Ciliegiolo is an Italian red wine grape varietal, named after the Italian word ‘ciliegi’ for 'cherry' - due to the smell, shape and taste. It plays a small, but important role as a component in the traditional blends such as Chianti, but in recent years there has been a revived interest in this varietal. In the wine region of Umbria, it is made into a light, early drinking style wines, while in Tuscany it is used to craft fuller, more structured pure varietal style wines, with some interesting wines being produced, especially in southern Maremma.
DNA testing is still ongoing on as the origins and parental connections have not been clearly confirmed. Or should I say there are several research documents and historical research that have equal genetic links and factual heritage connections and information.
Some recent testing and literature has stated that Ciliegiolo and a grape called ‘Calabrese di Montenuovo’ are the parents of Sangiovese, but both of the parents’ origins and heritage is still waiting more testing and clarity. Sangiovese as a named grape has a much longer history, being recorded in Italian records more than 200 years before Ciliegiolo. Thus, the exact nature of the genetic relationship (but not the presence of a close relationship) between Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese remains a wonderful mystery.
Some stories claims that Ciliegiolo came to Italy from Spain, but the genetic link between Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese is more difficult to reconcile with Spanish origins, but not impossible - so watch this space, but enjoy a glass of wine while we wait on genetic clarity.
There is approximately 5000 hectares of Ciliegiolo planted in Italy, a figure that was in steady decline for some time, but in recent years reversed. It can be found in the following wines; Torgiano Rosso Riserva, Parrina, Colli Lucchesi, Chianti, Val di Cornia, Golfo del Tigullio and Colli di Luni. The varietal is also find in Sicily.
Ciliegiolo is not an easy grape to grow and achieve physiology ripeness - as it can suffer at times from shatter - (i.e. coulure - failure of the grape to develop after flowering). The grape can produce intense cherry aromas, flavours and colour, and has a softness which is an appealing character when blending with Sangiovese based wines.
Because of its tendency to crop with low natural levels of acidity and low-alcohol as well, it does not need much in the way of bottle aging. Even though it is pleasingly drinkable early, it can express strength of character and real interest on the palate and finish. This varietal is also sometimes made into a rosé, with some recent success.