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There may have been no greater cult figure in Italian wine than the late Edoardo Valentini, the mysterious producer of Italy’s greatest white, the mythic Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.
This extraordinary wine became legendary due to the intensity, complexity and ageworthiness reported by those lucky enough to have tasted it. And the legend was only fueled by its extreme rarity and Valentini’s reluctance to talk about how he made it.
What is known is that he ripped up the existing plantings of the characterless Trebbiano Toscano clone. He replaced it with an ancient local clone, Trebbiano d’Abruzzese, convinced it best conveyed the soul of his terroir. And he relied on venerable Roman winemaking methods to express this with startling clarity.
Furthermore, he didn’t make it every year. And when he did, he only bottled 5% of his fruit, selling off the rest for not meeting his perfectionist standards.
Edoardo passed away in 2006 after making this amazing wine for fifty vintages. But his son Francesco, schooled from an early age in his father’s singular ways, hasn’t missed a beat, fashioning epic Trebbianos since his first solo vintage in 2007.
In fact, they may be even better than before. Francesco has brought greater consistency and elegance to this profound wine, while sacrificing none of its transcendent character.
Whether made by Edoardo or Francesco, production of the Trebbiano has always been microscopic, making the wine almost impossible to source. Yet, its elusiveness is about to jump several-fold, due to a freak fall blizzard in 2013 which destroyed many of the old Trebbiano d’Abruzzese vines that produce it.
Out of reverence for tradition, Edoardo trained his vines in the classic tendone system, with a high canopy at right angles to the ground. But the family paid for that in November 2013, when a rare storm dumped massive amounts of snow on the canopies while they still had their leaves. In the best, most-exposed sites, many of the vine trunks were snapped in two.
Francesco is nearly as media-shy as his father was, but he did report to the Italian press that “half of the vines were damaged, unfortunately in the best zones ... precious vines that were at least half a century old.”
While Francesco hasn’t disclosed how many vines were lost, the impact on his already tiny production is sure to be profound; with the losses from the blizzard there will be even less wine, likely leading to higher prices and even greater scarcity.
With so much focus on the extraordinary Trebbiano, it can be easy to overlook the fact that Valentini has also been making the greatest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for just as long, as well as a transcendent Cerasuolo rosato, also from Montepulciano grapes.
But Francesco, as famously selective as his father, has only bottled the Montepulciano rosso twice in the past decade. Other vintages have been sold off in bulk to local restaurants to use as house wine, making it even less frequently seen than the rare Trebbiano.
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