A NEW FACE OF ABRUZZO : TIBERIO
this entry was composed listening to a mix by Joy Orbison , no wine to accompany, just a glass of water first thing in the morning
I can think of few better ways to spend a Monday afternoon than a luncheon with a visiting wine maker. Mr. Charles Baker of Cru Wine Merchants was hosting one of his producers, Agricola Tiberio of Abruzzo, Italy fame. Cristiana Tiberio the wine maker was here to present 6 wines ( 4 white, 1 'cerasuolo' and 1 red).
Now the image and memory that most have of Abruzzo wines are simple, cheerful and fun wines to have with uncomplicated Italian cuisine. Long gone are the days of the 1/2 litre jugs of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo at your local Pizzeria….wait that is still happening isn't it? Aspetta! Cristiana Tiberio has been working hard to bring wines of 'terroir' and character to a thirsty public. The winery was started with her brother, Antonio in 1999, and they first vintages of their wines were released in 2004. A very interesting and critical component to this story is that Cristiana had spent several years making wine in Champagne and in the Mosel and admires the wines of Alsace and Burgundy. Combined with her vision of Abruzzo and what she has taken from a 'french' approach to wine its that it is more critical to 'follow the terroir, follow the vintage and to respect the vintage' if everything is done in a clear and focused way there is 'no need to force the wine' to be what it isn't.
The wines and terroir she has chosen to work are selected with the aim to express freshness and acidity in the resulting wines. She works only with original massal selection vines of the original Abruzzo Trebbiano, 'The' Trebbiano Abruzzese. Not to be confused with the Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC, which can be a combination of any of the many variations of Trebbiano - the Toscana, Emilia-Romagnese, Bombino and Malvasia. All have the capacity of making massive quantities of wine at variable quality levels either for simple table wine or for bulk blending. Cristiana has moved away from this history towards an original source. She is determined to only work with the original Trebbiano Abruzzese from a massal clone selection which originates in an old plot of vineyard she purchased in the mountains outside of the town of Cugnoli located in the province of Pescara. She spent 4 years zoning in on the original vines to propagate her 30 hectares of vines. She tells us that the Trebbiano Abruzzese is of sensitive skin, small berry and quite fleshy and is somewhat sensitive to the light of the sun, hence the traditional 'Pergola' Training with leaf canopy giving just enough radiation to ripen the grapes. The goal is to preserve the freshness of the Trebbiano. The vines are raised on calcarous soils with a subsoil of sand. The wine is made, all the wines are made, from free run juice and ferment in stainless steel. Any and all ageing is done in bottle.
Cristiana presented 2 Trebbiano the first, the 2014 Tiberio Trebbiano d'Abruzzo which was light and lean like a ray of sunlight, with subtle very subtle notes of celery, fennel and citrus and a touch of green apple skins. Compared with the second wine the 2014 Tiberio 'Fonte Canale' Trebbiano of 60 year old vines, the best vines from her winery raised on marl and clay soils with deeper roots. The fermentation here is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts creating a subtle and quite focused wine, only after letting the glass warm did we perceive it's real nature. The wine was mineral, citric, rich and fleshy with saline, olive, sage pine notes. the Fonte Canale is a real wine of the mountains overlooking the Adriatic.
We then explored the wonderful world of Pecorino. My first experience with this grape was with those of Guido Cocci Grifone, nearly 10 years ago when I started my career as a Sommelier. The grape was revived to it's current status by the work of Cocci Grifone and a few other producers particularly of Le Marche (the neighbouring province to the north). We bantered about the origins and the natural home of Pecorino. The natural zones being Le Marche and Abruzzo, but both creating wines of different profiles. Cristiana professes and was clear in letting us understand that Pecorino of Abruzzo is meant to be a mountain wine somewhat different than the Pecorino of Offida DOC in Le Marche which is on lower plains and foothills thus producing 'warmer and richer' wines. In Abruzzo the Pecorino grape can take advantage of altitude and unique micro-climate to help accentuate it's aromatics properties with aroma's like that of orange citrus, sage, fresh fig and rosemary. The first of the Pecorino line up was the 2014 Tiberio Pecorino which though lean and tart had sweet clementine, orange, apple and fresh peach aromas with an almost Assyrtiko minearality with honeysuckle. The wine was quite engaging and convincing. Now the 2006 Tiberio Pecorino was a treat, the wine is actually the 2nd vintage of Pecorino for Tiberio. It was bright, with fleshy creamed peach, this is a wine of texture and a rich profile. Though with lower acidity then expected, it made up for it in herbs and lemon and pleasing flavour.
HISTORY AND BIODYNAMICS BEFORE LUNCH
As I am writing this I really can't recall the last time I encountered a Trebbiano or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo on a wine list or at any of the recent Italian focused trade tastings and perhaps there is a reason for that. I did ask Crisitiana to comment on the overriding mentality of the producers and growers in Abruzzo, her response was that 'first Abruzzo is an amazing region with amazing people and though many producers did not take the time to 'study' the region, there still is not such a 'high culture' of wine. Wine is business and not pleasure'. Outside of Valentini Emidio Pepe and Masciarelli there are few producers pushing the envelope, when in reality there is a lot of wine coming from this region. It is clear that Tiberio is investing and studying the region and charting a new style of wine in a rather cool-er climate terroir. I posed the question of vineyard practices and philosophy touching on the art of biodynamics. The response, as I have been receiving more and more lately is that the Philosophy of Biodynamics can be confused with a lifestyle versus how to make wines. There is a distinct difference. She does not practice biodynamics but works organically and as sustainable as possible, the fact that her mountain vineyards are as isolated as they are means there are not other vineyards to 'contaminate' the area. Her mentality is that the 'most important is the life of the vineyard' and that 'she would not risk the loss of her 'patrimony and heritage' by applying what would be extreme or minimal techniques.
cerasuolo is not montepulciano rosé
The Montepulciano d'Abruzzo of Tiberio is a fresh as can be, no oak, 50 year old vines that are fermented in stainless steel, never over-ripe and never over-extracted. It is a modern style but taken from tradition. All sorting is done in the vineyard with the same team year in and out. Her process of vilification with the red wines starts with a Cerasuolo DOC from the Montepulciano red grape. A wine that is not rosé but indeed a DOC wine, that was born in the mountains, the historical zone of production. At the time the Montepulciano vine would not ripen as it would on the lower plains and the Pergola style training helped preserve the freshness of grapes and thus lent itself to a 'lighter' style of 'red' wine. The Tiberio Cerasoulo DOC is...
- Vines/Grapes selected and treated as if they were to be made into a white wine, grape are specifically selected for freshness rather than ripeness.
- 'Salaso' = to make wine from the first free run juice as if it was a red wine. As she explained briefly,the first free run juice is removed from the main core of the pressed juice and this isolated juice is allowed to ferment as if it was a red wine.
The 2014 Tiberio Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo was of a fresh red berry and candy cherry aroma, soft and plush with bright and lifted palate. It was very pleasing and screaming of tradition and the mountains air.
The final wine for the afternoon was the 2013 Tiberio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It was rich and fresh, more red berry and a lining of blood orange and sour cherry and moving to the palate which was soft with pleasant red fruit, stewed plum and cherry with it's vibrant tannin and smooth finish. Certainly a wine that would stand on it's own and would confuse most Montepulciano drinkers with it's natural freshness and elegance. This was an everyday wine, a great companion for the dinner table or long lunch that will never disappoint with it charm and playfulness.
Overall the wines were most certainly soundly and confidently made and with a distinct vision and profile that after tasting I could imagine the nature of the land with it's vast and rolling hills at the foot of the Appennine Mountains.