It is not every day that you get to sit down and taste a retrospective vertical of wines going back almost 50 years, which also includes a wine from your birth year. But I had the privilege and pleasure to do that at TexSom with Cantina Terlano from Alto Adige.
And to top it off, this retrospective vertical tasting was of Pinot Blanco, a white wine. Yes, white wines with age.
Terlano is a winery, an appellation and the name of an historic blend, explained Klaus Gasser, sales and marketing director of Cantina Terlano, who has been with the company since 1994.
Terlano is a small village located between Merlano and Bolzano in the northernmost point of Italy, close to the Austrian border. In the middle of the Alps, only 50 kilometers from the Dolomites, Terlano is surrounded by mountains.
Cantina Terlano is a cooperative founded in 1893. Seventy percent of their production is white wines and 30 percent is red wines. Terlano is protected from the cold northern winds by the Alpine peaks, and warm winds travel from Lake Garda, through Veneto and into the valley.
Terlano sees 300 days of sun per year, with significant day-night temperature swings. After the sun sets, the cool air presses down, refreshing the area. The resulting dry white wines of this area have good, but not particularly high, acidity and have long aging potential.
The vineyards of Terlano sit at elevations between 260 and 900 meters above sea level. The soils of Terlano were born of fire, resulting in volcanic rocks with fine-grained quartz minerals. The vineyards are managed using no herbicides or chemical fertilizer and focus on sustainable production.
At Cantina Terlano, they “let the wine grow”, Gasser explained. “The keyword in our cellars is time.” The wine is given the time it needs to mature to perfection, whether that be for years or for decades. Terlano has a long tradition of producing long-living wines, which Gasser attributes to a combination of the high mineral content of the soils, the old vines growing in complete harmony, carefully managed vineyards with low yields per vine and the rigorous selection of healthy and fully mature grapes.
While Terlano produces traditional white wines vinified in stainless steel and red wines vinified in big oak casks, Terlano has a number of unique wines, including some older bottles dating back to 1893, the founding of the winery.
The Selection wines come from carefully selected grapes from the best vineyards. Terlano first crafted this wine in 1990. It is a blend of 60 percent Pinot Bianco, 30 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in rich wines with a high degree of complexity, elegance and longevity.
First produced in 1979, Rarities is made under the unique Stocker method of winemaking. The Stocker method was created by former winemaker Sebastien Stocker, who followed the French model and let the wines rest longer on the lees. Made in outstanding vintages, the wine can be made from Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cuvee Terlano (a minimum of 80 percent Pinot Bianco from 50-year-old vines with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc).
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The Rarities wines spend a year maturing in wooden barrels and are then transferred to small steel tanks where they rest on the lees for anywhere between ten and forty years.
Currently, Cantina Terlano has 16 vintages of Rarities dating back to 1979, which includes Chardonnay (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003), Pinot Bianco (1979, 1983, 1996, 2002, 2004), Sauvignon Blanc (1992) and Terlaner (1991).
I Grande Cuvee
A super-selection from three vineyards (Voberg, Kreuth and Winkl), the I Grand Cuvee is made with the Terlano blend. This combination of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc was created in 1893.
The retrospective vertical tasting I participated in included wines from The Selection, The Rarities and I Grande Cuvee:
2015 I Grande Cuvee (14.5% alc, 5.9 g/l acidity) After a slow fermentation in oak casks, followed by malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees for 12 months in big wooden barrels, the blending took place in April 2016. The wine, a brilliant straw yellow color, is rich with notes of apple, citrus and white pepper and has a long minerally finish.
2002 Pinot Bianco “Rarity” (13.5% alc, 5.5 g/l) After a slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks with partial malolactic fermentation (50%), the wine was aged on the lees in big wooded barrels for 12 months. Further aging on the lees took place in steel pressure tanks without filtering or fining for at least ten years. The light straw yellow wine has aromas of lemon, chamomile and flint. On the palate, the wine is crisp with high acidity, a creamy mid-palate and a mouthwatering long finish.
1996 Terlano “Nova Domus” Riserva (13% alc) Part of The Selections, this wine was fermented entirely in barrique casks and then matured and aged for 12 months on fine yeast. The blend of 60 percent Pinot Bianco, 30 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc was blended in August 1997 and bottled in January 1998. A straw yellow color, this wine has bright citrus notes and good acidity. With more than 20 years of age, this wine has lots of energy.
1991 Terlano “Rarity” (13% alc, 5.9 g/l) After fermentation, this wine spent ten months on the full lees in a 2500-liter barrel for one year. It was then matured on the fine lees in a steel tank for another 24 years and bottled in January 2016. That means the wine spent 25 years with lees contact. Coming from a cold vintage, the wine has very high acidity and notes of dried flowers and almonds. This wine is elegant and structured with a minerally finish. It is a wine that needs a few more years of bottle age, or perhaps even another 20!
1986 Terlano Pinot Bianco: Bottled in 1987, this wine has notes of dried apricot, almond and mineral. On the palate, the wine is a medium bodied with a long finish.
1983 Terlano Pinot Bianco (12.4% alc, 4.4 g/L) After a slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in big 30hl oak barrels, the wine went through malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees in traditional wooden barrels for 9 months. The wine still has some citrus notes but has picked up more autolytic aromas.
1971 Terlano Pinot Biano (12.8% alc, 5.9 g/L) The 1971 also went through a slow fermentation at a controlled temperature in big oak barrels, followed by malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees in traditional wooden barrels. For a wine that is 48 years old, it is still persistent. The nose reminded me of an aged Champagne, nutty and yeasty, but the wine still had good acidity.
All great wines need time and aging and the wines of Cantina Terlano are great wines. It was pretty extraordinary to taste these wines, especially the older ones. And one of the older ones was the same vintage as my birth year, but did you think I would give that away? All I know is that I am holding up as well as these wines have with many years left to continue aging.