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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Terrano - Carso, Friuli, Italy

In the very early days of this blog, I went through a few of the wine books that I had and tried to put together a grape "wish list."  The first list had about two dozen grapes on it and I sent it around to a few of the wines shops that I frequented to see if they had any of them in stock or to see if they could possibly order some of them for me.  The Terrano grape was on that list, and I'm happy to say that not only were my wine shop friends able to help me track that particular grape down, but also every other grape that I could come up with at that time.  I don't really keep a list any more these days (though I do have a kind of unofficial list in my head of things that I'm always on the lookout for) but I do still hang on to that first one so I can see just how much ground we've covered here in only a few years time.

Which brings us to today's grape, Terrano.  Terrano has been around for a very long time, with the first mention of it actually coming all the way back in 1340 AD.  These old references mention both a white and a red-berried Terrano, but the white-berried form seems to have been lost to history.  The very earliest mentions of Terrano in print are to plantings in modern day Slovenia, where it is currently known as Refošk.  Slovenia is the world leader for plantings of Terrano with a couple thousand hectares under vine around the city of Trieste, which is actually  in the region of Friuli in Italy, but it's in that weird little finger of Italy in the extreme northeast that is practically surrounded by the nation of Slovenia (see map).  Most Slovenian plantings are just north and south of the city of Trieste, and many of the Italian plantings can be found around Trieste as well (there were only about 200 hectares of Terrano in Italy as of 2000).  If you go south from Trieste and through the narrow band of Slovenia into the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, you will find more plantings of Terrano, as Croatia has nearly 500 hectares of Terrano (known here as Teran) under vine.

 There is a particular kind of soil called Terra Rossa, or "red earth," in this little corner of the world and it is said that Terrano reaches its greatest heights only when grown on this terra rossa soil.  When dirt turns red, it is usually because of high iron content, and according to Wikipedia, wines made from Terrano are unusually high in iron.  Wikipedia's source is a link to this page, which says that Terrano's unique flavor is actually due to the iron (bivalent iron, whatever that means) reacting to lactic acid in the finished wine, and, further, that wines made from Terrano tend to deteriorate quickly because the iron levels drop rapidly within a year or two of fermentation and this special chemical bond dissipates.  There are no sources cited and I haven't found any evidence elsewhere to support these claims, so caveat emptor etc (though if commenter WineKnurd is reading, I'd be very interested to hear his take in the comments below).

Terrano belongs to something called the Refoschi Family, whose name is a bit misleading since many of the grapes in this family aren't actually related to one another.  Like the word Trebbiano or Malvasia, over the years the word Refosco has been used to describe a number of different grape varieties grown in and around this little area where Italy, Slovenia and Croatia meet.  The most common Refosco grape is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, which we covered here some time ago.  There is also Refosco di Faedis, Refosco d'Istria (which is the same as Terrano), Refosco di Guarnieri, Refosco del Botton (which is the same as Tazzalenghe) and Refosco Gentile.  Of these grapes, only Refosco del Botton, Refosco Gentile and Refosco di Faedis seem to have any genetic relationship to one another (the former two seem to have a parent-offspring relationship with the third).  While the others do share many ampelographic traits, to the extent that Terrano and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso were long thought to be the same variety, the DNA evidence seems to show that they are actually distinct varieties*.  Interestingly, the grape known as Cagnina in Emilia-Romagna (where it is made into sweet red wines) is the same grape as Terrano, and this is one of the very few places outside of Friuli/Slovenia/Croatia where this grape can be found.

I was able to try two different wines made from the Terrano grape.  The first was the 2009 Tenuta Amalia "Mamertino," which I picked up from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for around $12.  I don't know very much about this wine since the bottle just says "Product of Italy" and "Italian Frizzante Red Wine."  The importer's website says it is 100% Terrano, but I have no idea where the grapes are from.  The back labeling almost seemed to be saying that the grapes come from Italy, but the wine itself may be made, or at least bottled, here in the US.  In any case, the wine was a medium purple ruby color in the glass.  The nose was reserved with aromas of black cherry, blackberry and grape soda.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  It was also sweet with just a touch of fizziness to it.  There were flavors of grape Kool-aid, black cherry and grape soda.  The finish was astoundingly short and really tasted more like soda or juice than wine.  I don't really know what this is or what it's supposed to be, but I don't think I'm a fan of it.

I figured there had to be more to Terrano than this, so when I found a bottle of the 2011 Catelvecchio Terrano from the Carso region of Friuli, I snapped it up ($20 from Vintages in Concord, MA).  As I mentioned above, I had read that Terrano-based wines are really not meant for ageing, so I figured I'd give a newer vintage a shot.  In the glass the wine was an inky purple black color with a bright purple rim.  The nose was moderately intense with aromas of smoke, sour cherry, cranberry, wet leather, blackberry and black cherry.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with very high acidity and medium tannins.  It was sour with flavors of tart cherry, cranberry, under-ripe blackberry and leather.  It was bright and zippy, but also almost painfully sour to drink and really demanded some high acid, tomato-saucy kind of food.  It was miles better than the Mamertino, but still wasn't something that I think I'll find myself reaching for very often.

*This is according to Jose Vouillamoz's private research reported in Wine Grapes, which you can read all about here to decide how big a grain of salt is required.

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