Abruzzo is an exquisitely charming region on the Adriatic coast that has thrived with viticulture and winemaking for thousands of years. In a region immersed in tradition, it may not occur to the average onlooker that a place like this may have lost sight of quality in preference of quantity, though it most certainly had. In fact, the land in Abruzzo is a vast combination of Apennine mountains, hills, and sea, inspiring for any winemaker with ambition, though that was historically not the case. After years of a population decline, the region saw a resurgence in winemaking bringing with it endeavors in bulk production and co-operatives. Eventually the region grew in the direction of quality with focus on smaller production and terroir-driven wines. Enter Francesco.
Francesco Cirelli is one of those people that after getting to know his story, you find him endearing and approachable. His story did not have roots in winemaking, which ultimately may have given him the tools for his current success. His strongest asset could be simply his own perspective. Francesco calls the region of Abruzzo home, though his initial career took him to northern Italy and studies in business administration. Around the same time, there was an undying need to be tied to agriculture, the land of his home in Abruzzo. He founded Azienda Agricola Cirelli in 2003.
For having no background in wine, Francesco has a clear perspective of what he wanted. His youth, broadmindedness, and determination have landed him a unique position in the midst of a region with a rather traditional narrow path. Yet, Francesco’s approach still sides in the way of traditional. The region's main grape varieties are Montepulciano and Trebbiano, the king and queen of Abruzzo, remaining the native varieties, even having been cultivated there for thousands of years. Though recently, Francesco began experimentation with Pecorino, his “heart still beats” for both Montepulciano and Trebbiano. His wines are terroir wines, first and foremost. He is not trying to be anyone or anything else. The wines must speak of the land from whence they came.
The wines have been organically certified since 2006, a mere three years after the winery was founded. More and more, Francesco has been incorporating biodynamic practices, continuing to emphasize the importance of returning to traditional small farming. The goal was never to be just a winemaker, but rather to have a mindset including a full circle of life. Animals roam the property while grains, fruit trees, and olive trees grow alongside the vineyards aiming for a true coexistence of life.
Amphora is the name for traditional clay pots used for ageing wine, though usually seen in Greece and southern Italy. They are in no way a traditional part of winemaking in Abruzzo, though Francesco has more than made them feel at home. The funny thing is that these clay pots don’t do anything for the wine, which is precisely the point, though they are the heart and soul of the winemaking at Cirelli. Their effects compliment the grapes used and the style in which Francesco is aiming. Though amphora ageing is tricky and costly, it seems there is more of an underlying reasoning for them. It seems Francesco has made it his personal endeavor to maintain the initial relationship of the vines, which begin underground, and then concludes the winemaking still underneath the earth inside the amphora.
Francesco would not consider himself a natural winemaker because has dubbed himself a “terroir winemaker,” one who makes wine with a sense of place. He creates wine at multiple price points. Even the entry level line called “Collina Biologica” gives us low intervention wines at an insane value, a forerunner into the rest of his capabilities. They’re the perfect way to spread word of low-intervention wines and terroir-driven wines that don’t cost an arm and a leg. His simple graphics on the front of his labels are an invitation, a celebration of vineyard life with a lizard, ladybug, inchworm, and butterfly. The Amphora line is all estate fruit, an invitation to taste more serious wines of the region, though with a welcoming aura all the same.
Abruzzo is unique as it is a small narrow region bordering the coast, yet it has three microclimates; the sea, the hills, and the mountains. Francesco describes the local cuisine in a succinct way: the sea has fish, the hills have white meat, and the mountains have red meat. While all the wines of the region pair well with particular fare, he believes there to be one wine that can match all three main food areas and Abruzzo as a whole. That is Cerasuolo Abruzzo, otherwise known as the “cherry” of Abruzzo for the light reds (or dark rosatos) made from Montepulciano. Francesco makes one that is insanely delicious, and delivers well above its modest price point.
Francesco Cirelli holds his terroir wines in the highest regard, though it is not beneath him to attempt new presentations or styles. We saw with the amphora line that he is willing to try new practices in a region that thrives on tradition. Additionally, he makes terroir wines in an area where bulk wine reigned supreme for a lengthy period. And here he is surprising us again with another new presentation—boxed wine! It’s delicious terroir-driven juice delivered via a three liter box. There are more surprises up his sleeve with a feeling that he has only just begun.
We must say we have thoroughly enjoyed watching and tasting the evolution of Francesco Cirelli’s wines over the years. His ambitions of quality, hard work, and a healthy dose of perspective have landed him in a multitude of wine circles. It is clear that he prefers to be all inclusive of those that enjoy his wine. Our respect for his small production craft is immense; our palates are content and our hearts are full.
by Brittany Marsh - the CRU
SHOP WINES FROM FRANCESCO CIRELLI
CIRELLI, VINO ROSSO 3 LITER BOX
A brand new presentation of wine from Cirelli made from Montepulciano! The same wine you know in a box format; the equivalent of four bottles that will keep even longer.
CIRELLI, MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO ANFORA 2018
This is the flagship bottle of the amphora line. The Montepulciano takes a different path by ageing in amphora (clay pots) instead of stainless steel.
CIRELLI, MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2019
Part of the Collina Biologica line, this is what Abruzzo is all about. Francesco takes tradition and meshes it with his terroir-driven mentality. Fresh, juicy, and aged in stainless and meant for consuming now.
CIRELLI, CERASUOLO D'ABRUZZO 2020
“Cerasuolo” comes from the local dialect word “cirasce” which means cherry. This is the cherry of Abruzzo, undergoing a short maceration period and then an immediate pressing. The result is a dark intense rosato that is still delicate and juicy. It’s aged in steel to keep this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo fresh.
CIRELLI, TREBBIANO D'ABRUZZO 2019
Trebbiano, the queen of Abruzzo. The grapes see a short amount of time with their skins, and the rest of the winemaking happens naturally in stainless steel.
CIRELLI, WINES OF ANARCHY' FRIZZANTE ROSE NV
Francesco likes to be bold; this is his ode to tradition and rebellion simultaneously. Montepulciano undergoes the pet-nat process, or otherwise known as the natural sparkling method. Fresh, juicy, and bubbly.