What’s this wine taste like? Delicious and straight-forward, that’s what. Despite its unfamiliar name, this isn’t a moody wine and it doesn’t take time to open up. It lets you in right away, breaking any potential awkward silence with a good dose of smiling fruit and comforting grip. But I took the slow train to Teroldego town, winding an indirect and unexpected path to discovering its greatness.
It shows up to play with lean curves and a smoky, fruity, lip-smacking good time. This wine was a serious moment for me – tasting a California wine made from an Italian varietal I thought I didn’t even like. But that’s the thing about wine: you can still be surprised after years of tasting and drinking and thinking you know it all. You don’t know it all. You never will.
My first experience with Teroldego was in Italy. Being an Italian grape, you might think this is the romantic story of how I drank this wine in its native land, charmed by the locality of it all. Wrong. First, I wasn’t in the north, where the grape is from, but in Bologna, where I was living at the time. My first week there I met a guy, one who was nice and funny but who I refused to kiss. I happily accompanied to dinners and lunches and on Vespa rides all over the city, though. I needed a proper guide, right? An American girl in Italy: as naïve and cliché as it sounds, it was, and so was I.
One night, we sat outside at a Trattoria somewhere on Via Clavature in the summer night. When Claudio (I honestly forgot his name, but I know it ended in the letter ‘o’) picked a Sangiovese for us while we waited for tagliatelle and tortellini, I scoffed. Besides the sheer unladylike nature of my protest to his order, I was drunk on my own faux-expertise, and insisted we order the Teroldego.
He looked at me strange, but obliged. To understand the oddity of my behavior to Claudio, you’d have to understand first that in Italy (and most everywhere else outside of the States), you drink what’s local. Not in the trendy, Whole Foods way, but in a provincial, regionally insulated way. It’s just what you do.
We were smack-dab in Emilia-Romanga, where wine lists are filled with Bonarda and Lambrusco, and of course, Sangiovese – all of which grow nearby and were much more appropriate pairings to a casual summer dinner in Bologna than a Teroldego from 150 miles away.
Still, I was the expert – a 22-year old American with a bartending job at an Italian restaurant back in the U.S. – Yep, I’ll take it from here.
Gentlemanly and kind, Claudio deferred to me, and what arrived in our glass was sadly bitter, purple wine, out of its element, a sore thumb in a glass. It was not good, nor well made, and stuck out like Wednesday Adams at the prom. We both drank very little that meal but made up for it (two bottles worth) at a post-dinner wine bar with cheese and meats a plenty – because after dinner in Italy, you go somewhere else to eat and drink. That’s what you do.
What you do not do, however, is order Teroldego in Bologna. It’s just one of those things: like you don’t order the fish at a steakhouse, and you don’t order the chicken at a seafood spot.
I wrote off that inky colored wine for a while after that – years, even. There are plenty of obscure Italian varietals to keep my thirst at bay, I could afford pass on this one and still drink just fine.
But that’s like judging all your future boyfriends on the grave mistake of the one douche bag who really messed it up. And in a twist of irony, the Teroldego that won me back wasn’t even from Italy!
Sometimes the cover is, dare I say, even better than the original??
And here it is. This is a fleshy delight with soul and grit and blue fruit spilling out of the glass, purple and deep and grippy – the misfit recluse grew up and went from gothic weirdo to Rooney Mara – interesting, palatable, and beautiful even, with depth and character.
This wine is at east with itself, deeply purple-colored and richly textured, it is a satisfying rendition of a native Italian grape growing quietly in the Santa Cruz Mountains – which is as delicious as it is surprising. Lush and easy-going, with a gentle grip that’s more like a nice hug than a too-firm handshake. A hug from a stranger named Teroldego who’s got familiar warmth and only good intentions.
Wine isn’t about playing it safe – that’s what mass-produced Cabernet Sauvignon and bad pop music is for. You gotta risk it to get the biscuit – let yourself be wrong every now and then, because it’s tastier and just more fun that way.
THE CHEAT SHEET
THE WINE: Terrane Teroldego, Fratelli Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley California 2012
THE GRAPE: Teroldego *farmed organically; no sulfur added
HOMETOWN: OG Teroldego is from Trentino Alto-Adige, but this one is from Cali.
TASTES LIKE: A smoky, blueberry lip-smacking good time; fleshy fruit and firm texture without being too aggressive. Grippy like a good hug, not a scary handshake.
GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Something smoky and earthy will bring out its wild side – in northern Italy they drink Teroldego with butter and pesto dishes, smoked meats and cheeses; bbq flavors and red sauce dishes like spaghetti work really well, too because it is dry and fleshy without being super acidic or tart.
IF YOU LIKE: The Carignane from Brian Harrington that was in the Love Pour, this is the same awesome producer, although this one is a little darker and drier, and still made with the same organic practices and small production sensibilities.