Spoletino is cultivated primarily in the Spoleto-Montefalco area of
southeastern Umbria as the source of white wines that have become increasingly
esteemed, prompting new plantings or replanting of vineyards and a steady
upsurge in production
In Umbria the variety is considered autochthonous by a consensus that would also attribute the name Trebbiano to the town of Trevi, Trebia in Latin, while Spoletino refers to the town of Spoleto. These hypotheses suggest that Trebbiano Spoletino is not related to other varieties called Trebbiano, of which there are a great many in Italy.
What is sometimes called the Trebbiano family—though Trebbiano league or group or panorama would be more accurate, since they are by no means all related—accounts for about a third of all white wine in Italy and are either the base, or a component of, more than 200 of Italy’s DOC wines. It is interesting to note that in Umbria alone there are at least a dozen other wines based on or containing grapes called Trebbiano. And there are pseudonyms such as Procanico, which is considered a Trebbiano and is the principal variety of Orvieto.
Wine called Trebbiano Spoletino was certainly produced in the nineteenth century in the Spoleto area, though it seems that through the scourge of phylloxera and the turmoil of the early twentieth century, the variety was maintained in mixed crop vineyards, cultivated at family farms and produced on a small scale for local consumption. The variety was generally grown in flat areas, often along streams, and trained onto trees, mainly the acero campestre (field maple).
Trebbiano Spoletino was prized for its hearty productivity, resistance to vine maladies and exceptionally late ripening of grapes that have thick skins and rather dense pulp. That meant that healthy grapes could be harvested from late October until early November and vinified with notable levels of acidity. In the old days, Trebbiano Spoletino was often blended with other white varieties in rustic dry whites or even sweet wines of the Vin Santo or passito type.
The first known bottling of a wine called Trebbiano Spoletino carried the name Colle Risana of the Laureti family in 1994. Then, early in this century, as the dry Montefalco Sagrantino rose in prestige and volume of production, wineries in the area began making wines of contemporary style from Trebbiano Spoletino with the idea of providing a worthy white alternative that turned out to have a fascination of its own. Cantina Novelli was an early producer of Trebbiano Spoletino at a commercial level, followed by individual estates with wines that have attracted interest on a national scale and to a limited extent abroad.
New vineyards are invariably planted in uniform rows and trained following variations on the Guyot system of cane pruning. The few vines still trained onto trees remain as a picturesque local curiosity. Despite steady growth in plantings of Trebbiano Spoletino, the dominant white variety of the area remains Grechetto, which is covered under Montefalco DOC. Recently the category of Montefalco Bianco DOC was created for a wine that must contain at least 50% of Trebbiano Spoletino.
In 2011, a DOC Spoleto was created to cover white wines based on Trebbiano Spoletino defined in five types: Spoleto Bianco (with at least 50% of Trebbiano Spoletino); Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino; Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Superiore; Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Spumante; Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Passito. In those four types, Trebbiano Spoletino must be used at a minimum of 85%.
A survey of actual production shows a clear preference among producers and consumers for still dry wines that would qualify as Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino, in some cases Superiore. However, not all producers use the Spoleto denomination, objecting that it covers too large an area, extending south of Spoleto toward Terni where there are few vineyards planted with the variety. The alternative label terms are Montefalco Bianco or, as preferred by some wineries, the simple Umbria Bianco IGT with Trebbiano Spoletino spelled out on the label.
From various documents a standard description emerges that defines the characteristics of the wine as its straw-yellow color with subtle shades of green; pleasant scents that are delicate and fresh with hints of aromatic herbs; ample flavor with notes of citrus and pleasing sensations of freshness and sapidity. In versions tasted on a recent visit to Umbria, I was impressed with the wine’s extra dimensions—in color, body, texture and certainly longevity. In terms of stature and resistance it clearly stands out from other wines called Trebbiano—matched in my experience only by certain Trebbiano d’Abruzzo..
Yet, despite the abundance of vines called Trebbiano, often carrying the names of places or in some cases the colors verde and giallo, reliable research in recent times reveals that these varieties lack a common progenitor, deriving either from domesticated local varieties or crossings between these and new vine arrivals. As Ian d’Agata has written, in Native Wine Grapes of Italy: “… Trebbianos share some morphological and behavioral features like white berries (there are no red-berried Trebbianos), large and generally long bunches, high vigor, late ripening, and very good adaptability to diverse terroirs, but are, for the most part unrelated. In fact, a dendogram charting shared bands based on SSR data, suggested that Trebbiano Abruzzese and Trebbiano Spoletino are the only two Trebbianos with probable family ties.”
If this is so, Trebbiano Spoletino finds itself in distinguished company. Trebbiano Abruzzese is the source of a number of highly rated white wines, led by the outstanding Trebbiano D’Abruzzo DOC of Valentini, which has on several occasions been selected as Italy’s finest wine—and not just white.
Yet in reviewing accounts of Trebbiano Spoletino by observers in the press and scientific community, I’ve found a range of views about the quality and character of the wines. Some who have inspected various vineyards suspect that by no means all of what is described as Trebbiano Spoletino is the true varietal. In some cases the vines may be other local varieties that have remained, though perhaps in some cases outside varieties have been introduced to enhance aromas, as suspected by an observer who claims to have detected hints of Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer.
Lacking first-hand evidence, my comments on the current situation are based on my own limited experience with the variety. I tend to agree that at its best Trebbiano Spoletino makes wines of remarkable quality and character. But I also have the impression that only a few wineries have come close to expressing the best in terms not only of quality and consistency but, above all, integrity—that is, in interpretations of Trebbiano Spoletino that are true to type and loyal to terroir. The following wines tasted meet those standards, with a nod to Paolo Bea, Tabarrini and Villa Mongalli for particular elegance (though they don’t label their wines as Trebbiano Spoletino DOC, preferring the IGT).
Trebbiano Spoletino IGT Arboreus 2016, Paolo Bea (Trebbiano Spoletino 100%)
Bianco dell’Umbria IGT Adarmando 2019, Tabarrini (Trebbiano Spoletino 100%)
Umbria Bianco IGT Calicanto 2020, Villa Mongalli (Trebbiano Spoletino 100%)
Trebbiano Spoletino DOC Spoleto 2019, Perticaia
Trebbiano Spoletino DOC Spoleto Anteprima Tonda 2019, Antonelli San Marco
Trebbiano Spoletino DOC Spoleto Tempestivo 2019, Colle Ciocco