February was a special time of year for Italian wine lovers in New York City with VINO – an enormous Italian wine event that attracts many attendants worldwide – and the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Awards events – presenting producers that are helping to elevate Italian wines. On these occasions, I always know that I am going to taste some amazing wines, learn about some exciting new developments and walk away with more love for Italy in my heart.
But this year, something out of the ordinary happened to me. Typically, I go back to many producers who have impressed me and I have meetings with new ones, who have jumped on my radar thanks to the recommendations from respected colleagues. Yet, the producer that blew me away this time was someone that I had a couple of chance encounters with already… Tiberio.
The first encounter was at a VINO Master Class about Rare Grapes and Wines of Italy I was able to attend at the last minute, since I was on the waitlist to get in, and was led by Levi Dalton, host of a popular NYC wine podcast, and Ian D’Agata, the Scientific Director of Vinitaly International Academy. Although super star wines such as a Barolo and rock star producer Zýme were in the lineup, it was a Montepulciano, from the lesser known region of Abruzzo, that got all the wine experts in the room excited.
Elegance from Abruzzo
The wine that ended up being the favorite, when the crowd was asked their top wine preference by a show of hands, was the 2014 Tiberio ‘single vineyard’ Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Some of the Italian wine experts – some of them flew in straight from Italy – could not believe that any Montepulciano could be this way – elegant, refined tannins and long, expressive finish. Usually, Montepulciano wines are well-known for their rough tannins and overall rustic quality.
But this ‘single vineyard’ was found by accident. Cristiana Tiberio, winemaker and vigneron for her family’s winery, was in the audience of this master class and talked about the three wines she presented at the event, one 2012 and two 2014s – her regular Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and her single vineyard, – and told us it all started with the horrible vintage of 2012. Since the area was hit by tremendous amounts of rain, many of the vineyards did not do well, except for one plot. She ended up only making wine from that plot in 2012, and since then, discovered through time that there was something special about those vines. So, in 2014, she decided to make that particular plot a separate single vineyard.
Tiberio’s Full Potential
Well, if the single vineyard Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was not already enough to make Tiberio my new favorite producer, my experience with their award winning 2015 Pecorino, a couple days after at the special awards press briefing, stirred even greater interest in this winery. Besides their Pecorino being absolutely delicious, I was able to talk to Cristiana Tiberio herself, as she was there presenting her wine. It was a thrilling conversation and I learned more about what she is discovering in her vineyards, how some of the vines have mutated to higher quality ‘biotypes’ and how she has started to isolate them so she can propagate the vines that are displaying consistently better qualities.
My experience with Tiberio, Cristiana and especially their Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a great example that we can never truly know the full potential of something. As soon as we think we can succinctly sum up a variety, a wine or a whole region with words like ‘rustic’ and ‘affordable,’ someone like Cristiana Tiberio comes along to show us that there is so much more to know.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2012 Tiberio, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Abruzzo, Italy ($14): 100% Montepulciano. I found this 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on wine-searcher.com for only $14 bucks! If I were you, I would grab it while it still lasts. Again, this was made with the difficult vintage where Tiberio could only use that special plot, eventually becoming their current single vineyard, and it amazingly made a beautiful wine under harsh conditions. This wine had an incredible nose with floral and spice notes and juicy, sour red cherry on the palate. Fine-grained tannins bring an overall grace to this wine.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2015 Tiberio, Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy ($20): 100% Pecorino. Only 9 wines were given a special Tre Bicchieri award and this 2015 Pecorino was given ‘best value for money’. Layers of enticing flavors of lemongrass, green fig and a touch of ginger on the finish. Even when this white wine warmed up, it was still ‘jumping’ out of the glass with lots of vitality.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2014 Tiberio, ‘Single Vineyard’ Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Abruzzo, Italy (not priced yet): 100% Montepulciano. After that master class, where the majority said this was their favorite wine, Cristiana said she was bombarded with people asking her when it would be available on the market, how much, etc. Well, this was the first time she had presented it to the public and she still hadn’t figured out a label or pricing, since she just discovered these special vines. No matter the future price of this wine, it deserves to be a fantasy wine. As noted before, it is elegant with refined tannins and beautiful fruit that is extremely expressive, jasmine tea and rhubarb preserves across the long finish.