Ciliegiolo - a grape that (most probably) parented Sangiovese
Even if Sangiovese is the much-celebrated grape of Tuscany, it's in the company of many other lesser-known native grapes. Yet we hear mostly of Sangiovese because it's a marvellous grape, albeit challenging to grow, that is very rewarding when grown in the right place. It's very expressive and wears many hats all depending on what conditions it is given. Sometimes it's hard to believe that the same grape gives birth to such diverse wines from simple Chiantis to complex and age-worthy Brunellos.
Sangiovese is so synonymous with Tuscany that it was always assumed that its origin was local. Perhaps domestication of wild vines. But to many's surprise, when genetic research became available, it was found out that Sangiovese is related to and probably the son of Ciliegiolo (Tuscan) crossed with Negro Dolce (variety with southern Italian origins).
And this is where we leave the story of Sangiovese behind as it has led us to the assumed father-grape that takes its name from cherries, the already named Ciliegiolo.
Ciliegiolo has always been part of the Tuscan vineyards and was utilised mainly as a blending partner. But in recent years the interest in native grapes has taken some producers down the different path of making single varietal wines from the lesser-known grapes. Even if this meant treading on unknown lands with a steeper learning curve since it had not been done before. And let's just bear in mind that planting a vineyard to a specific variety is a bit like getting married. You're stuck in it for the good and for the bad (yes, grafting over is possible but it's a pain and only worth it if the vines are young).
Ciliegiolo is especially to be found in the south of Tuscany, the beautiful open region of Maremma. Maremma's entry on the Tuscan wine scene is relatively recent. Its flatter lands were considered more suitable to the cultivation of grains, cattle and so forth. Yet, when all was said and done in the famous Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Montalcino, wineries looked to the south for cheaper hectares and took up the challenge of creating wines in this region. A lot of international grapes were planted, but some gave space to the traditional ones.
As a lifestyle choice that eventually became the second career, Carla and Edoardo came from Rome and settled just outside the picturesque village of Pitigliano, in an area known only for the white wine, Bianco di Pitigliano. Based on Trebbiano Toscano, this white, even if very drinkable, was far from revolutionizing the wine world. So the couple took an interest in Ciliegiolo which showed great character in the volcanic tuff soil and took well to the arid weather conditions. After 20 years of getting to know the personality of Ciliegiolo, Carla and Edoardo have really nailed it. The wines are packed with cherry fruit and spiciness, crispy and persistent, showing very good age-ability in the most structured examples (e.g. the San Lorenzo).
Are you curious to taste it? You can purchase the young pure Ciliegiolo here.
See the winery and hear the story in our short video of the Sassotondo winery: