Leonardo Bussoletti is on the front lines of the Ciliegolo revival. A grape that many only know as a minor blending partner in Chianti and helping to soften Sangiovese, Ciliegolo has a history in Umbria that dates back to the 1200’s. It is here where Bussoletti is working to revive local clones and is producing monovarietal Ciliegolo wines that form the foundation of his winery.
Leonardo spent the first half of his career in wine sales and marketing, selling the fruits of others’ labor. In 2009 he decided to change his fate, taking control of a small vineyard owned by his family and planting 9 hectares of Ciliegolo, Trebbiano and Grechetto. In 2016 he has arrived at about 20,000 bottles total production, 70% of which goes to Ciliegolo! It’s this choice to produce three different monovarietal Ciliegolo’s that caught my eye. Who does that?!
In 2009 Leonardo began working with the University of Milan to identify 30 clones of Cileigolo, many of which were present on his newly purchased vineyards. From here he used massal selection to graft clones of his choice and began producing wines from this research.
Leonardo is a wine lover (dinner at his house is a blast!) and is particularly fond of Burgundy, a style of wine he always has in mind when producing his wines. As a winemaker he continues to learn and truly jumped into his new life without winemaking experience. Knowing what he likes to drink however has been a sort of guiding principal for him. What Leonardo may lack in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm. He has a tremendous passion for his work and for the revival of this forgotten varietal. He helped found the Association of Ciliegolo producers of Narni (there are 11 total producers in the tiny D.O.C.) and is not shy when it comes to discussing the potential for these wines.
His nine hectares of land are spread over three different vineyard sites, each with different expositions and terroir. Each of these has helped Leonardo in understanding his beloved grape varietal and how it behaves in certain conditions. For example, his vineyard at Colle Pizzuto which is where is Rosso Narni comes from, is south facing and almost chalky white with patches of clay. Ciliegolo suffers from the heat but in this vineyard there is a constant breeze and a soil that holds water well. Ciliegolo suffers badly from heat, which is part of the reason so many producers had given up on it over the years. It was much easier to produce Merlot and use it as a blending agent for Sangiovese than Ciliegolo. Leonardo harvests early on most vintages as there seems to be a certain point where the vines have done all the suffering they possibly can.
Leonardo’s other challenge has been finding structure from a grape (without using invasive oak) that has very little in terms of tannin. This is a challenge that Leonardo has passed with flying colors, producers wines that are extremely easy to drink but also wines that I consider serious.
Did I mention Leonardo also produces a “Tre Bicchiere” winning Grechetto?! An award that came as a surprise and for a producer who focuses on ciliegolo I get the sense that Leonardo would have preferred to receive recognition for his ciliegolo. No one, particularly a tiny producer, will complain about receiving three glasses however! His Grechetto is grown in Colleozio not far from Colle Pizzuto, and is also grown alongside some cilieogolo. Grechetto is another underappreciated varietal and Leonardo believes it is due to the bitter, almond finish many of the wines produced from Grechetto have. The Colle Ozio is a blend of two Grechetto clones; Grechetto di Todi and Grechetto di Orvieto. The choice to create a 50/50 blend between the two is because the Grechetto di Todi is rich in aromas and fuller while the Grechetto di Orvieto helps to balance the wine with higher acidity.
Leonardo is a natural producer, and he has been since starting the winery. His wines undergo spontaneous fermentation and are in most cases unfiltered. What I enjoy is that they are clean and void of flaws. He avoids too much skin contact for his whites and there is a great sense of terroir because of that.
Varietal : Grechetto 100%
A nose full of lemony, lime aromas with notes of balsamic and smoke. This wine is full and lasting but yet fresh and perfectly balanced.
• Lobster, steamers and other hearty new England seafood.
• I wouldn’t even shy away from a lobster bisque!
Manual harvest followed by 3 hours on the skins with a very soft press that takes up to one hour. The wine will then age on the fine lees until April. The wine is not filtered.
Varietal : Ciliegolo 100%
A light red with bright strawberry and raspberry. The wine is nicely balanced and finishes with great acidity. A red that responds well to 15/20 minutes in the fridge before opening on a warm summers night.
Cileigolo is a red grape with very little tannin thus fish is not out of the question! Otherwise grilled chicken no sausage are a nice partner to this wine.
Hand harvested in mid September, followed by spontaneous fermentation lasting no more than a week with the control of temperature. The wine then ages in stainless steel before bottling. The wine spends a month in the bottle before being released.
Varietal : Cilegolo 100%
His perfect mix from grapes coming from two different terroir. Dark cherry and fresh red fruit fill the mouth and linger on the finish. This wine has a serious side to it and is not to be to be taken lightly, with nuances that can be discovered while enjoying with good company.
• Trout or salmon
• Pasta with peas
• Mushroom soup
• White meat
Hand harvest followed by spontaneous fermentation. 70% of the wine ages in stainless steel on the fine lees and 30% will rotate from tonneaux to barrique helping to give structure to the wine.
Visit the Leonardo Bussoletti Website