A Fonte Canale Vertical with Cristiana Tiberio
When I think back on my journey to understanding the regional wines and foods of Italy, it was the region of Abruzzo that piqued my interest the most. While I had always placed Piedmont and Tuscany on a pedestal for their wine, in Abruzzo, the diversity of cuisine always excited me, and the wine (in theory) excited me as well.
This is a region that spent much of its time separated from most of its neighbors, keeping the regional preparations from village to village intact. Imagine, if you will, rugged mountain foods, including lamb ragus and lamb skewers “arrosticini” with bitter greens. Yet, as you move toward the coast and into the hills, suddenly a diverse array of air-dried pastas fills your plate, each one seeming to take its flavors from the salty winds of the Adriatic Sea. Here, they like their heat too, as you’ll often see chile-infused olive oils or chopped chiles being tossed onto pasta. Finally, when you make it to the seaside towns, all of these flavors come together with an assortment of fresh fish, seafood pastas, farro and stews. It’s an amazing region to eat through–but what about the wine?
The problem I had for the longest time with Abruzzo wine was the disparity between the simply made “entry-level” wines and those of the top producers. I recall many evenings sipping a $15 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and being perfectly satisfied. As well as other occasions, where I would be lucky to be tasting Valentini Trebbiano or Emido Pepe Pecorino–again, satisfied, but at a much higher price point. The problem was, what was in the middle? Each time I tried to find a more important expression of these varieties, without breaking the bank, I would find an oak-influenced, overripe Montepulciano or simple and flat Pecorino.
I spent years looking for that up-and-coming or under-the-radar producer that cared about varietal character, terroir and making honest wine. And then, one day, I found her.
Do you know Cristiana Tiberio?
If not, then it’s time to change that. Cristiana is in the now, yet connected to the earth, driven by passion, firmly respecting all that came before her, socially active around the world, and has a serious soft spot for Abruzzese Sheepdog. Together with her family, they reintroduced the world to what’s possible in Abruzzo with Montepulciano, Pecorino, Cerasuolo and the focus of today’s blog, Trebbiano Abruzzese.
It all started with Cristiana’s father in the late nineties. It was at this time that Riccardo Tiberio found himself moving his entire family from the coastal city of Pescara to the small town of Cugnoli because of a vineyard he had found of old, “True” Trebbiano Abruzzese, which Cristiana urged him to purchase.
It’s important to understand that there’s a reason why Trebbiano isn’t looked upon as a wine of great importance around the world, and that’s because very few producers are actually growing real Trebbiano vines. However, we can’t necessarily blame them; the reality is that even the vine nurseries of the region were unintentionally supplying a mix of inferior clones and less important varieties over decades. Yet when we taste the great Trebbiano of Valentini, we are tasting true Trebbiano Abruzzese–no wonder we love it so much. It was with this same love of the grape and knowledge of its possibilities that the Tiberio family invested in resurrecting their “new” old-vine vineyard.
Of course, it wasn’t easy, since these vines had not been tended to for quite some time. Together with her brother Antonio, Cristiana worked to return the vines to health, with their first harvest of true Trebbiano taking place in 2004. Keep in mind that this was not Fonte Canale at the time, but the beginning of Cristiana’s quest to produce a high-elevation Trebbiano unlike most others you could find. It wasn’t until 2007 that the parcel that would go on to produce Fonte Canale began to bear healthy fruit. It was at this time that Cristiana began her experimentation in both the vineyard and the cellar, working to show the identity of the vines and the vineyard. Neither organic nor biodynamic can really describe her approach, yet you won’t find any chemicals in her regimen, choosing to dry farm the vines, forcing them to dig their roots deep into sandy, limestone-strewn soils in search of water-retaining clay. It’s in this struggle that the fruit produced here could rise to the level necessary for Cristiana’s vision.
In 2012, her goal was achieved with the first release of Fonte Canale Trebbiano Abruzzese. It’s a true Trebbiano Abruzzese, made from the same vineyard that inspired her father almost twenty years ago. It’s produced from 80-year-old vines, grown using traditional pergola vine training, which allows her Trebbiano to enjoy a long, shady growing season. Cristiana describes the wine as liquid minerals, and from the moment you taste it, her description becomes clear. The textural depth and layered minerality found here is unimaginable, and it must be tasted to be believed. For those who have the means, put this next to a Valentini Trebbiano to taste, and you’ll see what I mean. It is, without a doubt, one of Italy’s most important white wines today, with the ability to age beautifully in the cellar. However, if you ask Cristiana, she’ll tell you that her work is not yet done.
The question on the minds of most Tiberio fans has always been, just how well and how long can Fonte Canale age? To try and answer this question, as well as put some collector’s fears to rest, Cristiana, along with Levi Dalton (I’ll Drink To That) and Giuseppe Palmieri (Osteria Francescana) organized a vertical tasting of nearly every vintage of Fonte Canale that has ever been created. Granted, it is still a very new wine in the grand scheme of things, with the 2012 vintage being the first wine (or should I say the last wine) to be tasted on this day.
So what were the results?
Would it be too easy to say, amazing?
Keep in mind that I have been a fan of Valentini Trebbiano for over a decade, always keeping my eyes open for mature vintages, because that is where the magic happens. What I found in the Tiberio Fonte Canale vertical was a selection of wines that each showed wonderful varietal purity, the stamp of their individual vintages, all on the path to maturity. Not a single one was fully mature. Nor would I have expected them to be. Instead, each was in a stage of either adolescence, or infancy. Only the 2012 seemed to be relaxing more in the glass, with the 2013 only hinting at the great wine it’s destined to become.
Walking out of the event, I found myself feeling very satisfied. Not only because I have been collecting these wines and am looking forward to the day when they’ll be in their drinking sweet spot, but also because of the value they represent. Just consider the price tag of a Valentini Trebbiano Abruzzese, which costs twice as much. In the end, Fonte Canale is a highly limited, small-production, artisan wine that, in my opinion, will one day receive the attention it deserves. For now, it still sits comfortably under the radar of most collectors.
On to the vertical tasting
Tiberio Fonte Canale 2017 (From a warmer and dry year) – The nose was floral with crisp green apple, hints of wild herbs, lemon zest, and moist mineral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures with a mix of sweet and savory stone fruits, saline-minerals, hints of lime and wonderfully balanced acidity. The finish was long, showing a mix of zesty acids with hints of spices, minerals and crisp green apple. This is already so easy to like. (93 points)
Tiberio Fonte Canale 2016 (From a cool and rainy year) – The nose was wonderfully fresh, with crushed stone dust, young peach, smoky florals, and hints of undergrowth, with an underlying richness that is still holding back. On the palate, I found silky textures with an almost oily feel with zesty minerals up front, giving way to citrus-infused young peach and spice, as yellow inner floral tones developed. The finish was long, resonating on saturating minerals and spices, with lasting notes of tart, cheek-puckering green apple. This wine simply needs time in the cellar to blossom. (95 points)
Tiberio Fonte Canale 2015 (A warm vintage with good rainfall throughout) – The nose was deeply expressive, showing more like a steely white Burg than what you’d expect from an Italian Bianco. Here I found a display of rich white stone fruits, savory minerals, rubbed sage, sea air, and hints of spice. On the palate, I found round textures on a medium-bodied frame, showing savory minerals, framing green apple, young peach, and saline-infused yellow citrus. The finish was long, with saturating minerals tones, resonating tart apple acidity, hints of lemon peel, and inner florals. (94 points)
Tiberio Fonte Canale 2014 – The nose was fresh with underlying richness, showing young peach accentuated by yellow florals, saline-minerality, and marine soil tones. On the palate, I found soft, enveloping textures, offset by a stunning mix of minerals and acidity, with a cool-toned persona, showing ripe apple, hints of green citrus, spice and inner floral tones. The finish was subtle, yet long, as resonating acidity and minerals soaked the senses over hints of ripe pit fruits and inner florals. (94 points)
Tiberio Fonte Canale 2013 – The nose was restrained and almost savory, showing pretty floral tones, young peach, hints of caraway, and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures, giving way to ripe apple, infused with saline minerals, as hints of lemon and sweet herbs developed toward the finale. The finish was long with a twang of tart green apple, lasting minerals and spice. The 2013 is just starting to enter its early drinking window. (93 points)
Tiberio Fonte Canale 2012 – The nose was darker, richer and more pronounced than the previous wines in this flight, showing a mix of ripe apple and peach, giving way to hints of hazelnut, sage, and iodine. On the palate, I found silky textures on a medium-bodied frame, showing rich yellow stone fruits with a glimmer of subtle spice, sweet and savory herbs and minerals, in a wonderfully expressive display. The finish was long and satiating, with soft ripe apple tones tapering off among resonating minerals and hints of spice. The 2012 is drinking beautifully today. (94 points)
Credits and Resources
Article, tasting notes and most photos by Eric Guido
Thank you to Tiberio for photos of the family and vineyards
Make sure to visit the Tiberio website
Thank you to Levi Dalton of “I’ll Drink To That” for organizing
The Tiberio collection at Morrell Wine and Spirits