It’s amazing to think that my journey to understand wine is now verging on fifteen years long. Yet what’s even more amazing is that through it all, I started with Italy and continue to be both enamored by the wine produced there but also still learning something new about it on a daily basis. You must understand that Italian wine is vast, a person could make it their life’s work to fully understand it, and I have a feeling that person might be me one day.
I knew from the very beginning that I was hooked. What started with Barolo and Barbaresco led to Alto Piemonte and Valtellina. What started with Chianti Classico and Brunello segued deeper into the Sangiovese belt with Le Marche and Umbria. This happened throughout the years, as new regions and their diverse selection of native varieties and unique regional expressions continued to pull me in deeper.
However, there is one region that I always saw great potential in, but with the exception of only one or two small producers, never seemed to reach the heights which I thought possible, and that’s Abruzzo. This region has its ever-so-likable and downright slurpable Montepulciano grape. Not to mention, the Somm favorite–the crisp, white Pecorino–simply never seemed to be able to produce wines of serious importance. Of course, there was the Montepulciano of Emidio Pepe and Trebbiano Abruzzese of Valentini, but these producers were the exception, not the rule.
The rule, unfortunately, was a push to create more concentrated wines. Wines aged in oak that could compete on an international level. One thing that this region excelled at was its large production of affordable (and quite likable) Montepulciano, but each time a producer attempted to put something in the market that was supposed to be more important, ageable, or serious–the contents within the bottle would simple fail to justify the price.
This has been the status quo since I started my journey with Italian wine.
However, something is suddenly very different about Abruzzo; there’s a renewed sense of purpose these days, which has been instigated by a small amount of forward-thinking winemakers, who believe that the region they call home is capable of so much more than it has produced in the past. Not quantity, mind you–but quality, and a distinction or quantifying of the region’s native varieties, which is sure to propel its wines to the world’s stage.
One of the most talked-about producers in Italy today isn’t from Piedmont, Tuscany, or Sicily–she’s from Abruzzo, and her name is Cristiana Tiberio.
In what seemed like an overnight coup–completely changing the way many people thought of Montepulciano, Pecorino and Trebbiano Abruzzese–was instead a well-played and steady evolution that 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. 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. And it was with this same love of the grape and it’s possibilities that Riccardo changed his family’s lives forever.
What followed was a severe massel selection and planting of new vineyards, which are today producing fruit for the entire portfolio. A study of the soils and vine training techniques prompted the Tiberio family to plant Pecorino, a mountainous variety, in a mix of limestone with a marly-gravel subsoil at 1250 feet above sea level. At only 16 years old, the Tiberio family has the oldest planted Pecorino vines in the region, planted in a location that is ideal for producing superior fruit.
A selection of their Montepulciano grapes are grown using the canopy system, or Pergola, which was thought for many years to be an outdated methodology, yet Ricardo’s daughter Cristiana swears by it. In these limestone soils, with the sun beating down on the overhead leaves, the grapes remain protected and ripening at a steady pace. It’s no wonder that I often think more of the fragile Pinot Noir than Montepulciano when I drink these wines.
Together with her brother Antonio, Cristiana took the reins of the winery in 2008 and began on her mission to show the world both what her father had uncovered in these hills and also what the native varieties of her region could accomplish.
Today it is the Fonte Canale Trebbiano Abruzzese that is her pride and joy. It’s a true Trebbiano Abruzzese, made from the same vineyard that inspired her father almost twenty years ago. Produced from 60 year old vines, grown using traditional pergola vine training, which allows her Trebbiano to enjoy a long, shady growing season. Cristiana describes this 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. It is, without a doubt, one of Italy’s most important white wines today, and it should age beautifully. For those who have the means, put this next to a Valentini Trebbiano to taste, and you’ll see what I mean.
Let’s not forget her Montepulciano, a wine that breaks the price-to-quality ratio with its haunting depths and pinot-like textures at a price that is unbelievable. Try decanting one for an hour and reap the benefits. And the Pecorino, also at an amazing price point, is considered the best example of its kind in Italy today. Did I mention Cerasuolo–maybe I’ll keep that one all for me. 🙂
The fact is that I could go on and on about the wines, but what’s most important here are the people. Cristiana and her brother Antonio are committed to not only showing the world what they can produce, but also to help the entire region to grow with them through awareness. Their message is the importance of varietal parentage, of terroir, and the purity of superior Abruzzese fruit found in all stainless steel vinification.
Abruzzo is now firmly back on the map, and it owes much of that to Tiberio.
On to the tasting notes:
2015 Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT – The nose was incredibly pretty, showing lifted citrus, raw almond, young peach, mango skins, and vibrant minerals. On the palate, I found silky mid-weight textures contrasted by zesty, cleansing acidity, tart citrus, young fig, green apple and minerals. It finished pure, with a buzz of green apple acidity, wild herbs and inner floral tones. It was stunning and pure, with a cleansing, drink-me-now, personality. (93 points)
2016 Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi – The 2016 vintage may have had it’s challanges, yet Tiberio managed to turn out a wonderful Pecorino. The nose was remarkably fresh and pretty with an initial whiff of crushed limestone and saline minerality, followed by lemony citrus, yellow florals, sage, and wet stone. On the palate, I found unexpectedly round, pleasing textures offset by bright acidity, displaying ripe yellow apple, lime and hints of wild herbs. It finished long with a bump of mouthwatering acidity and saline-minerality. Well done. (92 points)
2016 Tiberio Montepulciano Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo – The ’16 Tiberio Cerasuolo provided unexpected depth and minerality on the nose, showing strawberry, raspberry, wild flowers, chalk dust and crushed stone. On the palate, I found lifted textures, yet with contrasting cherry fruit that saturated the senses and provided grip, while brisk acidity with hints of blood orange maintained an amazingly fresh experience. It finished with a twang of tart red berry and hints of herbs, yet it was remarkably fresh. Wow! (92 points)
2014 Tiberio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The nose showed rich cherry and forest, woodland notes, with a hint of undergrowth, subtle spice and minerals. On the palate, I found silky, mid-weight textures with saturating, fleshy black cherry, firmed up by a coating of minerals and fine tannin. It finished with dried cherry, licorice and inner dried floral tones. Gorgeous purity. (92 points)
2013 Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Fonte Canale – It took over an hour for the ’13 Fonte Canale to really show it’s true potential, yet once it did, there was no doubt about this wines potential. On the nose, I found a bouquet of dried flowers, pear and young peach, along with hints of lime and penetrating crushed stone minerality. Unexpectedly weighty textures were contrasted by masses of tart lemon-lime citrus, green apple, minerals and brisk acidity, which made the mouth water throughout the finish, as cheek-puckering, saturating citrus-infused stone fruits lingered on. (93 points)
2015 Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Fonte Canale – The ’15 Fonte Canale is, all at once, both stimulating and soothing to the senses. Depths of mineral-infused stone fruits and green apple acidity dominated the palate, creating unbelievable tension and a savory finish that went on and on. All of this while maintaining an amazingly textural experience. Sometimes a wine grows on you, but in this case, it was love at first sight. (95 points)