Would the Real Trebbiano Please Stand Up?

Trebbiano has really received a bad rap. In wine education we learn that Trebbiano is the same grape a Ugni Blanc, the grape used for Cognac. Many of us are left with this rhetoric. A grape the French scoff at, suitable only for distillation due to high yields and acidity; Ohh, and the poor Italians are stuck, still trying to make wine out of it. This sort of mentality has permeated, not just in wine courses, but the general consumer attitude and hence pricing of Trebbiano wines.

This mentality is not solely reserved for the Anglophone wine establishment.  It is rather widespread among the Italian public and Sommeliers. I was even told that the reason Trebbiano is commonly found in Emilia-Romagna is because as in the Charente, it was, and should be, sent to the distillery. Yet I would not argue that the distilleries in the region have much resemblance in size to the large brandy industry compared to Cognac to have justified this in the past or future. Regardless, I doubt any of the Trebbiano in the hills and remote vineyards of Abruzzo and Tuscany were planted with the intention of selling to far off distilleries.

Trebbiano reaches all over Central Italy. It spans the Roman highway of Emilia-Romagna, jumps across the Apennines into Tuscany where it was even once obliged by appellation laws to be in Chianti (some attribute this to the catalyst pushing ambitious winemakers to leave the appellation system entirely and thus starting the Super Tuscan movement). Dash across Tuscany into its most well known incarnation in Abruzzo, most obviously known for the easy to remember Trebbiano d’ Abruzzo appellation.

Until relatively recently, Trebbiano represented the wine lake. It was held responsible for creating watery Red wines, bland White wines and it was better off made into hard alcohol. My initial excursion into tasting Trebbiano had fallen into the bland category. As a buyer for a store in Boston that had around 100 Italian wines, the Trebbiano I had tasted were not worth it. Once I had moved to Italy the Trebbiano I ended up trying were sparkling wines destined for a Spritz. In Romagna, there is a decent amount of overcropped Trebbiano grown for Sparkling production under the Rubicone appellation. I had only ventured into this bottom price range for Trebbiano, creating my own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course I was aware of standouts like Emidio Pepe. This did not ring as proof of anything, since the famed Abruzzo family joins the rank of wineries like Lopez de Heredia and Chateau Musar. These wineries are beloved by the readers of both Robert Parker and Alice Feiring. In both cases they tend to be the only winery of their respective regions in the shops ventured by those either of those readers. It proved no point. Regardless, Pepe is financially out of reach anyways.

Abruzzo

On the subject of splurging on things that are fiscally irresponsible, I had the opportunity to grab a reservation at Osteria Francescana. It would be a lot, but some things come just once. Obviously it was the best meal of my life. Fuck that, calling it a meal downgrades it, it was one of the best experiences of my life. People ask me how the food tasted, but at Osteria Francescana it is far past that. I felt as though I was living inside a Vogue photoshoot. To put it simply and without exaggeration, it seemed closer to a movie dream sequence than simply fine dining.

Of the many, many wines served, they brought a Trebbiano…. Really, a Trebbiano? The whole thing started with Marie-Noëlle Ledru Champagne! Ok, obviously I will try this. Wait, this is not Trebbiano, this cannot be? Or, no, but could I only now be tasting Trebbiano for the first time? This was Trebbiano.

Everything beforehand was a fabrication of sorts.

Screenshot_2017-07-16-12-23-24-1Emilia

This last experience left a deep impression on me, but it stayed internal. As the spring turned to summer, I ended up going with a friend to visit a highly recommended Natural Lambrusco winery, Azienda Agricola San Polo. I intend to write an article on him in the near future. We started the tasting off with his Trebbiolo, a sparkling white blend with skin contact. An interesting name, inspired by wine having 3 different clones of Trebbiano and even the Garganega of Soave fame. This was probably my first encounter with a sparkling orange wine. It had this caressing texture, feeling closer to Rose bubbles than to certain brutish styles of skin contact wine that the Orange Wine term can conjure up.

Lazio

In the fall, AMO, an association of Natural wine stores and restaurants in Bologna hosts a relaxed tasting of Vicolo Bolognetti in some government building. Acca Vineria was tasting a Molise red (it exists) and the awesome ecclesiastical Trappist Nun wine from Lazio, Coenobium. I had thoroughly enjoyed this wine once before in Boston. Neither then nor last fall did I really take into account the grape’s character in this wine. I assumed the process rather than the raw ingredients was to thank. As I was thinking about this article I realized that many Italian orange wines south of Friuli use Trebbiano in some amount. I had sort of assumed it was as a filler to use up the crop. Now I am trying to understand what this positive relationship Trebbiano has with skin contact is.

Is the secret to the character of Trebbiano hiding in the skins? A concept we take completely for granted when it comes to the pigmented red grapes. The coloring of red skins is not reason for maceration, but the flavour and tannins extraction. This thought process has gone so far as to make me wonder if modern white wine vinification has in fact castrated Trebbiano.

Tuscany

Recently I had the great pleasure of meeting Giulio Armani, winemaker of La Stoppa and owner of the cultish Denavolo wines. When we arrived to his mountain top abode in the Colli Piacentini he had already opened a bottle of Sottofondo. A frizzante Rose. As it turned out, it was not a Rose, but a 30 day skin contact Trebbiano. As this was the first wine, and we had not built our rapport yet and being color blind, I was too cautious to broach the subject.

Screenshot_2017-07-16-10-35-25-1 (1)Passito

Trebbiano in Chianti region used to be legally part of the assemblage for Chianti. This being among the reasons for why if the Florentines wanted to make world class red wines they had to leave the DOC appellation system, starting the Super Tuscan phenomenon. This law has since changed. I was once told that the reason there were all of a sudden a ton of Vin Santo del Chianti coming on the market was due to the need to channel all this white vine production somewhere new.

As I started thinking about this article, fond memories of unique wines revealed themselves as genuine examples of Trebbiano. I realized that I had not justly categorized them to a mental Trebbiano box.

In 2016 a bunch of friends and I headed to the Italian craft beer awards. A tremendous  event where some of the best Italian breweries showcase their best beers (a highly recommended event). As we made our way from the station to the riverside, we perused through a farmers market. There was a hippy looking guy selling natural Chianti in straw covered flasks. After trying these I asked about the little bottles he had, Vin Santo. At 16% alcohol it was a Passito fermented dry. Months later this wine showed itself in a “Uncommon Dry Whites” wine lunch. We had dry white wines from regions known for being sweet; a Zibibbo from the Volcanic Island of Pantelleria and a Tokaji Szamorodni, a Voile-fermented botrytis affected wine from Hungary. The Vin Santo has this unique texture that one may be inclined to confuse with something from the Jura or Jerez. Not because of any Flor similarities, but the composition created by the battle against oxidation and the concentrated acidity; battle scars that also equip themselves to stand against the enemy of time.

Podcast Education

My thirst for wine knowledge spanned across picking through library catalogs, bookshops and ordering on amazon. Initially I scoured youtube and netflix, but the results past basic courses are limited. Podcasts are a bit better, and the subjects can bring you into authentic conversations that may have otherwise been unattainable. I had many walks and bus rides listening to Levi Dalton. I learned about wineries, sommeliers, and importers from all around the industry and he was able to give me un unparalleled insight. Recently, I have not been able to maintain a weekly listening, but not too long ago I saw he had an interview with Cristiana Tiberio. I made some time and it was such a pleasure to listen to this fantastic lady. It was a relief to hear her draw a clear line in the sand and explain that there are many different Trebbiano vines, in addition that the appellation for Trebbiano d’ Abruzzo is the appellation and not the grape! I won’t bore you with repeating what she has said, but it made clear at what many other winemakers hinted at or breezed over. The different Trebbiano vines need to be treated as strictly separate grapes!

This of course brings up the huge question mark as to which Trebbiano do each of the aforementioned wines belong too?

I would normally end this with a  #drinkmoretrebbiano , However this article ends on a confusing tone with no real answer on how to tackle the Trebbiano conundrum.

Screenshot_2017-07-16-12-24-37-1 (1)Daft Punk

The other night I went out with friends to a new hipster spot in Bologna, it literally seems hipster themed. If that means functional design, proper craft cocktails and 2011 Electro, then by all means do it. I noticed they had Tiberio Trebbiano among the wines, and lunged for it. It was their entry level bottling with a trendier label. It has that nice tingly acidity that makes you keep reaching for the next sip the way you can’t stand someone stopping once they are scratching your back. Everyone at the table seemed to like it, which warmed my heart.

Notes:

Emilia Romagnan Brandy:

Vecchia Romagna Brandy is a rather mainstream Italian brand found in supermarkets, however it must be noted that in Bologna Villa Zarri is a boutique quality brandy producer.

Sottofondo:

This sparkling wine was also made with the unique production method of adding Passito-wine to add sugars for restarting the fermentation process within the bottle; and hence creating Co2. The same Trebbiano, but of course picked much later for a sweet raisin wine is added; rather than adding actual sugar as in Champagne, unfermented must for some Lambrusco or simply bottling before fermentation is finished (Pet-Net aka Method Ancestral).

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