Malcolm Jolley meets two young winemakers from Abruzzo.

Twin siblings Sara and Pier Tilli at their family’s winery. Source: Instagram.

The Consorzio Tutela Vini d’Abruzzo came to town this week as part of a North American tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC. Two dozen or so producers were on hand at the Terroni event space on Adelaide pouring Montepulciano, as well as the indigenous whites of the region, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Pecorino, and a few other varietals like Pinot Grigio. Prior to the grand tasting, eight of the producers participated in a seminar tasting on Montepulciano, where a number of older wines were poured, to show what happens to these big, oak treated wines after four or five years (they mellow out a bit, but they’re generally still pretty extracted and chewy). Out of the line-up of the seminar, one wine stood out: it was from a relatively recent vintage, 2016, leaned on the spectrum towards elegance and an energetic note of sour cherry followed by a deeper, Ribena finish. The wine was Azienda Tilli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Lupus 2016, and it piqued my curiosity.

On hand at the seminar was Sara Tilli, the export manager for her family’s vineyard and winery, Azienda Tilli. Sara was joined at the show by her twin brother and winemaker, Pier. The motto of the winery is Innovazione dalla Tradizione: Innovation from Tradition. That struck me too, since that’s what I think is so interesting about what’s happening in Italian wine, whether it’s in the established regions like Piedmont or Tuscany, or the emerging ones like Abruzzo, where people like the Tilli’s are blending their traditional farmways (organic) with modern winemaking. This approach bore through the other two Tilli wines I tasted at the show. The Tilli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Lupus 2017 was exciting and crisp with deep lemon fruit seasoned by a touch mint and macchia. It did that lovely trick of being light and bright, yet weighty on the palate. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, the region’s producers will be quick to tell you, is a different grape from the Trebbiano they grow further north in Tuscany and Umbria, and wines like the Tilli’s version make, in my opinion, the most exciting story on Abruzzo wines today. The other white I tried was, in keeping with the tradition of Abruzzo, the Tilli Terre di Chieti Pecorino IGT Concetto 2017. I guess Pecorino is not particular enough to Abruzzo to get a DOC, but no matter, this wine was also delicious and a different animal, despite similar vinification (steel tanks and that’s it). Where the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo was lean and mean, the Pecorino was round and voluptuous with pear notes and elder flower. I can imagine a meal that began with the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo with antipasti, turned to Pecorino for the primi, and settled on the Montepulciano on the secondi.

Sara Tilli jokes that her winery is young, alluding to her and her brother’s relative youth but really meaning that it was only established nine years ago. This belies the fact that the land itself has been farmed by the family for generations, and there is deep past to wine making in Abruzzo; the Roman poet Ovid referenced it. Still, nine years is nothing in the life of a winery, and it will be interesting to see where Tilli goes in the next years.

Agents take note, as of Monday, Tilli was not represented in Ontario: