Trebbiano wines are often dismissed as unremarkable, yet they’re made from one of the hardest working wine grape varieties out there. The most popular, Trebbiano Toscano, is the third most-planted grape in Italy and ranks 10th overall in the world behind Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Also known as Ugni Blanc, it is the most planted white wine grape in France! So, despite the lackluster wine reviews, what is it about this grape that makes it so popular among winemakers?
Trebbiano actually refers to a broad group of white wine grape varieties originally from Italy. While not necessarily genetically related, these varieties share growth characteristics that make them very attractive to winegrowers. The vines are hearty and adaptable, growing well under under a variety of conditions and producing large bunches of late-ripening grapes.
Their robustness of growth and high yields have made them a mainstay, even though their wines are not the most prestigious. They tend to be rather neutral in flavor, so they’re most often blended or used for other applications.
In Italian and French Winemaking
If someone simply says Trebbiano, chances are they are referring to Trebbiano Toscano, the most common variety of these grapes. As the name implies, these come from Tuscany and are very commonly used in Italian white wines. Overall, they are are approved in about 85 different DOCs, plus a few (but not many) DOCGs. This puts them in about one third of Italian white wines. They also have seven of their own designations, including Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Aprilia, Trebbiano di Arborea, Trebbiano di Capriano del Colle, Trebbiano di Romagna, Trebbiano Val Trebbia dei Colli Piacentini, and Trebbiano di Soave.
There are many synonyms, as well, some of which are specific to home regions. These grapes go by Procanico in Umbria, for example, where they’re often found in the wines of Orvieto.
In France, where it is primarily known as Ugni Blanc, this variety is found mostly along the Provençal coast. Again, the lightness and crispness makes it most ideal in table wines and blended wines.
In Balsamic Vinegar and Cognac
Trebbianos are also critical for production of traditional balsamic vinegar. After harvest, boiling the grapes to a high sugar concentration (30%) readies them for fermentation and aging in wooden casks. As the years go by, the vinegar will become sweet, viscous, and intensely flavorful.
In France, these grapes (called St. Émilion) are important for production of Cognac and Armagnac. They’re perfect for these, since producers need grapes with low sugar, high acidity, and excellent disease resistance. Low sugar means lower alcohol levels in the initial wine step, which means they can be distilled a lot longer. This results in a more pure spirit that is higher in alcohol. Higher acidity protects it from spoiling during the process, as well. Because the grapes are resistant to disease, there’s also no need for the addition of sulfur. (Winemakers often use sulfur to protect wines from spoilage by bacteria, but would completely ruin brandy.)
Serving and Food Pairings
Although not the most flavorful of white wines, Trebbiano blends can be lovely on a hot summer’s day. Much like Dolcetto, their simplicity also makes them easy to drink and easy to pair. They tend to be crisp, fresh, and light-bodied, pairing well with classic antipasto platters.