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Terrano: When A Wine's Beauty is All You Need to Know

Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.

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The Štoka family tends their vines in the Kras region of Slovenia, very close to the border with Italy. The red soil is said to give the wines made from the Terrano grape their unusually high iron content. [Photograph courtesy Blue Danube and the Štoka family.]

If you happen to fall in love with wine, you should prepare to spend most of your life confused, constantly humbled, relearning over and over again what you thought you'd already grasped. I suppose, in some ways, this is similar to falling in love with a person.

My own internal wine conversation first began with a perpetual questioning: Is this a grape name, or a place? How can a single grape have so many damn synonyms? How can the same word mean a place in one case but a grape in the other?

At some point, the confusion becomes beautiful, enchanting, addictive. You submit to the understanding that you will never understand everything. At any moment, just when you begin to think you've reached a confident new plateau, you'll inevitably stumble into a sinkhole. For me, that most recent sinkhole was Teran, which happens to grow on a bright red soil, beneath which exist thousands of literal sinkholes.

Teran, a deeply colored red grape, is grown in Slovenia. Wine Grapes notes that its wines are "full- to medium-bodied, food-friendly, quite tannic with fresh acidity and marked aromas of forest fruits." It's also known as Terrano a few kilometers across the border in Italy's Friuli region. But you may find either name on either country's label. And you may find the winemaker speaking either Slovenian or Italian, or perhaps a mix of both, and possibly referring to the grape as Refošk—which is not to be confused with Refosco, a distinctly different grape grown in Friuli. The winemaker's vineyards, in the region of Kras (aka Carso), may even straddle the two countries' border. (As I said, at some point, the confusion becomes enchanting.)

What unites the whole picture is the terra rossa soil: a thin, intensely iron-rich topsoil that overlies a rather soluble limestone bedrock. The area's fierce burja (aka bora) winds erode the terra rosa, and rain dissolves the bedrock into a labyrinth of underground caves.

Above ground, Terrano thrives. Local wineries say Terrano must be grown on terra rossa; or else it cannot be true Terrano. The grape seems to absorb the ferrous soil as it sweeps through the vineyard, carried by the bora, imbuing the grape with an uncanny bloody undercurrent.

I was fantastically lucky to come across two bottles of Terrano (one from each country), which I unveiled to intrigued oohs and aahs at a friend's dinner party. She was making braised lamb stew. I don't know if they eat much lamb in this part of the world, but they certainly should. The wines were unbelievable with it.

First up was the 2009 Štoka Izbrani Teran from Kras, Slovenia. It was incredibly concentrated in color, like pure fuchsia extract with an almost electric purple edge. I expected it to power through my mouth with a similar ferocity, but as dense as the flavors were—like sweet-tart, homemade jam made from the best forest berries you could find—it was wonderfully easy to drink: juicy, charming but not simple, with a satisfying and upright mouthfeel thanks to its balanced acid and tannins. A push of bold fruit led the way, taming the gaminess of the lamb, while a savory, ever-so-slight pull of bitter iron drove the finish and kept you coming back for more.

The second wine was a 2010 Zidarich Teran from Carso, Italy. If the Štoka was your convivial, sarcastically joking uncle that everyone loves to be around, the Zidarich was your elegant yet mysterious aunt: the one with the elaborate silk scarf collection and a penchant for exotic cigarettes. This wine was floral, herbal, dark, almost eerily foreign and haunting yet distantly familiar enough to intrigue you, to compel you to linger a little longer. Delicately woven into the black pepper, olive, black fruit, iron ore, and ultra-violet floral aromas was a powerful acid-and-tannin grip. It was incredible with the lamb. I couldn't stop drinking it.

I felt almost heartbroken when these wines—and our bowls of stew—were gone. One of my dining companions asked me for more information about the wines and where she could get them. At the time, I hadn't researched anything yet. I knew little about this part of the world and its wines, and I knew nothing about the grape. "Um," I ventured, "I know that those wines were beautiful, and that's about it." She nodded in agreement: "You know what," she admitted, "sometimes that's all you need to know."

She was right. As I said earlier, at some point, you submit to the fact that you'll never understand everything there is to know about wine... but sometimes, being able to appreciate a wine's beauty is all you really need to know.

2009 Štoka Izbrani Teran (Kras, Slovenia)
The Grape: Teran
The Region: Kras, Slovenia
Retail Price: $20
The Importer: Blue Danube Wine Company

2010 Zidarich Teran (Carso, Italy)
The Grape: Terrano
The Region: Carso, Italy
Retail Price: $40
The Importer: Acid Inc Selections

About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in Wine Grapes. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.

Wines provided as samples for review consideration.

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