Wednesday Wines – Episode 217 – Previews of 2 Legendary Releases: Vin de Constance & Terlaner Primo I Grande Cuvée

2021 Terlaner Primo

2021 Cantina Terlano, Terlaner Primo I Grande Cuvée, Alto Adige, Italy (retailer information was given to me by the UK agents Astrum – approx. £250.00, www.sociovino.comwww.harrogatefinewinecompany.com, www.fieldandfawcett.co.uk, www.falconvintners.com).

I have unusually strong ties with Cantina Terlano and its wines.  A long time ago, Terlano’s sales director, Klaus Gasser, visited the UK, and I attended one of the most remarkable wine tastings of my life.  Klaus opened a variety of his cuvées going back to a 1957 vintage.  I noted then that this was the greatest ‘grand dry white wine’ of my wine career.  This statement has not changed.  With the shape and size of a Grand Cru white Burgundy but with so much more life and vivacity, this experience has forever shaped my opinion of this estate and every one of its wines.  I have bought them ever since.  Not to age them but to drink them when I desire wines of sheer class and fascination that enchant my palate and engender wonder and fascination in my friends.  It is reassuring that Cantina Terlano wines are very well distributed in the UK, both in top indie wine shops and in the best restaurants.  In my experience, and this is a brief buyer’s guide before I talk about the featured wine, Terlano Terlaner (the 2022 vintage is £23.95, www.vinissimus.co.uk; £27.00, www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk; £25.00, www.petershamcellar.com) is one of the most delicious and reliably stunning white wines on earth and it is made from the same three grapes as my featured superstar white.  While 2021 Vorberg Pinot Bianco Riserva (£42.00,www.petershamcellar.com; £47.90, www.hedonism.co.uk) is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable Pinot Blancs on earth and a thrilling swop for any Chardonnay you can think of.  If it were possible to stock-check every wine my wife and I have drunk in restaurants over the last fifteen years, I wouldn’t bet against Terlano being in pole position.

So, this short intro brings me to this week’s featured wine.  Primo I Grande Cuvée is made from Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  The estate believes it is the perfect synthesis of Cantina Terlano’s philosophy and its perfect synergistic relationship between tradition and its unique volcanic terroir. 2021 is the 10th vintage release of this cuvée, which debuted in 2011.

Klaus Gasser reports, “The 2021 vintage of Terlaner Primo Grande Cuvée mirrors the evolution of both the wine over the years and of the winemaking style, which reveals winemaker Rudi Kofler’s ever-deeper understanding of the terroir.”  He continues, “The stylistic expression achieved by this 2021 vintage is the oenological response to the grapes grown in the various vineyards that comprise our cooperative resource. Rediscovering and researching older parcels with ancient vines has meant, year after year, growth in the style and depth of the Cuvée, giving us an ever-clearer snapshot of a terroir that has no real peer in the world. Step by step, we have progressed from a creamy, horizontal nose and palate towards a verticality powered by elegant crispness and depth. That thrust, the result of decisions both in the vineyard and in winemaking, is revealed in significant levels of finesse and acidity that over time succeed in conveying the impressive stature of these three key grape varieties that are benchmarks for our terroirs.”

NB – Cantine Terlano, founded in 1893 and located near Bolzano, is a cooperative comprising 143 member growers who cultivate 170 hectares of vines.

If you have tasted wines from this cosmic operation before, you will recognise the framework of this wine.  This is not, underlined, just a heavier and more oak-driven version of the time-honoured estate classic.  While it carries a familiar silhouette, it is like the estate version; as much as I adore this wine, it is drawn in crayon, and this wine employs the services of Jonny Yeo.  I say this because I know Jonny, not because he has recently been in the headlines!  The intricacies, crystalline, multifaceted faces of flavour, mineral-soaked tension and mind-blowing depth of field (note field, not flavour) are spellbinding.  I have never tasted a finer Italian white wine.  It is delicately perfumed, or so it seems, but the scent billows and teases, expanding in your brain and not your nostrils as it envelops your receptors and breaks like a wave of sheer pleasure.  The flavour copies this enchanting routine, quietly forming on the palate and then bursting into synchronous volleys of the most delicious and complex flavour dances.  Of course, it helps that there are three grapes involved.  By definition, ‘chef’ has more flavours to weave into a complete performance, and he does.  I understand 2021 was a low-cropping vintage, and unlike other wines whose delivery would feel compacted and urgent in such conditions, Terlaner Primo relaxes and unravels, putting this library of nuances into a linear experience as opposed to a sudden mountain, hard to scale and quick to disappear behind you.
I take my hat off to the whole team at Cantine Terlano – which means those name-checked above and every family striving to ensure that their grapes are in perfect condition come harvest.  It feels like every one of the 170 hectares of fruit sets out to be selected for this wine. While only a handful make it, this collective desire to succeed has enabled 2021 Terlaner Primo I Grande Cuvée to gain a score in my notes that I have never felt worthy of and Italian white wine to date.  Congratulazioni.  20+/20 (Drink now – 2050)

2021 Vin de Constance

Klein Constantia – introducing 2021 Vin de Constance, Constantia, Western Cape, South Africa (to be relased in September 2024)

Before I kick off, Hans Astrom, MD at Klein Constantia, sent a bundle of fascinating notes, some of which I have copied and pasted below.  I have written up this wine many times, and in my Wednesday Wines back catalogue, you will find 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The Most Impressive Timeline in the Wine World

1685

Van der Stel names prime Cape vineyards Constantia

1709

Van der Stel establishes 10000 vines

1712

Early 18th Century Constantia wines are sought after in Europe

1777

Constantia wine is cellared by Kings & Kaisers

1778

The Cloetes join the Colijns in Constantia

American Founding Fathers drink Constantia

1795

Constantia wine imortalised in German poetry

First British occupancy of the Cape

1798

The next generation of Colijns & Cloetes take over

1811

Jane Austen writes Sense & Sensibility: “… a little Constantia for its healing powers on a disappointed heart”

1815

Napoleon is exiled to St Helena Island & enjoys Constantia wine

1823

The Constantia property was split into ‘Klein’ & ‘Groot’

1857

Alexandre Dumas writes Le Comtesse de Charny: “… At dessert, let us drink to his health in a glass of Constance”

1859

Charles Baudelaire publishes Les Fleurs du Mal in which he compares Constantia wine to his lover’s lips

The end of the beginning – powdery mildew is first detected in the Cape

1870

Charles Dickens writes The Mystery of Edwin Drood: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit”

1872

Constantia winemaking ceases

1880

Dormancy – for more than a century, Constantia wine survives only in poetry & prose – and in the illustrious cellars of Europe’s great wine collectors

1986

First modern Klein Constantia wines made – the first new commercial vintages for sale in over a

century

1990

First Vin de Constance is released, the 1986 vintage. For four years, the Klein Constantia

team has nurtured a secret: two barrels of natural sweet wine maturing in the cellar

2011

Klein Constantia finds new owners

2015

A wine fit for royalty, again!  Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of England, hosts Chinese president Xi Jinping and his wife at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace where Vin de Constance is served

Vin de Constance 2009 becomes the first South African wine to make Wine Spectator’s Top 10

wines of the year.

2017

Best in the world, then & now – Vin de Constance 2013 wins a Platinum Best in Show trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards (a feat repeated the following year with the Vin de Constance 2014).

2019

Vin de Constance joins the Bordeaux négociant market

More background from Hans – Vin de Constance, one of the world’s most unique wines. It is Klein Constantia’s recreation of legendary Constantia, the sweet, luscious and extraordinary wine that was celebrated during the 18th and 19th centuries, cellared by kings and connoisseurs and immortalised in poetry and prose. A unique wine made from Muscat de Frontignan, it is undeniably rich yet ‘racy’ – perfectly balanced by its natural acidity – thanks to our cool climate location, unique terroir and modern winegrowing techniques adapted from invaluable historical records.  It was in the early 1800s that Lambertus Johannes Colijn described in a journal how he, like his father and grandfather before him, made good Constantia wine: “One should allow the grapes to ripen thoroughly before cutting. They should be halfway towards becoming raisins, and during the cutting, all rotten and unripe berries must be spotted, picked out and disposed of.”  Colijn made it clear that the wine should stop fermenting naturally, without the addition of brandy (a technique most common during the old days): “Great care must be taken to listen daily, and if fermenting continues, the wine has to be placed in a cask, which was treated the day before with a piece of sulphur six inches long and four fingers broad, but no longer than this, as otherwise the wine is bleached too much. And after it has been lying still for eight days, it is poured over into clean casks, which are treated the day before, the first of May.”  Today, as in the past, our Vin de Constance is a naturally sweet wine. It has no botrytis, which seldom develops in Muscat de Frontignan grapes thanks to their very thick skins. These protect against any infection or rot, allowing healthy grapes to become perfectly raisined on the vine. The secret to Vin de Constance is its perfect balance between sugar, acid and alcohol. Everything we do, from vineyard to bottle, is done with this in mind.

The Facts – Sunshine hours from budburst to harvest: 2158; Picking dates: 9th March – 30th March; Number of passes through the vineyard: 22; Yield: 4.862 t/ha; Litres/ ton: 543; Training split: 53% Bush vines, 47% Trellised; Average age of the vineyards: 17; New oak: 50%; Bottling date: 22nd April 2024; Alcohol: 13.81; Residual Sugar 168g/L: pH 3.76

Some vintage notes (edited) – The 2021 harvest season was marked by patience and precision. Moderate weather during this period resulted in a later harvest than usual, characterised by cooler conditions, extended hang time, and optimal phenological ripening. These factors contributed to the development of exceptional fruit concentration, lower pH levels, and higher natural acidity.  Despite the harvest being up to two weeks later than in previous years, the absence of rainfall or heatwaves allowed our harvest to span just three weeks, from early March to late March.  We began harvesting the earlier-ripening components, and over the following three weeks, we picked 25 different batches, ranging from lower sugar and high acidity components to much sweeter, more concentrated final picks. Interestingly, this approach mirrored the conditions and practices of the 2020 harvest.  Each batch was processed separately, with most receiving only two weeks of skin contact before pressing. At this point, we blend various components to achieve the optimal balance of sugar, acidity, and alcohol, allowing fermentation to stop naturally. The wine was then aged for 18 months in 50% new 500L Hungarian and French oak barrels, followed by an additional 16 months in large format wooden foudres.

My thoughts – I have been fortunate to taste almost every vintage of this legendary wine from the modern era and this is one of the very finest.  I use the word finest carefully.  Not best, the greatest, not the most impactful nor the richest.  This is a fine wine, a refined wine, resplendent in finery.  As the winery notes set out above, this is a wine made at a very relaxed pace from grapes with incredible natural sugars balanced by startlingly fresh acidity, and this is precisely what it tastes like.  There is no excess flesh.  ’21 VdC is a toned wine which strolls along the citrus spectrum, preferring not to set foot in oranges and purples, pinks or reds.  It sticks to sensual yellows and strays only as far as green gold.  This is sheer heaven.  Not only for a sweet tooth like me, but for those who have yet to embrace the greatest sweet wines on the planet for fear that their teeth will fall out.  ’21 Vin de Constance could not be further from this image.  It is fit, agile, nubile, cleansing and refreshing.  For every molecule of decadence, there is an equal and opposite molecule of dynamic acidity.  While this is a sweet wine, it finishes dry!  And I adore it.  It will age forever – we know the rules, but I think that impatient collectors and daring restaurateurs might crack on with this beauty indecently early in its lifespan because it is already so utterly mesmerising.  19.5+/20 (Drink now – 2060)

FIN