scents. The mineral character comes through nicely with sensation of rich earth flavors. This full-bodied wine shows a wonderful core of ripe fruit right up front, a silky mouth feel and a soft texture with a notable length.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (date unknown), 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 89 points.

    Ruby-red. Very sexy aromas of floral raspberry, red cherry and strawberry, not unlike a lightly alcoholic fruit punch. Then more red fruits and minerals on the palate but a bit youthfully unforthcoming, with a strong spine of acids and tannins currently subduing the wine's underlying sweetness. With its long, pure finish, this ought to be very flexible at the dinner table, where it can be served lightly chilled. This may not have quite the complexity for an outstanding score, but it's so delicious I can't help myself.

    The 2010 Ciliegiolo Maremma Toscana shows good up-front juiciness in its red fruit, grilled herbs, tobacco and licorice. Some rough edges remain, but this rustic red should drink well at the dinner table. Another few months will do this recently-bottled red [2010 vintage tasted in 2011] a world of good.

    The 2009 Ciliegiolo is a flat-out joyous bottle of wine. Juicy red berries, strawberries, flowers and spices are framed by ripe, silky tannins. A soft, caressing finish rounds things out in style. This delicious, hugely rewarding wine is a steal for the money.

    From the beautiful countryside around Pitigliano and Sovana in Tuscany’s southern Maremma, this expression of organically farmed Ciliegiolo shows complex notes of dark cherry, spice, humus and rosemary. Elegance and soft tannins define the finish. 90 points.

    Grown in coastal Tuscany, it makes a wine with a sour cranberry burst of acidity, a ruffled, rustic texture, raspberry-seed bite and a savoury edge.

    In the glass this was a deep, opaque purple ruby color with a narrow violet rim. The nose was moderately intense with very meaty, savory flavor notes that reminded me of the smell of dry-aged beef steaks. There were also dried black fruits (fig and prune) along with some flat cola, baking spice and chocolate. On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and fairly substantial tannins. There were flavors of dried black fruits, black cherry and fig, along with a distinctive meaty, beefy kind of flavor and something like flat cola and imitation chocolate. The wine tasted a little sweet, but it could have been the 15% alcohol giving that illusion. The meatiness did eventually blow off but in its place that fake chocolate taste came on stronger and stronger. I just flat out did not like this wine and was unable to finish the bottle. The sweet taste and the fake chocolate were just too much for me and I only made it through one glass before I discarded the rest.

    [It] is aged briefly in stainless steel and has great primary fruit flavours. In the glass it has a good deep ruby red with purple tinges, a great nose of cherries and plums – and smell of bacon according to my culinary son – rich sweet fruit on the palate, balanced tannins and acidity, quite a long finish. In short a red wine of great character.

    APPEARANCE: Deep garnet, with pale purple highlights. NOSE: Lovely black fruits and berries, particularly cherries and black currants. TASTE: There’s a sour berry and spice on the palate, with savoury white pepper in the middle. The smooth tannins help refine this elegant red, which reminds me of a New World Pinot Noir.


  • Rascioni & Cecconello Rotulaia Ciliegiolo, $14 - $17.
    (A Maremma Toscana wine; do not confuse the "Rotulaia" bottling with their "Poggio" or their "Maremmino" blend.)
         ($15.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Made entirely from the native Tuscan grape Ciliegiolo, this charming wine has a delicate floral bouquet of violet, iris, rose and pepper. The silky palate delivers bright, ripe cherry and raspberry notes accompanied by mineral and white pepper accents. It’s polished, smooth and incredibly enjoyable. 90 points

    The 2008 Ciliegiolo Rotulaia is a fresh, vinous wine with an attractive weight and richness to its dark fruit. This dense, generous red is best enjoyed over the next few years.
    The 2009 Ciliegiolo Rotulaia is a pretty red ideal for drinking over the next year or two. Juicy cherries and flowers flow effortlessly through to the soft, caressing finish. The Rotulaia is aged in cement tanks, an approach that works beautifully here.


    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2009), 88 points.

    The dedicated team at Rascioni & Cecconello show just how much vinous happiness can be sussed out of this grape. Their Rotulaia bottling teems with red cherries and raspberries topped off with light hints of fresh herbs.


For a Splurge

Hobson's Choice here is the regrettably scarce Sassotondo "San Lorenzo" bottling (100% Ciliegiolo). It has 92 points from Tanzer's International Wine cellar and 91 points from Parker's Wine Advocate. Prices range from $257 for a six-pack (c. $43 a bottle) up to $59 or so—if you can find it in stock anywhere.



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