The Trebbiano is one of the most widely cultivated wine grapes in the world—and for good reason. Though known for producing simple and delicate single-variety table spirits, this grape is a favorite among cultivators because of its versatile nature. Aside from making up a third of Italy’s white wines, it also figures heavily in the creation of white wine blends, brandy, and even balsamic vinegar!
From Ancient Italian Grape to Medieval French Vine
Although the Trebbiano is thought to have originated from Southeastern Europe, the grape first gained widespread recognition in Italy during the time of the ancient Romans. In Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, the early naturalist and Roman philosopher wrote about a Campanian vine, which he referred to as vinum trebulanum. The term, which translates to ‘vigorous shoot,’ is believed by some experts to pertain at least partially to the Trebbiano grape we know today.
Sometime in the 13th century, a secondary variety of the grape was found growing in Bologna, Italy. By the following century, the grape also began taking root in France where it was—and in some areas still is—referred to as Ugni Blanc. Local legend has it that the grape was introduced to the country during the papal move from Rome to Avignon. Now, whether or not it was the Avignon Papacy that brought Italy’s workhorse grape to French territory is still up for debate. But what historians do agree on is the speed by which the Trebbiano (a.k.a. the Ugni Blanc) went from an unknown varietal to an indisputable mainstay in most French vineyards.
Today, the Ugni Blanc is the most extensively sown white wine grape variety in France. You’ll find it in châteaux throughout the Coast of Provençal, Gironde, and Charente.
Tracing the Trebbiano’s Parentage
Like most other vitis viniferas, the origin of the Trebbiano is one that’s shrouded in mystery. In the early 21st century, scientists were able to find hints of close genetic ties between the Trebbiano and the Emilia-Romagna wine grape variety, the Alionza. Another study conducted in 2008 also found a possible familial relationship between the varietal and the Italian Garganega. However, in spite the extensive research carried out by scientists, the true nature of these connections are yet to be determined.
While finding the Trebbiano’s exact pedigree is still ongoing, we do know that the grape has a parent-offspring relationship with the Manzoni Rosa. In 1930, viticulturists were able to cross the delicate grape with the heavily perfumed Gewürztraminer.
Trebbiano Flavor Profile
The hardy Trebbiano yields grapes that flaunt high acid levels yet exhibit little aroma and flavor. As a varietal, its wine is crisp, acidic, light-bodied with subtle hints of lemon and stone minerality. A strong fermented scent can also be found in some styles of this wine.
Now, mild as its flavors may be, the Trebbiano is one of the grapes that are utilized well in the Cognac and Armagnac industries. The grape’s high natural acidity and neutral aromas make it the perfect base spirit for brandy production. These features also act as an organic preservative, helping extend the shelf life of the spirit. While its low sugar levels allow for extended distillation, condensing the tipple into its purer form.
Regional Differences: Old World vs. New World Trebbiano
Principally found in Italy and France, the Trebbiano is ultimately an Old World winemaker’s grape. In some areas of France, the variety is labeled as St. Émilion and is used as a blending component in Cognac and Armagnac distillation. In the regions of Armagnac and Côtes de Gascogne, the tipple is mixed into a white Floc de Gascogne—a vin de liqueur made from Armagnac brandy and grape juice.
To a lesser degree, the vine is also grown in other Old World wine countries like Spain, Bulgaria, and Portugal. In these nations, the wine can go by other names like Macabeo and Talia.
Interestingly the grape remains relatively unknown in New World wine countries. But there are some regions in Australia, Argentina, and Uruguay that grow this hardy vine. Trebbiano hailing from these places is usually made in the dry, varietal style favored by traditional Italian winemakers.
Trebbiano Wine and Food Pairings
As a varietal, the Trebbiano works best with simple and straightforward Italian dishes. Think uncomplicated delicacies made with minimal preparation and in-season ingredients. We’re talking about poached or pan-fried white fish or shellfish drizzled with lemon juice and fresh orzo salad tossed with a light Italian vinaigrette.
A glass of Trebbiano also complements classic appetizers like antipasti and bruschetta. In addition, its refreshing nature acts as an equalizer when paired with creamy dishes like risottos, spaghetti ala carbonara, and fettuccine alfredo.
If you’re in the mood for a bite of meat, consider pairing this wine with a plate of roasted turkey and vegetables. The vino’s crispness will do well in neutralizing the meat’s rich and gamey flavor.
Bottle Aging Potential
Generally speaking, the Trebbiano isn’t meant for long-term aging. Most styles are built to be relished in their youth when their fresh fruit flavors are still intact. However, bear in mind that there are some exceptions to this rule. Valentini has been making gorgeously structured Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wines that aren’t just big on flavor, they’re also designed to mature gracefully in your wine cellar.
Recommended Brands and Vintages
2008 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. On the nose, the 2008 Valentini offers notes of lemon and straw tinged with a subtle smokiness. Glorious traces of apples and hay are detected on the palate, before giving way to a long, dry, and briny finish.
2011 Cataldi Madonna Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. This Trebbiano d’Abruzzo features a fragrant bouquet of apricot, citrus, pineapple, and herbs. It is vivid, peppery, and lively in the mouth with a subtle sweetness that hints at green fig. Its finish is long and juicy, bordering on the creamy side of the spectrum.
2012 Cataldi Madonna Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Bright and exuberantly fruity, this vintage features an array of green apple, pear, and sage aromas. It is very fresh on the palate with stellar citrus and pear notes that dance pleasantly on the taste buds. Though not as intense as the brand’s 2011 vintage, this still ranks high on our list of value-for-money Trebbianos.