Principio (100% Ciliegiolo), Antonio Camillo, 2008, Tuscany

(13.5% Alc)

“Hey, after you go in search of God, can you bring me back some vines?”

And so it was that an obscure grape varietal named Ciliegiolo left its home in Spain and came to rest in Tuscany.  Or so its rumored…and only God knows the truth.

Walking the pilgrimage from Italy to Spain is hot.  Brutally hot.  Your feet are covered in blisters.  All along the rocky path, you see people in various states of prayer, some half-conscious, others chanting quietly (sort of akin to a Grateful Dead show’s whirling denizens in various states of transcendence).  And then, out of nowhere, a mad hermit, with a look of possessed reverance bordering on the maniacal, hands you a vine with the instructions, “spread the love”.  And with that, he is gone.

You look down to see a scraggly grapevine in your palm, seemingly just ripped from the earth.  You have no choice.  It is now your mission.  You carefully pack it in your knapsack and continue the long pilgrimage.  A couple of weeks later, your body many pounds lighter, you pull the vine from your bag.  Barely alive and in need of some serious prayer, you plant it in the earth outside your home.  And thus, Ciliegiolo finds a new home in a new country.

The Cathedral at the end of the line

For thousands of years, Christians and adventurous souls alike have been trekking a route called the Way of St James to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain where legend has it that St James’ remains were carried here by boat from Jerusalem.  And its on this same path that some blessed soul is believed to have brought the Ciliegiolo vine from Spain to Italy.

Ciliegiolo (“cherry” in Italian) is one of those rare grapes that you’ll rarely find, and rarely find in its purest form.  Often blended with Sangiovese (and thought to be possibly be a parent of Sangiovese), Ciliegiolo is rarely found outside of the regions of Umbria and Tuscany where it is a minor blending grape in the wines of Chianti.  But not always…

In the hills of Maremma (home of the Buttari, the famed cattle ranchers), near the southwestern border of Tuscany, you’ll find winemaker Antonio Camillo. His is a beautiful land near the Tyrrheanian Sea where modern tourists mingle with ancient traditions.  Owning a mere five hectares of vineyards, Antonio lets the earth do the talking and gets out of the way of his grapes’ song.  It is a song of the land and a song of the spiritual.

His Principio is made from 100% Ciliegiolo grapes from 40-year-old vines.  Medium bodied, the Principio is dry on the palate with notes of cooking spice and cherry that hit your mouth with such vibrancy that your tongue lights up with the sensation of life.  In fact, my entire tongue seemed to be possessed by some higher power.  What a sensation, I thought.  Is it the spirit of St James?  Perhaps…but only God knows the truth.

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2 Responses to “A Taste of: Antonio Camillo Principio, 2008”

  1. gianpaolo says:

    Hi there, I’m Gianpaolo Paglia, partner of Antonio Camillo’s winery and owner of Poggio Argentiera winery (both in Tuscany’s Maremma). Thank you for you post about our Ciliegiolo, this is a wine that I love deeply, you should only see the vines to fall in love with it. It’s not a wine for everyone, like all serious wines, and I love its personality and its food friendliness.
    Just allow me to say samething about the Ciliegiolo variety. Thanks to DNA analysis recently done on this and other Italian varieties, it is now certain that Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese are genetically related in a parent-offspring fashion, with the Ciliegiolo being most likely the father and the Sangiovese the offspring. That would mean that Ciliegiolo is a very old native variety of Tuscany, in fact older than Sangiovese, the most cultivated red variety in Italy and an icon of Tuscany wine culture. That would of course rule out the theory that Ciliegiolo has been imported more recently from Spain.
    Thank you for your support, greatly appreciated by me and Antonio.

  2. Gianpaolo, thanks for writing in and, well, I guess that settles that and the mystery is solved. In this case, Science holds the answer. Love the Principio and keep up the great work. Maybe soon we can do the trek together…while sipping on your wine, of course…

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