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July 31, 2020
A few weeks back, we were privileged to take part in a tasting with legendary wine co-operative Kellerei Cantina Terlan, who source grapes from growers dotted across Italy's Alto Adige region. We were sent six samples to taste, alongside an interactive meeting with the producers. What a treat! Before getting stuck in and talking about the wines, let's talk shop. Here's some background regarding the producer, the region and the wine styles they've developed and pioneered since their establishment.
Founded in 1893, Terlan have really stood the test of time, from modest beginnings, they are now a co-operative who work with 143 growers from across the Alto Adige region in Italy's North East. The region is seen as the gateway to the Mediterranean, being located just South of the Alps, and West of Slovenia. The region has a vibrant and diverse history, with strong Germanic and Balkan ties. This is reflected in the grape varieties that have flourished in the region. Terlan specialise in Weissburgunder (Pinot Bianco/Pinot Blanc), making a diverse range of different styles.
They merged with Cantina Kelleri Andriano, another of the region's oldest producers and co-ops in 2008. All wines are made by Terlan's expert wine making team, and the quality of Andriano's production has improved immeasurably since the partnership. The branding is still kept separate. The Andriano wine range offers exceptional value.
Whilst Pinot Bianco is the main focus of these two producers, many other varieties are also grown, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, and Muller Thurgau for whites. For reds, Lagrein is the core focus, but Pinot Noir, Schiava, and a tiny amount of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown.
Alto Adige, also known as Sudtirol is Italy's northernmost wine region and runs from just North of Lake Garda in the South, and ends close to the border with Austria in the North. Vineyards sit between 200-1000m above sea level, with optimum sites sitting at between 350 and 550m. It is protected from northerly winds and rain by the Alps and Dolomites, giving the region 300 days of sunshine on average every year.
It is a landlocked region. Continentality brings hot days and cooler evenings, which are accentuated by the cooling breezes generated from Lake Garda to the south, and the sea off to the east. These conditions are ideal for wine production.
Being nestled at high altitude amongst the mountains does mean that vineyards are prone to storm damage and late frosts, however. Extreme weather conditions are becoming more frequent, which has been attributed with climate change.
The region also has a range of soil types. Granitic outcrops and volcanic soils make up the Western slopes of the valley, whilst to the east, more calcareous, limestone-rich soils and glacial deposits are the main features. These benefit different grape varieties, and this is reflected in the diverse range of wines that Terlan and Andriano produce.
There's a focus on single varietals, and wine labels generally portray the grape variety, making them more easy to understand than most regions in Europe. Cantina Kellerei Terlan have always focussed on Pinot Bianco as the hallmark grape variety and few, if any producers make better. It seems to flourish in the calcareous soils at fairly high altitude, allowing the producer to create wines that boast astonishing longevity. They can also withstand long oak maturation which gives more texture and incredible complexity and richness.
The producers offer a range of cuvées from younger, fresher styles to seriously old, complex examples. They have an unbroken portfolio dating back to 1955, and many more going back to the founding year 1893! Wine maker Rudi Kofler claims that these older cuvées still possess remarkable freshness and balance. Their philosophy is to only release wines once they are ready for consumption, although admittedly, almost all of them will mature very nicely if stored away for a few years.
Sauvignon Blanc is predominantly only used in blends, and was introduced to the region in the 1920s. Terlan claim to have been the first to produce a varietal Sauvignon Blanc in the region, back in 1956.
Their blends are also renowned for their finesse and complexity, and have been another core focus for the producer since their establishment in 1893. Similar to Pinot Bianco, they have a range of cuvees with differing degrees of complexity and maturity. The three varieties that go in to their blends must contain a higher proportion of Pinot Bianco with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also used.
Wines that were tasted:
1. Kellerei Cantina Andrian 'Finado' Pinot Bianco 2019
Made from Pinot Bianco grapes sourced from across the region, it is vinified in stainless steel and matured for six months on the fine lees before being bottled.
The wine has complex aromas of orange, citrus zest and peach blossom, with a subtle saline edge. Maturation on fine lees has helped to integrate the acidity nicely on the palate, giving a rounded, slightly textured mouthfeel, and subtle savoury characters. The flavour profile is dominated by citrus and green apple with a mineral, salty twang which comes through strongly on the finish.
This is a wine that screams for Oysters or mussels in a creamy sauce, yummy!
2. Terlano Pinot Grigio 'Tradition' 2019
Made from hand-harvested Pinot Grigio grapes sourced from across the region, it is fermented slowly and rests on the fine lees in stainless steel for approx 6 months before bottling.
Slow fermentation preserves the more delicate varietal traits in the wine, giving delicate floral aromas overlaid by citrus and stone fruit. There's a slight smokiness to the wine on the palate with a more saline character that builds on the finish. It is light and delicate with well integrated acidity, and floral and citrus undertones.
For those wishing to explore what Pinot Grigio can do, this is a must-try. More complex and flavoursome than a lot of styles that are out there, but retaining its real drinkability and crowd-pleasing, summer-drinking qualities. This makes the perfect aperitif/summer drink.
3. Terlano 'Terlaner Cuvee ' 2019
The 'Terlaner Cuvee' 2019, a blend of 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. All grapes are hand-harvested and sourced from across the region. Wine is fermented slowly in stainless steel. 80% is then matured in stainless steel on the fine lees, and 20% is racked off and left to mature on the fine lees in large-format oak barrels.
The three grapes bring with them different traits. Slow fermentation has given rise to an intense aromatic profile that has the floral, herbaceous characters of Sauvignon Blanc, mixed with stony, salty minerality from the Pinot blanc and more citrus and crunchy apple from the Chardonnay.
It is a harmonious combination, which continues on the palate in much the same fashion, with a greater mineral focus, along with hints of riper stone fruits, and a touch of almond and smoke coming from the judicious use of oak.
This a real crowd pleaser of a wine. Complex yet delicate, with a flavour profile that will please most palates. The perfect aperitif. It will also accompany a broad range of dishes from fish and salads to poultry and lightly spiced foods.
4. Terlano 'Terlaner Nova Domus' Riserva 2016
Grapes are manually harvested from select vineyard plots across the region. Grapes are fermented separately and slowly in large format oak barrels. Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay go through malolactic fermentation, the Sauvignon Blanc does not. Wine is then matured for 12 months in large format oak, and a further year in bottle to achieve 'Riserva' status (2 years' maturation prior to release).
This is a wine that is heavily influenced by wine making practices. Aromas are complex, rich and savoury, but still have incredible vibrancy and varietal characteristics. At the fore is a smoky, saline character mixed with a buttery, biscuity richness, citrus, and stone fruit.
Rich and heady on the palate, with well integrated, but fresh, zippy acidity that really lifts and freshens the finish. The oak has given some subtle oxidative elements bringing marzipan, walnut and a sweet, smoky hint. The longer lees contact provides texture, along with a touch of brioche. The malolactic fermentation has brought a rich buttery undertone that runs the length of the wine and lifts nicely on the finish, leaving a fresh, vibrant and slightly bitter edge
This is a wine that will improve with time. Its complexity takes time to come through, being quite closed and tight initially. Decanting or leaving it to sit in the glass really helps to open it up. If you can, this would be worth keeping for at least 5 years and enjoying further down the road. This wine has a long way to go.
The wine's intensity and complexity means that it can easily stand up to richer, more textured foods. The wine maker even suggests a Fiorentina T-Bone steak or knuckle of veal. I can imagine this being a dream accompaniment to grilled Salmon or Tuna too.
5. Terlan 'Rarity' Pinot Bianco 2007
This wine follows what the winery describes as the 'Stocker method' for maturation. It is named after previous wine maker Sebastian Stocker, who wanted to focus on longer lees ageing and cellaring time.
Grapes are hand harvested from the finest plots and vinified in large oak barrels. They then mature for one year in oak, after which they are racked off into small stainless steel pressure tanks with the fine lees. The wine then spends the next 10-30-years maturing before being bottled and cellared for 4-5 years prior to release. Only 3,330 bottles of this wine are produced each year.
This is a mighty wine that has it all. It still shows incredible vitality and freshness on the nose, but with an unctuous, rich complexity coming from both oak/lees and bottle maturation. Dried citrus zest and flowers, stewed apple, caramel/toffee, walnut, toast, butter... you get the picture.
The palate is much the same, but with it comes a mouth-filling, unbelievably long and complex flavour explosion that exhibits miraculous youth and vibrancy for such an aged style. The flavour spectrum is similar to the aromas, the texture is wonderful; oily, slightly grippy and thoroughly mouth-coating. The wine just goes on, and on, and on.
I really did not want to move on to the final wine of the tasting. This is a wine to savour. Whilst being incredibly food friendly, I would want to savour and enjoy this as a stand alone. It has everything, and the finish should not be marred by other flavours.
Who knew Pinot Bianco could be quite so expressive!
6. Kellerei Cantina Andriano Lagrein 'Rubeno' 2019
Fermented in stainless steel and matured for 6 months in large format oak barrels. Unusual for red wine, it does not undergo malolactic fermentation.
Aromas are vibrant and fresh with violet, crunchy forest fruits, cherry, liquorice root, and menthol. On the palate, the wine exhibits a fresh acidity, lending balance to the wine's tannins and body, and preserving the vibrant fruit profile on the finish. The flavours are dominated by dark cherry, ripe, slightly jammy forest fruits, tannins are slightly grippy, but supple, and they're helped along by the acid backbone.
This is a good summery red that can be chilled down and drunk out in the sun with a good barbeque meal. It also offers a great introduction to this interesting, lesser-known Italian grape variety.
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