Hello friends. I’ve been collecting the wines of Cantina Terlano, in Italy’s northern Alto Adige region, for at least five years, and I’ve been chasing a Full Pull offer for at least that long. Why? I’ll let the maestro of Italian wine, Antonio Galloni, introduce the winery (from his introduction to the estate for Vinous in 2013):
What is left to say about Terlano? That it is a world-class estate? Too obvious. That the wines have enormous personality? Of course. That the range is full of great values? Evident. During a recent visit I also tasted a number of older wines, culminating with the extraordinary trio of the 1959 and 1955 Pinot Bianco Vorberg followed by the 1969 Terlaner, which is and will probably remain the single greatest Italian white wine I have ever tasted. Numbers are superfluous. While those older wines are virtually impossible to find, readers will have better luck with the late-release Rarita series, which are generally aged one year in cask and as much as ten additional years in tank prior to being bottled. A few weeks ago I shared a bottle of Terlano’s 1955 Pinot Bianco with a group of collectors at a charity dinner. Not just any collectors. I mean the type of winelovers who regularly open bottles most of us dream of tasting once in a lifetime. They were blown away. None of them had ever tasted a white that old, much less an Italian white with serious bottle age. This is Terlano. One of the few wineries in the world capable of making not just great wines, but emotional wines.
The reason we’ve been chasing – not offering – Terlano wines has been all about supply. These wines aren’t imported into the United States in any great quantity; even less so to the Deep Space Nine outpost that is the PacNW. But then our successful Gruner Party offer from April set a blueprint for how to make this work. Expand the number of wines offered (just like with the Gruner party, it’s four wines), which offsets the limited quantities available.
You may recall from that Gruner offer this note that I wrote: When it comes to European white wines, there are three regions I see as dramatically undervalued compared to their inherent quality and (in some cases) ability to age: the Savoie in eastern France, Alto Adige in northern Italy, and Austria. When I peruse the shelves of my little pantry cellar, a high proportion of the old-world whites come from one of those three places.
We’ve dialed in Savoie the past few years via our Jean Vullien offers, we had our Gruner Party in April, so that just leaves one: glorious Alto Adige. I could try to describe this region, its pockets of vineyards nestled up above rust-roofed villages and below the towering Dolomites, its mishmash of Italian-German-Austrian culture, but if you have a few moments, I’d rather direct you to James Suckling’s wonderful new documentary, The Miracle of Alto Adige. The whole 24-minute video is worth a watch, but if you only check out the first six minutes, you’ll see a flyover introduction to the region, and then the first winery featured is – you guessed it – Terlano.
Terlano is actually a co-op, boasting 230 grape-growing members, of whom 70% are original founding families from 1892. The members farm and contribute grapes, which are turned into wine in one large facility and bottled and marketed under the Cantina Terlano label. Co-ops are not always synonymous with high-quality wine, but Ian D’Agata, writing of Terlano in Vinous in 2017, noted that “surprising as it may seem, Italy’s best white wine producer may be a co-operative. Certainly no producer in the country makes longer-lived white wines than the Cantina Terlano.” He said this after participating in a library tasting of reserve Pinot Bianco’s from 1959 to 2014. Lucky man.
We’re going to focus on the reserve Pinot Bianco today as well as another Terlano wine so classic it has its own personal appellation. And then we’ll wrap up with a quick-hitter pair of bonus wines that should be more familiar: a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Noir.
2016 Cantina Terlano Terlaner Classico
Wine Advocate (Monica Larner): [TEXT WITHHELD]
James Suckling:[TEXT WITHHELD]
This is a classic Alto Adige blend, combining the weight and supple texture of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay with the verve and acidic cut of Sauvignon Blanc. It was aged in a combo of stainless steel and big old wooden barrels, and it clocks in at 14% listed alc. How classic is Terlano’s version (Part 1)? So classic that it achieved something rare in Italian wine circles: a DOC appellation all its own: Terlaner Classico DOC. How classic (Part 2)? Its first vintage was 1893. I won’t add much to the reviews above, since this is the most limited of the quartet today. I’ll just add that even Larner’s 2017-2024 window might be conservative for this wine. I’ve seen these sing at a dozen or more years past vintage.
2015 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Riserva Vorberg
For me, this is Terlano’s flagship wine, and it may be the white wine that I’m deepest on in my personal little pantry cellar. It is a world-class wine, one that has proven it can age for a half-century or more, and it costs… forty dollars. If I wrote the previous passage about a white Burg, we’d be looking at multiple hundreds of dollars.
The 2015 is just released, so there are no reviews yet, but Vorberg oftentimes grabs 94pt and 95pt reviews and occasionally inches up to 96s (yeah, Galloni gave the 1955 a 100pt review, but that’s hardly fair). Also, it’s 2015, the miracle vintage across Europe. World class wine plus world class year; I think we can guess at what the reviews are going to look like and purchase ahead of time, before the hubbub.
Vorberg is an exceptional site, ranging from 1500 to 3000 (!!) feet along dizzying slopes that reach 70% inclines in some patches. Terracing is the only way to farm a site like this. It probably goes without saying that the grapes are hand-harvested, then fermented and aged in massive old 30hl oak barrels (you can fit more than 13 barriques in one of those). Vorberg gets one year in barrel and another in bottle before release, so ’15 is the current vintage.
And despite it being three years past vintage now, it drinks very much like the little toddler it is. It may well have a human lifespan too. This begins with a complex, attractive nose: nectarine and lemon curd, mineral tones and this emerging savory thread of smoky hay. The texture is the first thing you notice in the mouth (14% listed alc); this is intense and palate-saturating in a way more commonly seen in reds, but with the jolt of acidity only good white wines can provide. It fans out from attack to finish, sparing no section of the palate with its fruity-savory goodness. That savory earthiness will only continue to come to the fore with more bottle age. I know from experience. Or drink it right now; it’s a lavish, entrancing white wine; one of the very finest in the world.
2016 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio
Bonus wine #1: A Pinot Grigio to blow up pre-conceived, Santa Margherita-fueled notions of what northern Italian Pinot Grigio can be. This one is a bone-dry mid-weight (13.5% listed alc), occupying a space someplace between zippy Italian Grigio and fuller versions from Alsace. The result is a balanced beauty, offering layers of fruit (tree fruits, stone fruits), along with floral and earthy subtleties.
Wine Advocate (Monica Larner): [TEXT WITHHELD]
James Suckling: [TEXT WITHHELD]
2016 Cantina Terlano Pinot Noir
Bonus wine #2: A Pinot Noir from northern Italy (formerly labeled Pinot Nero, they’ve switched their label to Noir, at least for the American market). This gets similar treatment to the other wines – hand harvesting, fermenting/ageing in big old wooden casks, this time for 10 months – but it comes from vineyards a little further down the slopes, meaning a little warmer as well. Just warm enough to ripen a delicate Pinot Noir that offers pure, racy red fruit alongside complexities of mineral and flower. Listed alc is 13.5%, and this is lively and refreshing as can be, a propulsive vin de soif perfect for summer.
James Suckling: [TEXT WITHHELD]