Good morning from a sunny and cool winter morning in the Umpqua Valley. Looking out the window this morning I was struck by the similarity of our location to the Russian River region of Sonoma County. The conifer covered hillsides to the west with easterly facing fingers of red sandy loam running into the valley floor below. So much for daydreaming!
Well back by popular demand is a revisit of a very unique and historic grape from Tuscany and Umbria, Italy. One of the over 2800 varieties grown in the vine library of Italy, I was first introduced to this variety on a visit to the region of Maremma in South Western Tuscany in 2011. Many of the great wine regions of the world are known today for different grapes than those that made them famous and such is the case with Tuscany where many of the wines grown in Roman times were based on a variety called Ciliegiolo. This name comes from the word for cherry in Italian – ciliegia. The berries are large, round, perfumed and lighter skinned compared to other modern Tuscan reds like Sangiovese. Just 50 years ago this variety was almost extinct, but today there is a renaissance in the use of Ciliegiolo. The variety is known for its richness and lower acidity which can sometimes contain the edginess of the class Sangiovese.
More and more it is also made into a standalone wine that speaks back to ancient times and tastes. I first had the opportunity to visit the winery Sassotondo in 2011 while traveling with a friend through Europe. We spent 2 days with Carla and Edoardo at their humble yet inspired winery in the Maremma region of greater Tuscany. It is a simple winery with ancient caves that go back to at least the Romans and probably the Etruscans. Carla has been the real force behind bringing this variety back from the precipice and today they are famous for it.
They first isolated Ciliegiolo from ancient planting on the winery property when they obtained it. The landscape in this part of Maremma reminds me a lot of the Sierra Foothills south of Sacramento. Winemaking is very traditional with small lot fermentation in stainless and aging in larger oak cask or what are called “botti”. Also of note is that Sassotondo is experimenting with the most traditional of fermentation techniques where both whites and reds are left on the skin after fermentation in clay amphorae. When there last time we tasted both colors that had been aging about 6 months and the wines were unlike anything I had experienced before.
Please enjoy and here is to the Genie in the bottle!