Cristiana Tiberio of Agricola Tiberio in Abruzzo, Italy, recently passed through Vancouver at the tail end of a trip up the west coast from Los Angeles.
Her family estate, midway up the boot of Italy and a 45-minute drive inward from the east coast, celebrates indigenous grape varieties of the region with authenticity and freshness. In fact, it was the discovery of an indigenous variety that acted as the genesis of the family’s foray into wine-growing, which happened not too long ago.
Riccardo Tiberio had had a lengthy career in wine as an export manager and at the turn of the century, discovered a plot of now 60-year-old Trebbiano Abruzzese vines. Now, Trebbiano Toscano is the most common of the Trebbiano varieties. It’s very likely most Trebbianos one has sipped over the years would be the Toscano version. More often than not it makes wines that are, oh, "good enough", maybe carrying citrus notes, balanced acidity, and simple character.
The Abruzzese is indeed different: a little more floral, with concentration of citrus, stone-fruit, an herbal note, and it can express salinity and acidity well enough to make wines juicy and bright. Tiberio purchased that eight-hectare plot in 2000, plus another 31 hectares of surrounding land suitable for further vineyard plantings. Those plantings ended up including more Trebbiano Abruzzese, plus Aglianico, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Pecorino, and other native grapes.
One thing that happens when someone decides to start a near-retirement winery venture though, is that the next generation doesn’t get a lifelong heads-up that it may be following in the footsteps of the family business. That’s exactly what ended up happening in this case come 2008, when Cristiana and her brother Antonio took over the winery. Having a chemistry degree, Cristiana ended up as winemaker after gaining experience in Australia, France, and Germany, while Antonio cares for the vineyards, where that vision of tending indigenous varieties continues.
You’ll want to get your hands on Tiberio Fonte Canale Trebbiano D'Abruzzo 2014 ($42.99, B.C. Liquor Stores, on sale for $37.97 until September 1). (To clear up any confusion, the grape name is Trebbiano Abruzzese but the wine name is Trebbiano D'Abruzzo, because sometimes Italian wine likes to be a little complicated to keep us on our toes.) Those 60-year-old, organically-farmed vines are well-steeped in rolling hills of limestone, marl, and sandstone, and the wine is a true expression of that sunny corner of the world. It’s fermented using indigenous yeast in stainless steel, unfined and unfiltered—pretty much as honest as it gets. Lemon zest, jasmine, and apple blossom swirl out of the glass with ease, while the palate enjoys fresh Granny Smith apple, Meyer lemon, white peach, cracking minerality, and juicy acidity.
While Tiberio’s Trebbiano D’Abruzzo is its flagship, and I heartily recommend it, this whole column has been designed in my mind over the last few days with one wine in mind, and the Trebbiano’s not it.
Back to a few days ago when Cristiana was in town, I was pretty crushed to realize I’d be missing out on a lunch she was participating in with local sommeliers and wine trade due to my being in Seattle to judge a wine competition. As luck would have it though, I’d been invited to a dinner party by a mutual friend and colleague, and I’d have the chance to see Cristiana there.
As with any dinner party, there was feasting and revelry. Some had brought local British Columbian wines to share with her, while there were a couple jaw-dropping pulls from a cellar, a 1993 Barolo, and things of the like.
We ended up only trying one of Cristiana’s wines, but it was a wine that stopped me in my tracks that night; I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Tiberio Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo 2017 ($22.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) has arrived in our market without a moment to spare; I can practically guarantee this will be the wine of the summer for more than a few. It is made from Montepulciano D’Abruzzo grapes from vines that were planted in limestone soils over 50 years ago. Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo is a denomination offering red wines that straddle that line between a light red and a heavier rosé, and that’s what we have here. There’s no pressing of the skins, the wine is simply made from a wild ferment of the free-run juice after a cold maceration with skins. Served with a nice chill, it’s as fresh as can be, loaded with cherries, red plums, tarragon, and a glint of minerality. It is a wine that will hit any tomato-based dish well, and that’s no easy feat—it often presents a wine-pairing challenge.
Go stock up on the stuff; I can’t imagine it lasting long on shelves. (I literally went and bought some the very next day, and found out others from the dinner party had, too.)
It’s summer, we’re on the verge of heirloom tomato season, and there’s plenty more feasting to be had.