A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Teroldego - Trentino and Tuscany, Italy

I'm going to confess something: I'm kind of a geek.  I guess anyone who has read more than one of my posts probably could have figured that out, but I'm just going to come right out and say it here.  Part of why I love writing this website is that it gives me an outlet for the kind of geekery that I can't really let fly in my everyday life.  I love doing the research and learning about the minutiae of these unusual grapes.  I love exploring the nooks and crannies of the wine world to try and find hidden treasures and cool stories.  Today, for example, I was doing a little bit of background reading to get ready to post about Teroldego when I stumbled across an article in the journal Heredity called "Geneaology of Wine Grape Cultivars" (full citation: Vouillamoz, J., & Grando, M. (2006). Genealogy of wine grape cultivars: ‘Pinot’ is related to ‘Syrah’. Heredity, 97(2), 102-110).  I know, this dry, academic reading is what most people use to get through a particularly vicious attack of insomnia, but I love this stuff.  My day job is also at a big time research university, so I have full access to a lot of these journals.  Anyway, I started to read this article and it's talking about how for many years, scientists would look at the leaf shape of different grape varieties to try to determine the relation between different cultivars.  Needless to say, this was a very inexact science.  Recent progress in the field of genetics has allowed scientists to use genetic markers to identify parentage and sibling relationships between all these different grapes with much greater accuracy and with many interesting surprises (I'll spare you the excruciating details, but the method is similar to the method that forensic scientists use on DNA samples at crime scenes).  So I'm reading through this article and then looking through the references and picking up new articles and I look up and I've got 5 articles printed out in front of me and I figure it's probably time to stop and get to the matter at hand.

So, Teroldego, then.  It appears that there may be a sibling relationship between Teroldego and the Pinot family and there is likely a parent/offspring relationship between Teroldego and Lagrein and Marzemino (**UPDATE** Teroldego is definitely one parent of Lagrein, while the other is Schiava Gentile, according to: Cipriani, G. et al.  The SSR-based molecular profile of 1005 grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) accessions uncovers new synonymy and parentages, and reveals a large admixture amongst varieties of different geographic origin.  2010.  Theoretical and Applied Genetics.  121: 1569-1585.).  It also turns out that Teroldego is a full sibling (meaning it has the same two parent vines) to a grape called Dureza, which is one of the parent grapes of Syrah.  This is interesting in light of a comment from Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in California which is quoted in Oz Clarke's Grapes and Wines.  Clarke has Clarendon saying that California should have planted Teroldego rather than Merlot and Barbera and, furthermore, it is his belief that if Teroldego were planted on the slopes of Crozes-Hermitage rather than Syrah then the wine there would be greatly improved. Bold talk indeed.  Au Bon Climat is primarily a Pinot Noir producer and their terroir isn't necessarily conducive to the Teroldego grape, but I believe that they do have a little Teroldego under vine (according to Eric Asimov of the NYT), though I don't know if they actually bottle and sell any of it (there is no mention on their website).  It is possible in California to blend up to 25% of other grape varietals into a single-varietal bottling in California without mentioning it on the label, so its possible that they could use those grapes for that purpose.  Some California producers are notorious for adding high color wines like Syrah to their Pinot bottlings for added color and depth so it wouldn't necessarily surprise me, but I'm certainly not going to accuse the winemaker of doing that based on a hunch and some anecdotal evidence.

Teroldego's home is Trentino in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy.  We've spent a little time in the Alto Adige visiting with Schiava.  Trentino is the southerly portion of this region where the Germanic/Austrian influence isn't quite as pronounced.  There are references to Teroldego from Trentino mentioned as far back as the 15th Century. The grape is well suited to warm weather, which may seem a little odd for northern Italy, but they have some areas in the valleys and river basins where the grape can get all the sun and warmth that it needs.  It is a thin-skinned variety that produces a deeply colored wine, somehow.  There are competing theories about the origin of the name of the grape.  I've read that a court in Vienna once called the wine "The Gold of the Tyrol," and somehow that ended up as "Teroldego."  I've also read that it has more to do with the wire harnesses, or "tirelles" used to trellis the vine.  Matt Kramer, in his Making Sense of Italian Wine contends that that the name derives from the Gernman word teer which means "tar," a flavor which Teroldego can sometimes take on.  Take your pick, I guess.

The first wine that I was able to try was the 2005 Teroldego Rotalino (the official DOC name of the region in Trentino where most Teroldego is grown, named for the gravelley river bottom plain called Campo Rotalino near the Adige river) Riserva from Mezzacorona.  I was able to pick this up from my friends at Bin Ends for about $20.  In the glass, the wine was a dense purple ruby color nearly all the way to the rim.  The nose was full of smoky black cherry and black plum with some blackberry and blueberry.  On the palate, the wine was close to full bodied with fairly high acid and very little tannin.  The grape can be tannic in its youth, but at 6 years out, most of that seemed to be pretty well integrated.  There were flavors of black plum, smoky earth, tart cherries and stewed blackberries.  The wine was much fruitier and exciting on the nose than on the palate.  The finish is kind of abrupt as the fruit really falls off rather than fade away.  People have mixed feelings about the age-ability of Teroldego, and after this bottle, I can understand the misgivings. 

Talk to people familiar with the grape and they'll tell you that Teroldego grows in Trentino and nowhere else; in fact, Bastianich and Lynch (in their Vino Italiano) quote Elisabetta Foradori, one of the leading producers of Teroldego in Trentino as saying "you can't find it anywhere in the world."  Well, somebody forgot to tell Poggio al Casone.  This estate grows Teroldego and bottles it under their "La Cattura" label with a little bit of Syrah added to it (the bottle I had was 90% Teroldego and 10% Syrah, but their website currently lists the blend as 85/15).  I picked my bottle up from the Gypsy Kitchen for about $16.  The wine was a deep purple ruby color in the glass and had aromas of black cherry and black plum with a bit of stewed black fruit and a smoky, meaty kind of aroma that I'm guessing may be from the touch of Syrah.  On the palate the wine was close to full bodied with medium acidity and soft, well-integrated tannins.  There was lush black cherry and plum fruit flavors grounded with some savory earthy notes and a nice long, evolving finish.  This wine was the better of the two and really shows what Teroldego is capable of.  It's very similar in style to a northern Rhone wine for a fraction of the cost of what many of those bottlings would run you.


johnnywino said...

Greetings from Australia,
I've just been reading your article about the Trentino Teroldego which I found quite interesting. My wife and I are off to Italy next week for 5 weeks (from South Tuscany up to the Lakes) and I am currently reading about this wine in Vino Italiano which I, as a real novice in Italian wines, am finding very interesting. We want to try the various wines from the different areas we visit and surrounding provinces. We both prefer the bigger reds, with some finesse as well so will make a point of searching one of these out. Thanks for that and I will check out some of your other notes for Italian wines asap.

Steve Shaffer said...

Thanks for the nice write up. This is truly a special grape and makes a wonderful wine. If you're out in the SF Bay area stop in and try our Teroldego (100%) (The fruit is from Clarksburg).
Urban Legend Cellars
621 4th. St.
Oakland, CA 94607