In September 2013, I was very fortunate to secure a spot on the first official visit of the Institute of Masters of Wine to the Sudtirol, or Alto Adige. The Alto Adige is a semi autonomous region in northern Italy, bordering Switzerland and Austria, and this alpine territory boasts some unique and special wines, including two rather unique red varieties as well as some of the headiest Gewurztraminers in the world.
There are several theories as to the origin of Gewurztraminer, generally they all trace back to northeast France or southwest Germany, but the name in part invokes the town of Tramin in the heart of Alto Adige wine country and we visited that pretty little town on one September morning, where I was able to stand in the middle of an experimental Gewurztraminer vineyard (over a dozen different clones of the variety, each row a different clone), just a few steps from the church bell tower, which started chiming while I walked around the vineyard.
One of the other places we visited, albeit only briefly for a meal, was the beautiful winery of Cantina Terlano. During the few days in Sudtirol we did get to taste several wines from the company, including a sensational Chardonnay that had spent nearly eighteen years on lees prior to bottling.
Alto Adige is not only a beautiful part of Italy, it also produces some of the world’s most unique wines.
It was such a pleasure then to find out that upmarket distributor Macvine has imported several Terlano wines, and they are all, in their own way, worth checking out:
Cantina Terlan ‘Tradition’ Pinot Grigio 2016 $38
This has a fabulous nose, rich and generous, as many people claim Pinot Gris to be, but genuinely this shows stonefruit characters, an earthy, secondary component, even a whiff of yeast lees. In the moth, the wine is creamy and spicy, with great phenolic persistance. A star.
Cantina Terlan ‘Tradition’ Chardonnay 2016 $35
A savoury, nutty, low oak (or no oak) version of Chardonnay which is all about the texture and not about the fruit. Medium weight, but creamy and lush, a wine to enjoy on its own, or with antipasto.
Cantina Terlan ‘ Tradition’ Gewurztraminer 2016 $38
A tight, restrained, delicately flavoured wine, which boasts lychee and stonefruit characters, but otherwise is relatively pure and fresh. The texture is supple – the phenolics here more restrained than you would get on some local versions (i.e. NZ), just off dry, though there is a generous kick of alcohol on the back palate (at 14.5% this is ‘mid range’ for a Sudtirol Gewurz, nothing remarkable there.) Classy, focussed example of this variety, quite different in style (to NZ etc etc etc.)
Cantina Terlan ‘Selection’ Nova Domus Riserva 2014 $85
Macvine’s exuberant owner Michael Jemison challenged me to unpick the varieties in this wine – and I got pretty close, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and something aromatic and unusual, said I. That third variety is Sauvignon Blanc and this is a very special drop. Gorgeous aromatics, I got sea salt, a minerally undertone, plus that herbal lift from the Sauvignon. The palate is juicy and creamy, lots of things going on here, and a fresh finish to keep it all together. Impressive.
Cantina Terlan ‘ Tradition’ Lagrein 2016 $35
The reds of the Alto Adige are really interesting.
The area produces fabulous Pinot Noir, but also two local varieties, Lagrein and Schiava, provide fascinating flavours that suit the cuisine and the lifestyle. I really enjoy Schiava – and it would be nice to see a few more in this country – but for now we have to be content with Lagrein, which is the Merlot or Cab Sauv of that part of the world. Lagrein has been enlisted to do everything, from rose, to entry level red, right up to the oaked, ageworthy, vin de garde styles. There was a mania for Lagrein in Australian some years ago, but then people stopped planting it and we stopped seeing the wines being promoted.
This one has that typical sweet and sour nose of Lagrein, currants combined with a green, herbal edge, there is even a salty, smoky element here. To taste, the wine is plummy and savoury, a nice, clean, uncomplicated ready to drink version, yet still with enough power to handle that red meat course. Very varietal – really good intro to this variety.