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Venturing Beyond the Mainstream
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 7, 2010
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Cantina Terlano, Alto Adige-Santa Maddalena (Italy) Häusler 2009 (Banville & Jones Wine Merchants, $20):  This is the story of an underdog wine made from an unknown grape variety in a style that that is the opposite of mainstream.  Considering what this wine has going against it, I actually wondered whether I should choose a different wine to review -- some important wine, instead of this simple little delightful bit of obscurity.  Except that I’ve always had a thing for underdogs.

The wine is Santa Maddalena or, in German, St. Magdalener.  It is a red wine named for a subzone of the Alto Adige DOC, from the Trentino-Alto Adige region in northeastern Italy.  Alto Adige lies just south of Austria and Switzerland, and has a strong Germanic heritage.  As a wine region, it is now recognized as one of the finest in Italy.  Its wines are mainly varietals and mainly white (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco are its three most-planted white grapes, in that order).  Although it is the most northerly wine region in Italy and has an alpine climate with severe winters, it enjoys warm summers and its 300 days of sunshine per year ripen grapes well.

The grape variety is Schiava, pronounced skee AH vah.  It is a native local variety, and historically the region’s most important.  (Lagrein, another local red variety, accounts for 10 percent of this wine.)  Even today, Schiava occupies more than 30 percent of the region’s vineyards, although its yield of grapes is about one-half to one-third of what it used to be.  Many wine producers in Alto Adige care deeply about Schiava and the wines it makes, but recognize that these wines do not have the appeal internationally that they would like.

Which brings us to the style of this wine: it is a light-bodied red with pale color, very little tannin, and gentle aromas and flavors.  It is an easy-going, enjoyable, unimposing wine.  A wine for drinking, basta.

You could conceivably confuse this Cantina Terlano Santa Maddalena with a Pinot Noir because of its pale color, its gentle tannins, and its black cherry and red-fruits aroma.  But the wine’s aroma is less intense than is typical for Pinot Noir, and it has nutty nuances.  Also, the wine has higher acidity than most Pinot Noirs.  The wine combines warm, ripe fruity flavors with a structure that is driven by high acidity.  The 13 percent alcohol gives the wine viscous texture, while the acid drives the flavors through the wine to a fruity finish.  Tannin plays a strictly minor role.

Cantina Terlano -- or Terlan, as it appears on the front label of the bottle — is a cooperative winery founded in 1893.  “Hausler” is the name of the property where the grapes for this wine grow.  Cantina Terlano is renown for its ageless white wines.  (On a visit two years ago, I tasted an exceptional 1956 white from Pinot Blanc with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and an outstanding 1979 Pinot Blanc.)  Among red wines, the winery seems to be most proud of its Lagrein, a more characterful red than this Schiava.  I don’t imagine that many people would protest if the Cantina were to leave Santa Maddalena and the Schiava grape by the wayside, except me and  a few like-minded wine lovers.

Try this wine while the weather is still warm, because it is an ideal summer red.  Or drink it next summer.  Although it is ready now, I believe this wine can easily go another year to two.  Drink it with simply-prepared foods, nothing spicy or acidic; risotto with mushrooms would be ideal.

90 Points