While we are all sticking close to home for now, there are plenty of reasons to bookmark Umbria for future travels. Flanked by Tuscany to the northwest, and Marche to the east, this central Italian region’s bucolic landscape — dotted with medieval hill towns and inscribed by the path of Saint Francis of Assisi — is a world away from the bustle of Rome, about an hour’s drive south. While Orvieto’s grechetto and Montefalco’s sagrantino garner attention, winegrowers hope you’ll embrace one more charming variety, whether on its own or in a blend.
Ciliegiolo (pronounced “chee-lee-eh-JOE-lo”) is a dark-skinned grape most associated with Tuscany, where it has long been used to soften sangiovese in Chianti. But Umbrian producers are increasingly lauded for wines crafted with, or made entirely from, the variety. Its name, which translates to ‘small cherry,’ is an apt descriptor given that these wines express aromas and flavors reminiscent of the ruddy stone fruit. A growing number of producers work wholeheartedly with it.
Leonardo Bussoletti, a native of Narni, in southern Umbria, worked in fine wine sales before deciding in 2009 to make wine. He began by planting grapes on his family’s property. Keeping in mind that ciliegiolo has been cultivated in and around his hometown since the 13th century, he explored its many intravarietal expressions with the help of a professor from the University of Milan. Bussoletti selected particular biotypes, planting them in north-facing vineyards to achieve the elegant style of wine he makes. In 2014, he established the Associazione Produttori Ciliegiolo di Narni, a trade association that hosts winemakers and enthusiasts at Ciliegiolo d’Italia, an annual event.
Danilo Marcucci — widely known for his visionary collaborations with fellow natural winemakers throughout his native Umbria as well as farther afield in Trentino and Abruzzo — crafts wine at Conestabile della Staffa, which has persisted through the centuries via his wife’s family lineage. One series of wines that incorporates ciliegiolo, called Case Sparse, translates loosely to “few houses,” a nod to the country lane leading to the winery and vineyards (never touched by chemicals) in Magione, east of Lake Trasimeno. Nearby, in the northern hills of that same lake, Margret Etten Cantarelli and daughter Sabina run Montemelino, in operation since the 1960s. They farm organically and craft ciliegiolo into a winsome, refreshing rosato.
Count on these cherry-reminiscent wines to keep you in the pink until it’s possible to visit Umbrian vineyards in person.
Montemelino Rosato 2019 Scents of just-ripe cherry, earth, and minerality lead to a tart mouthful accented by lemon pith and a pinch of salt. 12.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Around $24. At Rebel Rebel, Somerville, rebelrebelsomerville.com; Pastaio Via Corta, Gloucester, 978-868-5005.
Leonardo Bussoletti, 05035 Ciliegiolo di Narni 2018 This young, juicy red offers Bing cherry, freshly turned earth, floral notes, and a whisper of roasted sweet pepper on the nose, pointing to cherry and red plum skin on the palate with a bit of bitter balancing the lithe fruit. 12.5 percent ABV. Around $18. At The Wine Press, Brookline, 617-277-7020; Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974.
Conestabile della Staffa “Case Sparse” Rosso 2018 This sangiovese-ciliegiolo blend expresses high-toned cherries and berries, with gentle aromas of earth and barnyard. Flavors of tart cherry, violets, and umami saltiness are uplifted by lip-smacking acidity and a hint of texture. 12 percent ABV. Around $26. At Rebel Rebel; Proof Somerville, Winter Hill, 617-764-0781.
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