Wine as we bottle it today is a fairly modern beverage, but wine as the product of fermented grapes is, as you know, very ancient. Legends about its invention or about mythical wines abound and sometimes modern wines too have stories to tell, think about Schloss Johannisberg Spatlese or the italian Lachrima Christi.
In this post I will present you three tales on the origin of three modern wines, I hope you enjoy them.
Teroldego Rotaliano, blood of a dragon
Teroldego is a red wine from Trentino, in north Italy. Deep in colour and intense in flavour, it offers sharp acidity and strong tannins, needing careful vinication. The best example shows aromas of black cherry, blackberry, coffee and bitter chocolate, with ripe tannins and mouth-watering acidity. It can hold oak ageing.
Its name is said to derive from Tiroler Gold, being Tirol the area around Bolzano, Italy’s border with Austria. The grape is first mentioned in a sale contract from 1480.
A Trentino native variety or an import from Austria? Legends tell us a different story.
Once upon a time the peaceful town of Mezzocorona was in trouble: a terrifying dragon had settled on a nearby mountain and was ravaging the region, devouring cows, burning farms and treatening the life of the valley. The people were desperate, but luckily in the town there was a galliant and young knight, Count Firmian. Firmian would not let the dragon devastate his land: one day he took his spear, he sheated his sword and began climbing the mountain, to the caves where the beast lurked. He knew that he could not win in a normal fight, so he made a plan and brought with him a bucket full of milk and a mirror. He put the milk and the mirror at the entrance of the lair and hid, waiting. The dragon was very fond of milk and its smell lured him out of the cave. There he saw his own image reflected in the mirror and, first amazed then pleased, for he liked its own image, he stood watching himself. The valliant count took the chance, lept out of its hiding place and slew the dragon.
Peace was finally restored in the valley. The joyous townsmen carried the knight in triumph and brought the dragon down the mountain to their village, but when they started to move his dead body his blood dripped on the ground and lo! where the drops fell a grape vine was born and then another and another. Those were the first Teroldego vines. The people began growing them and, drinking the wine they made from it, they lived happily ever after.
Erbaluce di Caluso, the fairy wine
Erbaluce is a relatively unknown white grape from Piedmont. It is used in some DOCs around Novara, but the most famous is Erbaluce di Caluso, where it makes dry, sparkling and passito wines. Some of them can be really good, but they are not easy to find, especially outside Italy. To italian hears Erbaluce sounds like “herb of light”, but the it probably derives from the latin “Alba Lux”, light of the dawn, for the berries gleam when they are ripe. Let’s see what the tales of old tell us.
Once upon a time, in the golden age, gnomes and fairies walked the earth, as we do today. The Sun, the Moon and the Stars were worshipped by man and nymph inhabited the woods. The beautiful Dawn (Alba) was one of them, she lived between the Night and the Day and she enjoyed her eternal life. One clouded day she got a glimpse of the Sun, whom normally he could not meet; the Sun saw her too and instantly they fell in love. However, they were destined to be apart: he was the Sun and she was the Dawn, when one was in the sky the other was gone. They wept and wept and the Earth and Stars wept with them. But the Moon, sister of the Sun, had an idea: one day, at the end of the Night, she decided not to leave the sky, placing herself on the path usually walked by the Sun. This way the Sun could hide behind her and, unnoticed, he climbed down to meet his beloved Dawn, on a mountain near Caluso. From their love the nymph Albaluce (Dawnlight) was born: her eyes were blue as the sky, her hairs golden as the light of his father the Sun. She was so beautiful that the people worshipped her as a goddess, offering her the wild game they hunted, the fruits they harvested, the fishes they caught. They were so fond of her that they kept bringing their offerings even when the food started running low. The people then, led by their queen Ippa, began working to change the course of a nearby lake, to gain new land fit for cultivation. But nature does not like to be forced and the water won’t be bridled: a flood hit the valley, causing much damage and death. When Dawnlight heard the tragic news she shed many tears, but that was the cry of a fairy: where the tears dropped a vine was born. It was Erbaluce. The people of the valley could not have back their beloved ones dead in the flood, but at least the wine from the grape would lift for a moment the grief in their hearts.
Koshu is a japanese pink skinned varied grown both for table consumption and white wine making. In ideal conditions it reach full maturity in the first half of October, making it a late harvest variety. Naturally it has a neutral Muscadet-like character and that’s why many producers try fleshing it out by barrel-fermentation or lees aging (sur lie). Personally the best example I tasted was a gray wine, where the juice had been left macerating with the skins longer than usual.
In 2010 it was grown over 496ha, which is not much especially if you consider that less than 180ha were intended for wine making production. There are some hectares planted in German too. The story of wine in Japan is modern, but the discovery of koshu seems to date back to more than 1000 years ago.
In the second year of the Yōrō era (AD 781), the buddhist monk Gyōki came from the west to Katsunuma, in the land of Kai, which is today called Kōshū. He was near Kashio, in the valley where the Shirakawa flows between Katsunuma and Iwasaki. He was tired for the long walk, so he sat on a big rock looking over the river.
He started meditating and at the 21th day he had a vision of Yakushi Buddha. He was shining in a golden light, holding an amulet in his left hand and a bunch of grapes in the right one. He vanished a moment after, but Gyōki had a sudden inspiration: he took a piece of wood and began carving the shape of Buddha. He decided that to build a temple there and started cutting trees and clearing the area. While working he found a bunch of wild grapes just like the ones the Buddha was holding in his hand: it was kōshū. They were delicious. In the following years he used the grapes to sustain himself and when he discovered their medical properties he taught them to the people of a nearby village. From those days the cultivation of Kōshū spread all over the area, making Yamanashi today’s premium area for grape growing and wine making in Japan.