Passion and Authenticity in Abruzzo: A Conversation with Cristiana Tiberio of Az. Agr. Tiberio(#ItalianFWT)


I can’t recall when I first tried one of Tiberio’s wines, but last year they seemed to keep crossing my path. I then had the chance to meet winemaker Cristiana Tiberio when she came to pour at Bâtonnage Forum last year, and where I took the picture above. It also gave me the chance to taste through the full line up of her wines, which impressed me with their elegance and freshness.

My friend Maura, with whom I collaborate on Della Donna, had the chance to visit and taste with Cristiana at her winery in Abruzzo and spoke glowingly about the experience. All of this inspired me to want to get to know the wines and the woman behind them better.

The Tiberio line-up, photo by Maura Passanisi.
The Tiberio landscape, photo taken by Maura.

In that spirit, I recently reached out to Cristiana and she kindly answered questions regarding the family estate, her background, winemaking style and more. I’m so excited to share our conversation with you today. I also asked for her recommendations for pairing her delicious Pecorino, which I used in creating a Saffron Chickpea Stew with Cod and Shrimp. I’ll be sharing that recipe in my next post. 

We’ll get to the interview in just one moment, but here’s just a little bit of background first. Azienda Agricola Tiberio is located in Abruzzo in central Italy, a mountainous region along the Adriatic Sea. If you drive east from Rome, you hit Abruzzo.
Map courtesy of

Tiberio is located near the medieval town of Cugnoli, not far as the crow flies from the seaside city Pescara.  (I invite you to check out this post for more background on Abruzzo.)

Riccardo Tiberio, Cristiana’s father, had been an export manager for a cantina in the region. He eventually found a plot of 60-year old Trebbiano Abruzzese vines and purchased it in 2000. He released his first wine in 2004, then turned over the reins to his kids in 2008 with Cristiana as the winemaker. 

Cristiana trained all over the world with a seriously impressive list of winemakers including Jacques Selosse in Champagne, Nicolas Joly at Coulee de Serrant, Egon Muller in the Mosel, with various producers in Chablis, and in Australia’s Clare Valley. 

Without further ado let’s get into our conversation. I can’t think of a better way of kicking off Women’s History Month! 

Cristiana with her Abruzzese Shepherds Quarmari. Photo courtesy of Cristiana.Photo courtesy of Crisitiana Tiberio.

It seems like Tiberio is very much a family affair. You and your brother, Antonio, took over from your father, Riccardo, and now you are the winemaker and he is the viticulturist. Can you describe how you collaborate to create the types of wine you like to make?

My brother Antonio and I share the same point of view and philosophy and we work side by side sharing and exchanging information, ideas, and insights, about the characteristics of the vineyard, the vines, soils, weather, grape, indigenous yeasts, lees and wines all year long.

It’s very important to have this connection even if the roles are distinct and anyone on the team most of the time concentrates on his own field.

Your father, Riccardo, saw something very special in the vineyards he ultimately decided to purchase. What drew him in? What do you find makes your spot so unique?

The grape varieties that grew here made our day and changed our lives.

Cugnoli is an amazing town and a beautiful territory, with an exceptional terroir, but the single most important aspect was the discovery of authentic, old Trebbiano Abruzzese vines. This rare, unique, ancient variety is, despite its name, much less common in Abruzzo than believed. This is because it was phased out over the years in favor of other varieties that had thicker skins and produced more wine. Trebbiano Abruzzese has smaller berries than Trebbiano Toscano, and is less disease-resistant, and so logically enough, the poor farmers of centuries past who needed to make a living preferred to grow that Trebbiano variety instead. 

It was also long confused with other similar looking varieties such as Bombino Bianco and Mostosa, and so it was inadvertently replaced in the vineyard when new plantings were undertaken. But it's a variety that gives great white wines, and so it was a risk that deserved taking; therefore, my father decided to purchase the abandoned vineyard and to try to rescue and revive it. The vineyard is even more unique because of the specific Trebbiano Abruzzese biotype we found there and that we started to take care of.

Photo courtesy of Crisitiana Tiberio.

You were trained in chemistry and I read that you taught college-level winemaking chemistry and sommelier classes. Did you always intend to use your chemistry training for winemaking. How does that background inform your winemaking? 

Though I enjoyed teaching wine enthusiasts a few lectures a year about wine biochemistry, I stopped teaching years ago because my occupation involves me full-time. 

But it's a very useful part of my background. When you are a chemist you never stop to be and to think as a chemist. This is an important aspect which actually has nothing to do with the general idea that people have of chemistry and chemists in general. Biochemistry is a pure science and it trained me to observe the environment, to understand the phenomena and reactions that occur within it and to study how are they are all connected. The pure chemist doesn’t violate or interfere with the environment; that is a wrong application of the science that only creates problems.

Biochemistry helped me develop a scientific, logical mind, and to think outside of the wine box. For example, we work with indigenous yeasts and my biochemistry background helps me to better understand the work and the reactions of these microorganisms and how they interact with their habitat and ultimately my wine's terroir (and the cellar is part of my terroir). Everything in nature is connected, including the lunar phases, the rainfall, the climate, the soil, the microorganisms that live there and so forth. And all these aspects are governed by biochemical reactions; life is nothing more than one big ongoing biochemical reaction.

My understanding is that at one point your family had international varieties planted in the vineyards, and ultimately you and Antonio decided to replant these varieties, which are often quite profitable, with more Pecorino and Trebbiano Abruzzese. You now concentrate on only native varieties. What was behind the decision? What do you think the vineyards have to express about these grapes in particular?

For us it’s crucial to respect the identity of our terroir, our identity, our land, our centuries of history, are strongly linked to the native grapes. For me, the word native means something that belongs to my estate, to my land, and not something I’m allowed to plant just because the generic area appellation guidelines permit it, even though those other grapes might be better known and give people the impression of being more profitable. Chardonnay and Merlot might be so in the short term, but in the long run it is a mistake to try and grow something that was never at home here to begin with.

In fact, when I say that, I am not referring just to the well-known international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon. For example, in Abruzzo we have other native grapes that we as an estate don’t work with, not because I don’t like those grapes, but because they are not native to my specific area and my estate. Cococciola might prove one day to be a good wine grape, but  it is more typical of the Chieti province and was never much grown in the Cugnoli territory; so I prefer not to work with it. 

We work with grapevines we rediscovered in our vineyards and that gave us the chance to work with the original mother biotypes that deliver the very specific, authentic and traditional aromas and flavors of the variety.

(For context, Cugnoli and Chieti are about a 30 minutes drive apart. That’s the type of specificity we’re talking about.)

Photo courtesy of Crisitiana Tiberio.

Your vineyards are all planted with massal selection vines only. Why is this important and how does it affect the character of the wines?

(Massal selection – or selection massale – is a technique through which old vines are replaced when necessary with new vines grown from cuttings from the best older vines in the same or nearby vineyard. This is as opposed to purchasing cloned vines from a nursery, for example.) 

The massal selections are the result of the historical vines that were planted in the area and that adapted over the centuries to our soil and climate creating specific local biotypes in the process. These biotypes are the most important patrimony of our estate, they are able to express unique and distinctive aromas and flavours of the variety in our terroir

How would you describe the style of your wines? Personally, I’ve always found a real delicacy to them. For those who are familiar with Montepulciano, for example, one might expect a big, burly wine, which is very different from the bottlings of yours that I’ve had the pleasure to try. Are you trying to show a different side of this grape, as well as the other grapes you work with?

I’m not trying to express a different side. I’m very respectful, or try to be, of the natural result of the grapes growing in my terroir. We are very focused in maintaining balance in the vineyard, the balance of the growth and habitat of the roots and leaves, and the balance in the wines. (We don’t do forceful extractions, for example. In fact, we even don’t press the grapes and just work with free-run juice). The resulting wines are very elegant and refined thanks also to our relatively cool climate environment with long growing seasons where we usually don’t have super huge concentration but balance in the fruit.


I’ll be featuring a bottle of your Pecorino. This is a grape many Americans might not be very familiar with. I believe you have some of the oldest Pecorino (as well as Trebbiano Abruzzese) vines in your region. How would you describe the character of this grape? What should customers look for or expect from a bottle?

Though Pecorino wine can be thought of as bigger-bodied Sauvignon Blanc wine, it is a very Mediterranean wine. I love its energy, with beautiful depth balanced by the minerality.
An authentic Pecorino has herbal flavours of sage, thyme, rosemary, and always a little zest of lemon. Consumers can expect to taste a wine that is not super aromatic, but complex, with a full body, but very easy to drink and food-flexible.

I’m all about wine’s role at the table. What are some of your favorite pairings for your wines?

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo with Brodetto. Brodetto is the Adriatic seafood soup with tomato, sweet pepper, chili pepper, shellfish, very tasty with a lot of flavours, and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo so juicy, fruity, with vibrant light tannins, can amazingly match the complexity, salinity and tastiness of this dish. 

Sound delicious! I definitely will have to try this the next time I get my hands on a bottle of your Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo!
Is there anything else you’d like drinkers to consider or think about when enjoying a bottle of your wines?

Any bottle of wine is like a cathedral of their own land. It’s the symbol and expression of tradition, culture, climate, and history of the place where it comes from. 

That’s beautiful! I really love this way of thinking about a bottle.
For those who might want to get to know your region in real life, do you have recommendations for travelers interested in coming to Abruzzo in the future? 

Abruzzo is an amazingly beautiful region, but it's unfortunately still little-known. It’s not by accident that it is called the green region of Europe: we have 3 national parks, one regional park, and 38 natural oasis. These protected areas make up 30% of the entire region. We are only one of two regions, maybe three, in Italy to have bears (and ours is a local native breed of brown bear called orso mariscano), wolves, foxes, trout, eagles, hawks and many many more animals in the countryside. Abruzzo is fantastic to visit in any season, for its skiing in winter, hiking, and beaches.

The landscape of Abruzzo. Photo courtesy of Cristiana Tiberio.

That sounds magical. I hope I have the chance to travel there in the future. 
In the meantime though, how can people find you and try your wines?

To find our wines in USA you can contact our importer

For more information, also check out Tiberio's website.

Stay tuned for the pairing to match the Tiberio Pecorino.

Photo courtesy of Cristiana Tiberio


The rest of the Italian Food, Wine, Travel Blogging group will be celebrating Women Winemakers this month. If you happen to see this post early enough, join our Twitter chat by following #ItalianFWT. We congregate online at 8 am PT/11 am ET. Check out Pinny's invitation post at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings.

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  1. It's great Crisitiana Tiberio is able to inherit the quality vineyards and continues the native grapes path. Cant wait to read the Pecorino pairing post.

  2. Nicole, I loved this post! I loved the interview style you did, and seriously, Cristiana is always more than happy to talk about her wine and Abruzzo! I always use her Pecorino as "benchmark" pecorino - it truly is one of the best in the market and "varietally correct"! Definitely go visit her if you have the chance!

    1. Thanks Marcia! I absolutely will go visit her given the chance. She was traveling during our email exchanges, and was still kind enough to answer all my questions and send beautiful pictures.

  3. Love the way Cristina describes Pecorino, I'm quite fond of this grape, will see if I can order it and a few others from Tiberio. Nice interview Nicole ;-D

  4. What a memorable quote: "Any bottle of wine is like a cathedral of their own land. It’s the symbol and expression of tradition, culture, climate, and history of the place where it comes from." Love, love, love Pecorino, so will need to look for her wine!

  5. What.magnificent phrase: "Any bottle of wine is like a cathedral of their own land. It’s the symbol and expression of tradition, culture, climate, and history of the place where it comes from. " From now on I' ll view drinking wine on a totally different perspective. Great interview, Congratulations!


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!