I was at a ‘serious wine tasting event’—that’s what they call drinking during the daytime these days—when the bulb of inspiration for this column lit in my head. The wine that did it was an Italian red named Bottega Vinai Teroldego Rotaliano DOC 2006. All this might be Greek, err, Italian, to you, but I’ll dwell at length on it because I found the wine interesting for three reasons: first, the label just doesn’t make sense; second, the bottle’s contents are more exciting than what the label suggests; and finally it’s a brilliant example of the grape varieties that are native to Italy.
Italy never ceases to fascinate wine aficionados because of the world of grapes that flourishes in the country. Take the two of the world’s most prolific wine grapes—Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Only a well-travelled, gifted palate will know the difference between two Cabernet Sauvignons—one from Napa Valley and the other from Maipo Valley, Chile; or between two Chardonnays, from Argentina and Australia.
A Teroldego, though, is in a league of its own. You can get a Teroldego—a blogger calls it, and I love the expression, “a bright and happy wine with a serious side”—only from Trentino, a region tucked away in the Italian Alps and famous for its popular, inexpensive white wine named Pinot Grigio. The grape is cultivated in Rotaliano, which is among the smallest (10 hectares in all) and most expensive wine areas of the world—a hectare of land there carries a tag of a million euros; elsewhere in Italy, wine-growing land is valued between m25,000 and m500,000 (Rs 1.65 crore and Rs 3.3 crore).
Now, you must have figured out what the label was all about. Teroldego is the grape variety and Rotaliano is the area where it is grown. The DOC label, short for denominazione di origine controllata, signifies that the wine comes from a region of particular reputation and 2006 is the vintage. You wouldn’t have known all this had someone not guided you through the label, but you must not forget that the Italians, till the 1960s, made wines for their own market. They didn’t have a reason to make their labels comprehensible for the rest of the world.
Their problems started when, like in neighbouring France, Italians started spending less time on elaborate meals and consuming less wine. Italy started looking for international markets after its domestic wine consumption plummeted, but the country’s wine labelling laws (and traditions) haven’t changed, which explains why many of Italy’s creative wine producers have migrated from the ‘denomination’ system and follow their own rules.
There are still two words that don’t make sense on the label. Bottega Vinai is a facility owned by one of Italy’s biggest winemaking cooperatives (Italians call them cantina) named Cavit.
If you have been wondering why I have zeroed in on this wine, it is because of its versatility—you can drink it by itself, or you can have it with a lot of North Indian dishes, especially a good mutton biryani. The only shocker is its price. I went to the Everywine website to ferret out this information and found to my horror that it’s priced at £52 (Rs 4,300). Still, it’s a small price to pay for a wine that you wouldn’t come across easily.Sourish Bhattacharyya is Executive Editor, Mail Today