Tabarrini Adarmando. Bianco dell’ Umbria IGT. WOTY 2018
WOTY? It stands for Wine of the Year of course! In 2018 I encountered many outstanding wines, seemingly in every colour and style. Each brought great pleasure, and the best often taught me something new. However, in selecting from all these, there can only ever be one WOTY 2018. This year it’s an Italian white wine; Adarmando, from Giampaolo Tabarrini in Montefalco, Umbria.
Giampaolo Tabarrini is of the fourth family generation, both proprietor and winemaker. He assumed control of the Tabarrini property near Montefalco in 1996, at the tender age of 22. Back then, wine sales were in bulk because the family were principally farmers.
Changes were fast and plentiful. He began bottling the wines straightaway and then became the first to make single-vineyard (Cru) expressions of Montefalco Sagrantino. Indeed, these wines are the bedrock on which his reputation rests.
There is now a large winery and cellar. Indeed, the size of the cantina far outstrips the modest 16 hectares of vineyards and 70,000 bottles per year. That’s even allowing for Sagrantino’s need for many years of quiet maturation. Plenty of room for future developments, of those you can be sure.
Meanwhile, Tabarrini rescued Grero, an ultra-rare red grape variety found as a single vine growing in an Umbrian garden.
These are great achievements. But Giampaolo also dreamt of creating a great white wine in this place, now world-famous for its reds. Here then is the white Adarmando, made entirely with the Spoletino grape variety.
Welcome to my Wine of the Year.
A force of nature
I have previously described Tabarrini as a force of nature. A gifted winegrower, able support comes from his family and a close-knit team. In particular, he attributes his success to listening and learning from his Grandfather Armando.
Over a leisurely lunch in Montefalco and during an evening tasting at the winery, I discover more. Tabarrini is charismatic; boisterous, extrovert, and generous. He’s also meticulous, with an obsessive eye for detail, intense determination and strong opinions.
Afterwards, I can’t decide whether his wines have all adopted his personality or whether he has adopted theirs. Either way, the link between the man and his vines is inextricable.
Trebbiano Spoletino (to give it the full name) is an Umbrian white grape variety that is rapidly making a comeback in Montefalco. Tabarrini is a winery at the forefront of this renaissance. In this, Tabarrini is fortunate in having old vines that date back to the 1920s, ungrafted near-centurions. These vines twine and drape over Maple and fruit trees. Whether at pruning or at harvest time you’ll need ladders!
The Spoletino vineyards are at about 350 metres altitude on clay/sand soils; facing south-east to lap up the Mediterranean sun. They are organic, though Tabarrini is dismissive of such labels so that you won’t find certification here.
As well as being vast, the Tabarrini winery is immaculate. Frankly, I’ve seen less clean operating theatres. It seems to me that you could eat off the highly polished epoxy resin floor.
The fermentations were well underway during my visit, yet there was little of the usual odour thanks to air recirculation.
Meanwhile, in the vaulted barrel hall, Giampaolo uses a tissue to ensure that no wine drips from the barrel taps.
Even the usual array of pipes and wires are behind removable wall and ceiling panels. Meanwhile, a few taps on an iPad is all that Tabarrini needs to control the winemaking processes.
Named for his Grandfather (Ad Armando), this wine was first awarded Tre Bicchieri by Gambero Rosso in 2007. It carries the humble designation Bianco dell’Umbria IGT. There is currently no DOC in Montefalco that allows for a 100% Spoletino.
The wine is subject to a minimal sulphur regime. Fermentation is with natural yeasts in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Afterwards, the wine then stays on the lees in the tanks for twelve months to pick up more flavour. During that time it undergoes a secondary (malolactic) fermentation to soften the acidity. Bottled under DIAM cork, without fining or filtering, it then matures for a further six to nine months before release. There are usually 13,000 bottles each year.
The result is a stunning white wine capable of great longevity and spectacular evolution. In short, this is one of Italy’s finest white wines.
Every Adarmando vintage is, of course, a little different, reflecting nature’s endowment in any particular season. However, the mark of a gifted winegrower is consistency; making excellent wine in difficult as well as advantageous years. Typically, Adarmando will be deep yellow with only subtle aromatics. Those made in warmer years show Riesling-like aromatic qualities; while cooler ones tend to be smokier. There’s an intense mouthful of fruit; quince, apricot and pineapple with an underlying mineral streak. Over time, you’ll get ginger, honey, butterscotch and savoury notes. All have fresh acidity, a soft silky texture and a long, satisfying finish. Indeed, it seems that the older they get, the more brilliant they become. The notes below show that Adarmando is consistently excellent and takes ageing in its stride.
A tank sample, from the drought year. Smaller production. 11 months of skin contact. Still greenish, voluminous in the mouth, pineapple dominant at this stage, underlying citrus and flint. Still some spritz and a Leesy finish. A long way to go yet before being ready.
Golden yellow. Intensity. Smoky nose. Huge fruit; mango, guava and apricot on a pineapple background, stony mineral streak. Balsamic finish, waxy elegance. Still needs more bottle age.
Deep yellow. Smoky nose. Apricot and pineapple cut by stony minerality. Dense texture and needs time to open up in the glass. So worth decanting at this stage.
A more difficult, rainy year. Only the free-run juice used. Smoky and just a hint of a Riesling-like aromatic note. Deep yellow, pineapple and apricot fruit. A hint of ginger spice. Slightly smaller scale, lovely intensity and freshness.
Dry, hot year. The most stylistically classic in this line-up. A little quince and kerosene on the nose. Intensity on the palate, with tropical fruits. Pineapple and Mango undercut with butterscotch and ginger. Vibrant and racy, silk sheets. Savoury biscuit finish.
Cool year. The slightly lighter yellow colour looks younger than in 2012—kerosene on the nose alongside truffles. Buttery texture, apricot and quince fruit. Ginger spice biscuits as it opens up in the glass. Great balance and elegance. A long-life ahead. My favourite of the wines tried.
Golden, almost Sauternes-like in colour. Subdued aromatics. An exciting honeyed palate. A little lighter in style, with quince and ginger, still fresh and vibrant. Truffle notes. Probably at the peak of its life.
Younger Adarmando is excellent with freshwater fish, Prosciutto or Fritto Misto. Also, cream soups and Risotto Primavera with asparagus and peas. Braised Celery from Delia is also a delicious pairing. However, I really enjoyed the 2013 and 2014 with Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Chicken and Tagliatelle, from her first book called How to Eat.
Older examples pair well with more complex dishes. The 2012 and 2010 seem to have an affinity for Truffles or denser white meats such as Turkey. Unusually for me, I found Scrambled Eggs covered in a pile of black truffle shavings near perfect. Old wines are perhaps best with cheeses like Pecorino di Norcia, especially those flavoured with truffles.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget the Umbrian olive oil!
Raeburn Fine Wines, Edinburgh. 2013, £17.99
Billings & Briggs, Bristol. 2014, £23.00
Uncorked, London. 2014, £24.95
The Good Wine Shop, London. 2014, £30.00
Vinterest, London. 2014, £31.00
Azienda Agricola Giampaolo Tabarrini
06036 Montefalco (PG)
Oh, and a Happy New Year to you all! Felice Anno Nuovo!